Android phones are both wonderful and dangerous devices at the same time. What makes them wonderful is you have the ability to customize your phone further than most other platforms will allow you to right out of the box. To make them dangerous is... you have the ability to customize your phone futher than most other platforms will allow you to - but not right out of the box. First you have to do a little reprogramming to your phone in order to get root access, or as many people call it: rooting.
Rooting your device can be as simple as one-two-click!, or it could be one of the most difficult and heartpounding puzzles you've ever dealt with in your life. It depends on how much trust you put in developers to properly root your device, and how good you are at following directions. If you've never rooted your device but are considering doing so, you might want to check out an article I wrote a couple of months ago that covered the basics of rooting and asked readers for tips to help teach those new to the process. Rooting can be fun, but it does come with its risks.
But this article isn't about rooting so much as it is what happens after you've rooted. As most of you know, a rooted device from the get-go looks virtually untouched as it did before you rooted the device. Rooting is just the first step in being able to fully customize your Android, and now that you've got the biggest obstacle out of your way you can focus on the fun stuff, such as installing a custom ROM. But first, to understand what a custom ROM is we first should know what exactly it is we are dealing with.
What is a ROM?
ROM stands for Read Only Memory, and each phone has a ROM image preinstalled in it with files and codes that is the very core of your device; a ROM image boots up the device and runs Android. The one that comes on your phone is commonly called a "Stock ROM", which is the only version that manufacturers will ever recommend for you to run on the device. Even after initially rooting the device, you're still likely running the stock ROM if all you did was gain root access. Although root access can still allow you to do more than manufacturers and carriers would like for you to do, such as removing those pesky bloatware applications, there's still a lot more you can do with your Android at this point.
This includes replacing the stock ROM with a custom ROM made by developers.
I don't remember the last time that I used an Android without the intention of rooting it and putting a custom ROM on there. Seriously, once you figure out how to do it (which, again, can be a frustrating process at first), if you're anything like me you won't be going back. Custom ROMs allow you to do so much with your phones: giving your phone an extensive makeover with complete skins, performance boosts and even being able to upgrade software versions before it's officially available for your phone (if ever). In short, custom ROMs can make your phone seem like an entirely new device, on the inside at least, without actually having to go out and purchase a new device every time a new one comes out. It can satisfy the serial phone switcher's unsatiated hunger for change in mere minutes once you get comfortable with the process.
Now, when it comes to finding a custom ROM for your phone, you're likely to find that there are several already made for your convenience; finding them is not usually the problem. The problem is finding your favorite.
You can learn a great deal about a custom ROM simply from reading the developer's notes. These notes generally clarify what works, what doesn't work, what's been improved and what extras come with the ROM. However, sometimes you'll find that even after reading these notes and thinking the ROM is perfect for you, it's not really your style once it's actually on your phone. No big deal! Just find a new custom ROM to download, reboot back into your custom recovery, do a wipe data/factory reset, wipe your cache and install a new ROM. Voila, it's as if it that ROM you didn't like never happened. Unfortunately, if you're the type of person who likes to try out a ROM for a few days before switching, you're in for a good time re-entering information after each reset (your phone needs to be factory reset before installing any new ROMs). For the most part, that's the most annoying thing you'll encounter during the process of finding your favorite custom ROM.
Although it's not necessary to install a custom ROM after rooting your Android device, it's something that a lot of people would recommend in order to get the "most" out of your device. But just like when you make the decision to root the device, I can't stress enough the importance of reading a developer's notes in its entirety before jumping in and installing a ROM.
Readers who have rooted your Androids and installed ROMs, what device do you use and what has your favorite ROM been so far? (I'm running RageOne for the Sprint HTC One.)
Images via CyanogenMod, Android Central