Today’s post is a guest post by Artimus Charest-Fulks. Thanks Artimus for the insights!
I have been a supporter of the Android operating system since first reading about it, and a user since the Galaxy S launched on T-Mobile in July of 2010. My attraction had less to do with my use of Google services, and more to do with the culture and purpose behind the operating system. It’s openness and technological possibility attracted me as it did many developers and community figureheads alike. This community-driven support has also been the reason I have been able to use the same device for these past 32 months and still use (most) of the newest Android tech.
My Galaxy S (dubbed “Mini-Hal”) was last officially supported on 20 January, 2011 when the “Android 2.2” (or Froyo) update pushed to the device from T-Mobile’s servers. It was bittersweet for most as the update required Samsung Kies and a PC connection, but it brought numerous fixes and updates to a phone that launched with 2.1 (two months after 2.2 AOSP released). However, for those of us brave enough to risk bricking our phones, there was a way to get the sweet tasting Froyo months before. Custom ROMs have become as much a part of the Android ecosystem as Google itself, and they come in more flavors than you could hope for.
To keep my device rocking the latest Google Android features I have found myself teetering between three main ROM distributions: CyanogenMod, Android Open Kang Project, and SlimROM. They are all, at their core, built around the same source, but still manage to offer three unique experiences for my aging technological lifeline. At this point all three of them have released working versions of the latest 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS for various devices; the full lists being too long to list, but know that the device you’re likely reading this on is probably supported.
CyanogenMod, or CM, is the most well-known of the three, and arguably the most popular Android custom ROM of all. CM stays true to the Android Open Source Project vision of what the “Pure Android” experience is. In addition to supporting many more devices than AOSP, it adds several core features that aren’t found in vanilla Android on those devices that are supported through official channels. Some of these features are a built in file browser that will allow root and non-root navigation, a DSP equalizer which is considered by many to be the best software EQ available, lockscreen gesture support, and incognito mode for the stock browser. It also offers numerous customization options including status bar tweaks like time/date configuration and shortcuts, expanded lock options such as a 5×5 pattern lock grid, themes, and profiles.
There are three main channels for CM builds: the official releases, experimental beta-like releases, and nightlies. Unfortunately, while my device isn’t officially supported by the CM team and thus doesn’t receive official updates, it does have nightly builds released by the community at large that (with the help of update app CyanDelta) are stable enough for me to use daily. CM is generally my go-to ROM because I enjoy a clean feeling ROM with available tweaking.
Android Open Kang Project
Android Open Kang Project, or AOKP, is a play on the Android Open Source Project name, incorporating the slang term “Kang” which refers to stolen code used in one’s on releases. It started as a joke, and just kind of stuck. AOKP is similar to CM but expands on the customizability by allowing the user to tweak the ROM to be a bit more personal. The enhanced customization options include things like LCD Density, expanded built in theming like transparency and custom carrier, and the always awesome “Swagger Button” (which actually doesn’t do anything except display a message that you’ve activated Swagger Mode). The theming is mostly what you would expect, though I do enjoy being able to change my carrier to show that I’m still using Alltel Wireless or simply displaying something fun like “N7” or “Overmind”.
The LCD Density option has to be the single most useful customization option I’ve found in a custom ROM to date. It is technically supported in any ROM, but AOKP (and SlimROM, which I’ll get to in a moment) supports it in the menu while CM requires a Build.Prop edit to work. What this feature essentially does is give my 4-inch screen as much real estate as the 4.7 inch Nexus 4. Now, the icons are smaller and it’s not for everyone, but it breathed new life into my phone after I discovered it.
If you look at CM as an enhanced version of the AOSP releases, then think of AOKP as CM with a few aftermarket bolt-on additions to give it a bit of a different shine…oh, and added unicorn swagger.
I saved SlimRom for last because it’s a bit of a different beast. Slim is built on the same as the other two, but it is heavily customized and tweaked. The first thing I noticed when launching Slim is that the LCD Density is altered out of the box. While AOKP allows it to be changed, Slim does it by default, giving you a unique boot and feel. Slim enhances the customization options beyond what AOKP offers, but not so much that you don’t recognise where everything belongs. It’s still pure Android at it’s core.
Easily the most interesting, and newly integrated, feature of Slim is what they’re dubbing TRDS or “The Real Dark Slim”. This is one of those features that may sound interesting on paper, but until you activate it you just won’t know how cool it is. Essentially what TRDS does is take Android’s stock apps such as MMS, Phone, People, Search, Talk, and Calendar and converts them to a darker version without sacrificing readability or usability. Think color inversion, but properly optimised and integrated into the OS. It gives the experience a slick, black look and one that is sure to turn some heads.
Without custom ROMs like these, and the fantastic community behind them, I would still be stuck on a slow and crippling Froyo missing out on all the features of Gingerbread, ICS, and Jelly Bean. ROMs aren’t for everyone though, and I don’t think that there is one “best” ROM that exists, just like there isn’t one best kind of food. Whether you’re looking for enhancements for your current device, or want to experience the cool features on an older phone, custom ROMs are a great place to look. However they do come with risks, so do your reading and always ask questions if you are unsure. And always, always remember that no matter what anyone says to you, tacos rule.