We talk about it constantly on AndroidPIT: rooting your device and installing custom ROMs. Unfortunately, not everyone knows what a custom ROM exactly is and what it can do for you. If you’re confused, don’t worry as we’ll take this time to explain what exactly a ROM is and what the advantages and disadvantages of installing them on your Android device are.
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What is a ROM?
In general, a ROM is a file package that contains the operating system for your Android and other important code for controlling your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and device radio. If we go deeper, some of the major components are the kernel (which acts as a communicator between the software and hardware in your device), the operating system itself (the user interface designed to run on a Java Virtual machine called Dalvik), and the core functions that are needed for the device to work.
However, ROMs aren’t the operating system that comes standard with our devices, but rather, a modified version of the original. These can be developed by manufacturers (such as stock Android or Touchwiz from Samsung) or modified or created by independent teams of developers (such and CyanogenMod or Paranoid Android). This is possible due to the fact that Android, unlike iOS, is open-source and can be edited by anyone.
While official ROMs can arrive via OTA if provided by Google or your manufacturer, the majority of the custom ROM scene that is those developed by independent teams of developers, have to be installed manually. This method of manually installing a ROM is otherwise known as flashing. For more information on some of the more commonly used terms discussed when talking about flashing your device and installing custom ROMs, check out our previous article on the subject.
What are the benefits of a custom ROM?
If you don’t really follow news about releases of new versions of the Android OS, you most likely just wait for a notification on your device to let you know that an update is ready to be downloaded and installed. If you do follow the news, you probably know about all the bug fixes, changes, and new additions weeks or months ahead of you actually seeing the update. The nice thing about custom ROMs is that they offer new alternatives to official versions of the operating system.
The most interesting thing about a custom ROM is that they can fix bugs and improve performance in some cases. Usually, different version of Android does not reach specific devices either through a lack of support or through heavy customization by the manufacturer before their release. As such, some features may not make it into a certain release for a device or it may be modified to where the poijnt is moot. Custom ROMs can be a good alternative as they implement elements that either Google or the manufacturer may not have taken into account. Right now, the only devices that receive an absolutely “pure” version of Android are the Nexus line of devices, Google Play Edition devices, and some Motorola devices.
As stated above, some older devices often see the life of their support from the manufacturer just disappear as they get older. While they still might be on the market and for sale, they may not see any more updates to the operating system, even if they are capable of running the newest version. Much like what we’ve seen recently with the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One S, there is hope for older devices through the releases of custom ROMs that bring the devices up to latest Android version.
Among custom ROMs, the most popular at moment are CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android, and AOKP. For a little further information on different custom ROMs and what they can provide for you, check out some of our previous articles on the subjects.
What are the disadvantages of a custom ROM?
One of the downsides to custom ROMs is the actual process required to flash them on your device. First and foremost, you require root access which gives you administrator privileges to your Android’s file system. Such processes often require advanced understanding of your device and have the potential to brick your device if performed incorrectly.
As well, rooting your device and changing the operating system by installing unofficial ROMs can void warranties. Sure, there are methods of reversing the root process by reinstalling the original firmware, removing root, and resetting the flash counter to zero, however, this process is getting harder and harder to do with the release of newer devices to the market.
As well, not all custom ROMs work universally across all devices. Compatibility will have to be checked prior to even remotely considering flashing a custom ROM to your device. As well, while support for some of the more major custom ROMs, such as CyanogenMod, is pretty constant you could possibly go for a long time without any official releases or updates if you’re running a lesser known custom ROM.
We offer a ton of tutorials and guides on how to root your specific device and install custom ROMs, so be sure to check them out for yourself. AS well, the XDA Developers Forum is an absolute wealth of knowledge when it comes to this subject. For all things regarding either flashing a custom ROM or rooting your device, always make sure that you’re backing up your data.
What custom ROMs have you tried out? What would you recommend to someone who has never tried a custom ROM before?