Pixel Experience 12 Hands-On: This is what you get with the official builds

Pixel Experience 12 Hands-On: This is what you get with the official builds

For many smartphone enthusiasts, the software on the Google Pixel devices is the epitome of the vanilla Android experience. Compared to a barebone AOSP build, it has a number of innovative features that are hard to port to other devices. This is where the Pixel Experience custom ROM comes in.

Originally started as an experimental project by XDA Recognized Developer jhenrique09 back in 2017, the custom ROM has grown in popularity quite exponentially, thanks to the desire of users to mimic the software experience of the Google Pixel lineup. jhenrique09 decided to open-source the codebase so that other developers could contribute and port Pixel Experience (often stylized as “PixelExperience” and “PE”) to more devices. Now, the project strives to be a custom ROM on the level of an OEM ROM, providing reliability, stability, and improving on existing features on a device with polish and care.

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For this hands-on, we tried out Pixel Experience 12 based on Android 12L primarily on the Redmi Note 7 Pro, a device that stopped receiving updates with Android 10. This shows how an aftermarket ROM can easily extend the lifespan of a device, which is long abandoned by its maker.

Pixel Experience: Installation

The Pixel Experience project offers device-specific installation packages in the form of ROM ZIP files, which can be sideloaded using a custom recovery like TWRP after unlocking the bootloader of the target device.

In case you don’t want to use TWRP, or there’s no official TWRP build available for your device yet, you can also opt for the Pixel Experience recovery image. It’s not as feature-rich as TWRP, but it’s enough to get the job done. The PE recovery is specifically useful for installing Android 12(L)-based OTAs, as TWRP has yet to support Android’s new encryption scheme.

Unlike most other custom ROM distributions, Pixel Experience comes with the essential set of Google apps and services preinstalled. As a result, you don’t need to flash a GApps package separately.

Pixel Experience: First boot and setup wizard

After a successful installation, you should be greeted with the Pixel-styled boot animation as soon as you reboot your phone. The setup wizard on the first run is Pixel-themed as well, and it guides you through selecting your preferred UI language, the time zone, and configuring security settings (e.g. enrolling your fingerprint). Since the Google Play Services are available out of the box, you will also go through the setup process of restoring your Google account and your apps.

Pixel Experience: Launcher and preinstalled apps

The first thing you notice after booting up the ROM is the launcher app. For Pixel Experience, it’s the vanilla Pixel Launcher app right from Google. Not only the launcher, but the wallpapers, icons, font, and many other Pixel goodies are also preinstalled. For a veteran Android modder, it might not be the most customizable experience, but for the vast majority of users, it’s likely more than fine.

Talking about preinstalled apps, you won’t find many. Pixel Experience developers don’t ship any in-house apps for basic productivity tasks, as Google’s offerings will eventually make them redundant. Apart from an actual Pixel’s standard suite of apps, you will find very few third-party apps. The official maintainers’ code of conduct provides strict guidelines in this regard.

For the camera app, though, some device maintainers include a known Google Camera port in their releases. This is because the untouched Google Camera APK is very likely incompatible with the camera sensors found on the particular non-Pixel smartphone. If a suitable stock camera port exists for a particular OEM, you may find it inside as the default camera app on the Pixel Experience ROM for your device as well.

The ROM supports OTA updates. The built-in updater periodically queries the PE download servers and notifies you after finding a newer build than the installed one. As mentioned earlier, if you have the PE recovery installed, then you can install the OTAs just like a regular Pixel smartphone.

Pixel Experience OTA

Pixel Experience: Plus variant

The original goal of Pixel Experience was to offer a custom ROM that was stable while also including the features that are available on Pixel devices. However, some modding community members have avoided it due to it not having some core custom ROM features that people have grown to expect. This led to the creation of Pixel Experience Plus — an official variant that features some additional functionalities.

The “Plus” edition offers per-app volume settings, network traffic monitor, notch hiding support, and several other UI enhancements. You can use additional gestures like three fingers swipe for taking a screenshot. There is a dedicated LiveDisplay panel too, for tweaking color profile, display mode, reading mode, and color calibration.

In terms of granular customizability, Pixel Experience Plus is way ahead of the vanilla variant. For example, you can easily modify the status bar icons without the help of an additional SystemUI tuner app. The volume and power button actions are customizable as well, thanks to a number of built-in templates. You can also tweak various aspects of the lock screen, e.g. toggle media cover art, music visualizer, device controls, and a plethora of other details.

Pixel Experience: SafetyNet

The Device Requirements charter for the Pixel Experience project prohibits official maintainers to spoof the device fingerprint. As a result, you won’t find a custom Pixel-derived fingerprint on non-Pixel hardware.

Although the ROM doesn’t ship any su binary, there are plenty of factors (stock firmware cross-flashing, the unlocked bootloader state on modern devices etc.) that can lead to SafetyNet failure. With that said, an untouched instance of this custom ROM should pass SafetyNet out of the box on officially supported phones.

Pixel Experience SafetyNet check

A Google Pixel 4a running official Pixel Experience ROM passes SafetyNet

Pixel Experience: Download

If you’d like to try Pixel Experience (or its Plus variant) on your device, you can download the ROM from the project’s official download portal linked below. There are more than a hundred entries in the current roster — each having its own wiki page detailing flashing prerequisites and installation instructions.

Pixel Experience Download Portal

Just because your device isn’t listed there does not mean that you can’t get to enjoy Pixel Experience by now. Because of its open-source nature, there are a number of unofficial builds for many devices on our forums, many of which will eventually end up becoming official builds as development progresses. Most of them are, by now, perfectly stable as daily drivers, with the occasional minor quirk.

Last but not least, XDA Recognized Developer ponces maintains an unofficial GSI port of Pixel Experience. In case you have a Project Treble-compliant device, which has yet to receive official PE support, you can give the GSI a try.

Support Pixel Experience

When building a custom ROM, it’s very tempting to include a truckload of features in it. The problem is, that can often affect the stability of the ROM. Pixel Experience strikes the right balance between user experience and reliability without compromising the overall speed and stability of the phone, which makes it a popular choice among custom ROM enthusiasts.

The project is and has always been a community effort, riding on the back of volunteers dedicating their own resources for the general good of the community. If you want to help the team translate the custom ROM into your language, you can do so by following the instructions here. You can also contribute towards infrastructural costs by donating to them.

About author

Skanda Hazarika
Skanda Hazarika

DIY enthusiast (i.e. salvager of old PC parts). An avid user of Android since the Eclair days, Skanda also likes to follow the recent development trends in the world of single-board computing.

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