What is an Android Custom ROM?

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In the world of Android, you’ll often hear people talking about “Custom ROMs”. This article will explain why you might want one. So don’t be shy, read on.

The term ROM, which stands for Read Only Memory and really has very little to do with what a custom Android ROM actually is, can be confusing. A custom Android ROM refers to a phone’s firmware, based on Google’s Android platform. Android is open source and therefore any developer can edit the code, recompile it, and re-release for a wide variety of devices. Users can install ROMs to change a device’s appearance and behavior. ROMs are developed by the Android community, often times by a group of core developers who do this purely out of passion for modding. This means that most are completely free. Custom ROMs are available for phones, tablets, media players, smart watches and almost any type of device running Android.

When you buy your Android device, it comes with what we call a “stock ROM” or the “stock firmware”. This refers to the preinstalled operating system. This ROM usually has limited functionality as defined by the phone’s manufacturer. By flashing a custom ROM, you can unlock extra features and sometimes improve the performance.

Flashing a ROM is easy and if you follow instructions, you barely need to know what you’re doing… and I barely need to have friends! It’s been 17 days since someone texted me. You should know that if you do something incorrectly while flashing a ROM, you risk rendering your phone inoperable. This is rare but can happen if you aren’t careful, and it’s called “bricking”.

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Many Android users will never touch a custom ROM and will be perfectly satisfied. For those of us who want to push the performance of our devices and unlock extra features, we’ll be using custom ROMs. Here are some of the benefits of switching to a Custom ROM:

Performance

Out of the box, your phone or tablet’s hardware is clocked at a speed that the manufacturer considers optimal in terms of heat and battery life. On a custom ROM, you’ll be able to overclock your hardware to get big performance increases. These changes can really show when you’re playing graphics intensive games. Another way a ROM can improve performance is by removing carrier or OEM-installed apps, known as bloatware, which can free up system resources.

Battery Life

On the flip-side of overclocking, there’s underclocking. If you don’t really need all the speed of your massive processor, you can dial it back a bit by underclocking. With your processor running at a lower speed, you can often extend battery life by days! This is something to consider if you find yourself charging your phone multiple times per day. A custom ROM, again, by removing bloatware, can help free up the CPU to do less because there are fewer apps running in the background.

Updates

One of the most frustrating things about owning an Android is waiting for your manufacturer to push an update to your phone so you can get the latest features. Often times manufacturers will even cut support for your device entirely. This leaves you stuck with a phone with an old version of Android. The solution is a custom ROM on the newest Android version. Even if your phone is stuck on KitKat, you can download and flash a ROM based on Lollipop. Many of the more popular ROMs even update on a daily basis. These updates are called “Nightlies”.

Customization

Android is already very customizable right out of the box. With a custom ROM you can even modify things like the color of your notification light, the force of your vibration, the saturation of the colors on your screen and much more. I wish I could customize myself a friend!


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If at this point you’re sold on the idea of installing a custom ROM, you next step is deciding which one you want. This is the fun part! Remember what it’s like to have fun? I’m really lonely.

Tell me moar!

CyanogenMod

CyanogenMod is the most popular ROM among the XDA community.To see if your device is supported, check out this page. To name a few features of CyanogenMod: theming support, FLAC audio support, per-application permissions, CPU overclocking, soft-button customizations, & more.

AOKP

AOKP is another popular ROM that’s all about speed.  To see if your device is supported, check out this page. Some features of AOKP include custom toggles in the notification shade, LED control for devices that have a notification light, nav ring support, vibration pattern customization, & more.

Paranoid Android

Paranoid Android focuses on improving notifications, design and navigation. It uniquely lets you run your entire system, or just certain apps, in tablet or phone mode, and you can customize the DPI settings as well. This is great for big displays when you want to fully utilize the screen space.

I would recommend checking your device’s XDA forum and see what the most popular ROM is before you make a decision. You can even try all of them! You can flash as many ROMs as you want until you find the perfect one for you.