The Nexus 5 was unveiled on October 31st of last year, and offered for sale through Google’s Play Store the same day. In those several months I’ve run the stock version of Android, though about half way through I rooted it and run several apps that require those elevated privileges.
That’s pretty significant. It’s the first personal phone that I haven’t run a Custom ROM on since my very early days with Windows CE. Even back then I ran “cooked” ROMs on my Pocket PCs. Since then, running a Custom ROM has gotten significantly easier. Rooting toolkits are available that take all the guesswork out of installing the right USB drivers, unlocking, rooting, and flashing a custom recovery image. Once you’re that far, you’ve got your choice of half-a-dozen or so ROMs that you can run on your device.
That’s what makes Android 4.4 KitKat and the Nexus 5 so significant.
Whenever I get a new phone, I generally run “stock” for a few weeks, so I can see what’s new first-hand, and so I can experience the device the way the manufacturer intended. During that time I’m generally hyper-aware of what I’m missing by not running CyanogenMod 11, Paranoid Android, AOKP, or any number of other ROMs. Those few weeks without the added features are usually more than enough for me, and I’m happy to make the switch back all too quickly.
This time, however, stock Android has been enough. KitKat is finally the version of Android that everyone has been waiting for. It’s quick. It’s stable. It looks good. It’s intuitive. It really doesn’t need anything else — however, that’s not to say that you might not want to add to it.
After a few months, I OEM unlocked and rooted my Nexus 5. That took me back to a like-new condition, but it gave me the ability to run a custom kernel (with all the benefits that brings), replace the soft-buttons with custom images, overclock my CPU, automatically synchronize my clock with any timeserver that I want, adjust the color levels of my screen, and so much more. Stock, but rooted, gave me all I wanted — no custom ROM needed.
I’ve been running almost four months without having “factory reset” anything, and without worry that flashing a nightly build of a Custom ROM could result in a bootloop. It’s been nice!
Then, one night a few weeks ago I found myself with some spare time, no where to go, and nothing to do. Instead of cracking open a new eBook or watching an episode of Firefly for the umpteenth time, I decided to download and flash the latest CyanogenMod 11 Nightly. Before long I was up and running, and re-configuring all the apps on my phone.
I now have quiet hours again, along with profiles that I can trigger via my pre-existing NFC tags placed strategically around my environment. I can download and install themes and make make changes to my Quick Settings panel and Notification drawer.
I have blacklisting at my disposal to automatically reject calls based on who’s calling, right on the phone itself, no third-party needed. My personal information is kept more private thanks to Privacy Guard, and I can talk securely over SMS thanks to WhisperPush — without having to buy a $10/month subscription to Silent Circle.
Of course, the list goes on.
It’s not all butterflies and lollipops
CyanogenMod 11 isn’t perfect. Then again, since it’s not available in a “Stable” version yet, you shouldn’t expect it to be.
As of the April 16th Nightly, there are some known bugs. Some are bigger than others.
- Video streaming problems when using the official YouTube app where certain videos will load slowly or have stuttering video
- The stock camera doesn’t have HDR+ support
- Photos taken with the flash are all highly exposed
- The built-in camera doesn’t have Photo Sphere support
- The sound quality is more noisy with the DSP Manager, and using the stock equalizer is much better
Even the newly released Google Camera app crashes when you try to switch to HDR+, though it does work fine with Photo Sphere. My current favorite custom kernel, Faux, doesn’t seem to get along with CyanogenMod — at least not in my experience. Every time I flash it, my phone never boots up until I re-flash the ROM, or restore from a backup.
Trying out Nightlies used to be part of my daily routine. I’d download and start the install before I hopped in the shower, and the new version would usually be waiting for me by the time I got out. Now, however, flashing Nightlies just seems like one more chore that I have to do, without the benefit of some new benefit or feature waiting for me to discover.
Also, nightlies since the 14th of April don’t seem to like something with my setup. If I flash those I get stuck looking at Cid with an arrow orbiting his head at boot. I haven’t had time to troubleshoot that yet, but it’s a little frustrating.
And of course, whenever you have to wipe (which seems to be more frequent with a Nightly build of a Custom ROM), you have to reconfigure all your apps and input all your credentials again. I never realized how many different sets of credentials I have. Since I don’t use the same password on more than one site, this got complicated quickly. Add to the fact that I use two-step authentication on both my Google accounts, Twitter, and even a couple bitcoin wallets, and you can see why a non-power user might want to avoid the whole ordeal.
Will I stick with CyanogenMod? I’m glad I went back and tried it again, but CyanogenMod 11 just isn’t quite ready to be my daily driver — at least not when stock KitKat with root can do so much. After a Stable version is available, who knows.