One of the most popular aspects of the Android mobile platform is the ability to customize and tweak your phone to no end. The more serious type of tweaking and modding is known as loading or flashing custom ROMs to your device. But doing so isn't always a cut and dry process, and neither is finding the perfect ROM. Many custom ROMs are littered with bugs and glitches, sometimes they can even leave your phone unusable.
Picking the right ROM takes a little time and patience, research, and the willingness to wipe your phone and start from scratch...multiple times. Beyond knowing how to flash a ROM and what a custom ROM is, knowing how to pick the correct one for you is vital. Here are a few things to consider when choosing your next ROM:
What production stage the ROM is currently in
Creating custom ROMs is usually an difficult, ongoing process. Depending on how long the phone has been out, how well the developers know their way around the software, and what version of Android the ROM is being built off of all play factors in how fast or slow the production of a ROM goes.
If you are browsing Android development forums, the title of a ROM's thread will usually list the current state of the ROM. Here are a few of the common development stages:
- WIP – This means the ROM is a work in progress. Typically, this is not a ROM that you would want to use as a daily driver as several features (data, Wi-Fi, GPS, etc.) are probably not working. So why would developers upload a ROM that is in a broken state? These are for the daring and knowledgeable to download and flash to report bugs and glitches for the developer to fix.
- Alpha – A ROM in alpha state will generally be more solid than a WIP, but it is still riddled with bugs. For instance, I'm using an Alpha build of CyanogenMod 7 for my ThunderBolt. The ROM is fully-functioning, but it has its quirks. If I have Wi-Fi disabled and want to enable it, I have to toggle it in settings then reboot the phone for it to enable again. Like I said, it's fully-functioning, but still has its problems.
- Beta – A beta build of a ROM is usually a good choice for a daily driver. It might have a few bugs here and there, but probably no more than any official build from your carrier and the manufacturer of your phone.
- Release Candidate – This means the build is solid. In all honesty, it will probably run smoother than any official ROMs and updates. If you aren't exactly a fan of bugs, you will experience the least on a RC. It is probably your safest bet.
- Nightlies – These normally come from the CyanogenMod team more than anyone else, but they are ongoing, daily updates built off of the previous day's build. Depending on how far the developers are in the process (Alpha, Beta, Release Candidate), a nightly build can be riddled with bugs or run buttery smooth.
How frequently the ROM is updated
Flashing updates for custom ROMs is quick and easy, and sometimes addicting. If you are looking to flash updates all the time, you will probably want to choose a ROM like MIUI or CyanogenMod. These ROMs generally have more than one person developing it and are updated regularly. Lesser-known, independent ROMs that only have one or two developers might only be updated every week or less. For someone who doesn't plan to flash a lot of updates, the frequency of updates will not be a deciding factor.
What version of Android the ROM is built off of
With many versions of Android out there, developers have a lot of options when it comes to building their ROM. This also gives you several options to choose from when browsing for your next ROM. They can be built off of official updates from carriers and manufacturers, or they can be built off of the Android source code.
If you have an HTC phones, you will likely have the option to choose between ROMs built off of Sense UI, stock Froyo, stock Gingerbread, and completely custom UIs built off of either version (like MIUI). The same goes for phones built by other manufacturers. Samsung users might see altered ROMs with TouchWiz aspects, and there have even been Sense UI ports for some Galaxy S devices.
Choosing between all of these different options can be difficult. The good part is, if you're not sure what you want, trial and error is always an option. With the use of backups, you can always go back to where you were when you started without having to go all the way back to square one.
Pay attention to changelogs
When a ROM is updated, the developer will usually list what has changed and what has been fixed. If you are looking for a ROM that is constantly updated with big changes and a developer who seeks out the issues with the ROM rather than just adding meaningless changes, the changelogs will tell all. They're also a good way to see how the progress is shaping up.
Read comments from people who have already tried it
Research is vital. If you want a stable ROM that can get you through the day with minimal hiccups, read through the posts in the ROM's thread. People will always report errors and seek solutions in the thread, it's the perfect way to see exactly what you will be dealing with and see if there are solutions to the bugs. If there are a lot of bugs and few solutions, it's simple, choose another ROM.
The most important part is knowing your risks. Always follow instructions intently. Deviating from a developer's set of instructions is asking for trouble. If something goes wrong, there is no one to blame but yourself. If you partake in rooting or flashing custom software, you are doing so at your own discretion. If your device becomes damaged in the process, PhoneDog is not at fault. I am not telling anyone to go root their device or flash a custom ROM. You have been warned.