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I occasionally perform such a reinstall on my Windows PC. I repartition my hard drive, format the partitions, and then install Windows on a blank partition. Can this be done on an Android smartphone? (I have an unlocked Sony Xperia S.)

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Yes, it's very possible. Basically you can flash a ROM (custom or stock) very easily, and this is equivalent to a full format and reinstall.

Basic steps would be:

  1. Acquire preferred ROM and transfer to SD card / internal memory
  2. Reboot into Recovery (Hold Volume Up as you power up the phone)
  3. Flash ROM

This is covered more in depth at these links (XDA is a great resource):

Overall "guides" for the Xperia S

"Guide" to flashing the Xperia S (it's a fairly light-on-detail guide though, it is a very simple process)

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I'll look into that, thanks :) –  Šime Vidas Aug 9 '12 at 14:41
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I would add that in most cases, a factory restore from recovery will bring a stock (an non-rooted) Android device back to its original state. Factory reset wipes out all user data, and since the system partition is read-only and isn't touched during normal operation, that is usually sufficient. For rooted devices where system partition(s) are modified (and especially if a custom ROM was installed,) the above is the best way to get a device back to its original state. –  Chahk Aug 9 '12 at 15:04
    
Not a problem - just amused me at the time. I should have added a smiley face to indicate that. ;) Best of luck! I generally find the most difficult thing is the key combination to get to recovery, as it changes due to availability of h/w buttons. I'll try and find it and add it to my answer. Also removed the "complaint". –  Jeeva Aug 9 '12 at 15:14
    
@Chahk My device came with preinstalled apps (e.g. McAfee, and some T-mobile crapware), and a carrier logo animation on device boot. I'm not sure that those would be cleared with a factory restore. It's for that reason I'm thinking about a complete reinstall. I would like to get rid of all that preinstalled and carrier-specific stuff, and get a clean Android install. –  Šime Vidas Aug 9 '12 at 16:08
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It should be added that a factory reset does not touch the /system partition (where Android system files are stored). So if you root your device, it stays rooted. If you flash a CustomROM, it would not revert to stock by a factory reset. Just /data and caches are "wiped" -- so all app data and user-installed apps plus all configuration is gone after this. –  Izzy Aug 9 '12 at 21:42
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