Sunday Debate: Custom ROMs vs. Modular Tweaks
Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Mods and ROMs. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!
PLEASE NOTE THIS DEBATE IS ABOUT FUNCTIONALITY AND PRACTICALITY AND NOT ANY IMPLICATIONS.
LET’S AIM FOR FRIENDLY DISCUSSION
Tweaking Android is what a majority of XDA users are here for, whether to simply root a phone or to flash a shiny custom ROM with a refined user experience. Our forums are bursting with creativity in the form of themes, tweaks, optimizations, apps and of course ROMs. The custom ROMs our developers build have created their own thriving communities within, with eager fans awaiting each new version, and developers that can be unbelievably dedicated at supporting and maintaining their work as well as helping out individual users. We see users request features, some offering to test drive, and then we see ROM makers incorporate the requests and the users’ feedback to iron out potential bugs and aim for a better Android, iteration after iteration. ROMs are an engaging aspect of the XDA forums, and without them, the community simply wouldn’t be the same.
At the same time, many people are pleased with most of their ROM, stock or otherwise, and do not necessarily need many of the enhancements that come with a new release or a different ROM. But there might still be some nice tweaks or features one might want to check out, and this is where individual modular tweaks come in: be them DIY tweaks done through de-compiling APKs or just easily flashable zip files, these can extend and expand functionality without many of the hassles that come with flashing a new custom ROM. And with the Xposed framework, this is made even easier by having an on and off switch, simple installations and far-reaching capabilities. It is undeniable that many users inside and outside of XDA love rovo89’s Xposed, and these kind of tweaks have brought many users a simple way to get what they want on the ROM they love.
Like in many debates, the two are not mutually exclusive. You can have a custom ROM and then, on top of that, flash or install modular tweaks to better it.. This debate is about which method of acquiring features is more useful or efficient, and not about the implications behind each practice. With these things in mind, we ask:
Do you like getting features through Custom ROMs, or do you prefer modular additions such as flashable zips and Xposed? Which do you think is optimal for your user experience, and why? Here are some of our arguments in favor and against, but feel free to skip to the comments to voice your opinion.
These offer a pre-packaged vision of Android by a particular developer, and there are ROMs to suit most tastes. There are slim ROMs, or some with lots of features, others with an emphasis on customizability, others with innovative navigation or UI changes… What’s more, if you have a device from a manufacturer that skins their firmware, there’s a big chance that you will find an AOSP-based ROM for your phone – meaning that, for many, custom ROMs offer a direct route to an entirely new user experience. You can try to modify a vendor skin or AOSP ROMs to make them look or function more like the other, but in the end, a ROM is usually a good bet if you want to ensure a fully functioning UX. This is because ROMs are typically on-going developments and not a flash-and-forget solution, and many ROM makers pay careful attention to the stability of their devices. Early ROM releases might contain bugs, but these tend to get squashed after enough feedback is gathered, and since the developer has access to the entirety of the ROM, they have greater freedom when issuing fixes to whatever incompatibilities an addition causes. The commitment of developers, the ongoing feedback and the holistic nature of ROMs can make for an UX that is more stable and pleasing than a ROM with many modular tweaks installed.
Custom ROMs can offer the other modular modifications and still be optimized for better stability and performance, but that doesn’t take away the fact that flashing them or updating them tends to be a lengthier process than simply flashing a 20MB zip file or installing an Xposed module. Some ROMs (particularly those based on OEM skins) can be quite heavy on the hard drive and bandwidth, so even getting your hands on them can be a little trickier (especially for people with slow or limited internet). Having to flash the entire package can also take some time, and doing so for a couple of features can be less than ideal. Installing a new ROM or going back to an old one is easier than ever now because of all the backup options at your disposal, but some people still find the process quite obnoxious too. And if your device is powerful enough, the optimizations made to custom ROMs are not as important as they were a few years ago.
If you like your current ROM but only want this feature or that feature, modular tweaks can be very helpful. Many devices have threads with guides or zips that you can apply to your device to obtain a desired feature or customization, and many of these replicate what is found in custom ROMs. This way, the repertoire of modifications acts as a buffet where you can pick whatever you want and apply it. These are typically less time-consuming, too, but depending on the scope of the mod it might suffer from incompatibility issues with certain devices. That being said, if you browse in a forum for your device and read the threads for compatibility, you diminish your chances of entering a nasty force close party or bootloop. On XDA you can find all sorts of mods, from do-it-yourself guides that have you decompiling APKs and picking code to simple flash-and-forget zips. But the greatest modular mod of them all is Xposed, where you can apply several modules to change your device in a simple reboot. Many mods can be easy to revert, too, so if for whatever reason you didn’t like the modification you can dial back in a pinch. With Xposed, it is even easier than that, as you can simply turn off modules or the framework itself in case things go wrong.
That being said, when dealing with modular tweaks you do not have the comfort of knowing that the package you are installing will be compatible with your particular configuration. When it comes to custom ROMs, the builds can be tested before being published, but with mods that are meant to be usable across many software permutations, a single developer cannot attempt such quality assurance. Many mods, like plenty of Xposed powerhouse modules, can have a lot of hooks all over the system and then conflict with other modifications in unexpected ways. Performance and battery life can also be diminished by these incompatibilities, too. On many occasions, these custom tweaks do not have proper integration with the ROM either, while in custom ROMs you can usually disable the tweak or configure it through a settings menu or bundled app. And while you might find exactly what you want, a big-name ROM from a dedicated developer can grab that feature and take it to another level by optimizing it for his or her ROM in particular.
On one hand, custom ROMs are packaged solutions that, if chosen right, contain what you want – and more – in a piece of software that can be holistically optimized. On the other hand, modular tweaks allow you to add just what you want and nothing more, cutting out what you might perceive as added fat in the ROM that also has what you want. Both aren’t mutually exclusive and in many cases they can get you to similar if not exact functionality. So we ask:
Do you prefer to flash custom ROMs, or build up the one you have with modular tweaks?
Why do you think this is a better approach for you as a user?