ROMs Aren’t Built in a Day: The New PA May Be Lacking Now, but What’s There Is Very Promising
Paranoid Android returned in what was probably one of the most exciting moments of the week for XDA users, even amidst new and significant phone releases. After a long hiatus, their newest Marshmallow builds are available to the public.
For those who don’t know about Paranoid Android, they had made some excellent ROMs crammed with functionality that pushed the user experience forward. They put forth really polished staple-features like Hover notifications, a concept which spread like wildfire. They championed immersive mode and alternative navigation controls with PIE, maximizing screen space for those willing to step out of the ordinary. Dynamic status bars, ambient-predecessor Peek, and a myriad of customization options… Paranoid Android not only had an extensive repertoire of fun, useful stuff, but also remarkable implementation.
With their newest Marshmallow ROM, much of that we fondly remember hasn’t made the cut, but that doesn’t meant there isn’t excitement to be had. I’ve flashed this ROM on my Nexus 6P and OnePlus 2, and the experience has so far been very satisfactory, albeit not what I had expected.
These builds of Paranoid Android showcase a rather unadulterated Android. For many people, that’s a good thing, although I know some were disappointed to find that the Settings menus didn’t offer much new (or in this particular ROM’s case, old) stuff to play with. And in PA fashion, the toggles you are looking for are tucked away in the respective sub-menus.
The key features that this new Paranoid Android has to offer were those detailed in their release post. Let’s begin with floating windows: rather than the multi-tasking they and others in the custom ROM scene had championed, these floating windows are more like peeks, as the overlaying application is not manipulatable — it is designed not to multi-task but to facilitate certain actions. For example, you can make it so that heads-up notifications, or long-pressing notifications in the status bar, open up the relevant app in a floating window. For chat applications, this isn’t bad — it allows you to see the whole chat history while quick reply does not.
Quick Settings tiles can be re-ordered easily by dragging and dropping, and you can add extra ones with the plus icon at the top. This is very much like what you find in other ROMs (like OxygenOS, coincidentally) and while the animations for the sorting of the toggles are well-made and look really nice, it is not a feature many will enjoy multiple times a day. Once you are done setting your tiles however you like them, you are likely to leave them that way.
The new tiles also serve as a gateway for Paranoid Android features, and they allow for quick and easy configuration of said features. You can change the behaviour of floating windows, and you can toggle immersive mode as well. But immersive mode, albeit awesome, is frustrating to use without navigation solutions like PIE. It is still nice to have a toggle for it, though, as it allows the feature to be situational rather than global, letting users get the most out of specific applications or use-cases.
What’s by far my favorite idea here is also the most tragically under-implemented feature: on-the-stop settings. Their blogspot casually mentioned it, likely because there’s only one proper implementation of this concept so far, but didn’t go into specifics. What it does is, rather than configuring a “default” for very common and/or important ROM behavior, it asks you which setting you would like on the first trigger of such behavior.
In the example you are presented early into your usage, the phone asks whether you want Quick Pulldown when lowering the notification shade. This solution is discreet and user-friendly, and does not take control away from the user nor demand attention like some other implementations. You can later either re-configure the appropriate toggle in the settings, or restore the setting under the Paranoid Android submenu of “Backup & Restore”.
Another really nice aspect of this ROM is that it feels very well polished, with performance on my Nexus 6P being extremely smooth and with very few drops in framerate while scrolling through lists. Opening applications is fast and I had no stability issues other than one instance of Clock app force close (granted, that’s one of the last applications you want to fail you). I can’t speak on battery life as I’ve only gotten a few charges out, and my usage has been highly atypical (hotspotting while waiting for a new router).
I feel that the team behind Paranoid Android has released a very solid and promising ROM with many of the right ideas, and a clear priority on quality over quantity — perhaps to the point where the lack of features hurt the ROM. But a ROM as influential as Paranoid Android was is not built in a day, and Paranoid Android still has many of the same underlying approaches and philosophy working in its favor.
Essentially, I’d say this is a polished ROM with good performance and thoughtful features. Many fans said Paranoid Android felt “professionally put together”, and this ROM isn’t much of a deviation from that. Menus are tidy, features are well-implemented and easily-accessible, and there is good thought behind each core function. But losing some of Paranoid Android’s prime functionality – at least temporarily – means the ROM has ways to go before really feeling like the PA many people came to expect. And considering that Android N is coming out soon, maybe the PA team is saving its cards for that round. And let’s not forget, many of the features PA pioneered are now in AOSP, and more are being adopted by N.
Some of the missing stuff is not just stuff PA used to have, but features custom ROMs have adopted as a standard. That doesn’t meant that you can’t get the features elsewhere through other mods on top of the PA ROM, though. And surprisingly enough, features like Android Pay were actually working. Users in the forum have also reported good battery life, and it has lasted me enough even with my atypical usage. So ultimately, if you want a stable ROM with thoughtful design, good theming capabilities and Android Pay, give this a shot — it’s bound to keep getting better over time.