Android users aren’t forced into a life of running just one ROM forever like owners of some “other” devices are. Users can change the way their device looks by changing wallpaper, widgets, and even the launcher (the app that is used to start every app). But Android takes that one step further: after rooting, users can flash almost any ROM they want on their device.
The reasons for flashing a custom ROM are as varied at the people doing the flashing. Perhaps they want to change the look and feel of their device. Maybe they want to get rid of bloatware. They might want to get rid of their OEM’s custom flavor of Android and get back to the “stock” experience. Their OEM may have stopped updating their smartphone or tablet, leaving the opensource community as the group providing updated. They could even want to push the envelope with performance, features, or functionality that don’t exist in the default ROM provided by their OEM.
Given all the options available, what ROM is right for you and your device?
Although it often goes overlooked in discussions about custom ROMs, we can’t forget about the ROM that already came installed on your device. Every Android-powered smartphone and tablet comes with a ROM installed, configured, and ready to use. It may have bloatware installed, it may not have some features that other ROMs have, it may have have features that other ROMs don’t. It may have a custom “skin” like HTC Sense, TouchWiz, or some other customization to the “pure” version of Android. Regardless, it’s there on your device when you get it, and it’s ready for you to pick up and use.
Generally speaking, you’ll have the least amount of headaches and troubles if you go this route. It’s the easiest of all your choices because it’s what comes with your device out of the box. There is also virtually no chance that you’ll “brick” your phone or tablet with the ROM that it came with.
Even sticking with the “stock” ROM, you can still customize the way your device looks and feels so that it’s perfect for you and your preferences.
Google releases the “pure” version of Android to the world though something called the Android Open Source Project. Generally speaking you’re not going to find ROMs for your phone or tablet in the AOSP. Instead you’ll find the source code of Android so you (or another developer) can bake your own version of Android however you’d like.
Since you, as an individual, probably aren’t going to build your own ROM, you’ll likely use a ROM that’s built by another developer, or group of developers. Here are some of the more popular ROMs based on AOSP.
CyanogenMod ROM has been around since the very early days of Android and has one of the longest “supported devices” lists around. Back in the day CyanogenMod (abbreviated to “CM”) would push the envelope and offer all kinds of new customizations and features. Recently they’ve switched their focus to stability and compatibility as their primary objectives, with customization and improvements being less important.
If you’re uncertain which ROM you want to run on your phone or tablet, start with CyanogenMod.
The Android Open Kang Project is “a custom ROM distribution for many Android devices”. The name is a play on the word “kang” and “AOSP”. Depending on who you ask, “kang” is used to describe something that has been hacked, stolen, re-appropriated, or put to another use than was originally intended. Something that has been “kanged” together is usually considered to be a patchwork of a lot of separate components.
According to its developers, “the name was sort of a joke, but it just stuck, just like our infatuation with unicorns.” Unicorns aside, AOKP pushes the envelope. They include all kinds of new apps, settings, skins, and more. If you want bleeding edge, AOKP is the ROM for you!
Paranoid Android, or “PA” for short, grew from “a basic environment … with a bunch of little hacks and apps to make it usable on XHDPI devices … (followed by) framework modifications” and eventually what’s known as their “Hybrid Engine”. This ROM lets you hyper-customize how your apps look, and whether you want them to be laid out in phone, phablet, or tablet-style — and let’s you make these choices on a per-app basis.
The number of devices supported by Paranoid Android is somewhat more limited than CyanogenMod, but it’s stable and unique, and let’s you control your user experience. If you want to have the most unique user experience, and you have one of the devices they support, Paranoid Android is the way to go.
Those are the “four” major ROMs out there, but the list goes on! CarbonRom, Android Revolution, and LiquidSmooth are just a few other ROMs that you may want to look into before settling on any one in particular. As you can tell, the number of ROMs and the flexibility and features in each is as diverse as the people using them.
How do you decide which ROM is best for you? Hopefully we’ve given you enough information to start you down the right path. Your next steps are trying whichever ones sound interesting to you on your own hardware. You might know right away that one ROM or another is perfect for you — or so atrocious that you can’t wait to flash it away. Ultimately the decision is personal, and entirely up to you!
Now that you’ve heard our short-list of ROMs and a brief “how do I decide which one to pick?” it’s your turn! Head down to the comments and let us know which ROM is your favorite and why! We’re also interested in hearing about what ROMs you’ve tried but abandoned, along with your reason for doing so!