Custom ROMs: Breaking down the pros and cons

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I have written in past articles about some phones that could probably benefit from custom ROMs. The advantages could come in the form of extra functionality, better battery life, smoother performance and even a faster, lighter device with more space due to stripping of unnecessary or unused functions for the user.

Let’s talk custom ROM.

Disadvantages/ Risks


ArtROM-01There are risks with flashing a custom ROM; It’s best to be prepared for it.

Before we get into the good stuff about running a custom rom, I’d first like to address obvious issues with running one. The most obvious one is the voiding of your warranty. Needless to say, by flashing a custom ROM onto your device, you will inevitably void your warranty, no ifs and buts around it.

Secondly, most custom ROMs don’t have the ability to update via OTA (on the air) or it’s just not as easy as running a stock ROM. What this means is that while your stock ROM would most likely check for updates normally and notify you of them and also help you download and apply them, most custom ROMs don’t do this. You’re required to check up regularly for updates, and sometimes applying them isn’t exactly easy either, with some of them needing you to wipe your device entirely, which can be quite the hassle.

Third, not all custom ROMs are stable, heck for that matter, not all custom ROMs are good. Through my experience, you will come across some custom ROMs that while claiming to be stable, do have some quirks about them that stop them functioning at times (even the OnePlus One’s CM11S had this). What this means is that you could possibly end up with a phone that has functionality that may be broken when you try to access them, or even cause your phone to restart or bootloop, which brings me to my final point.

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Flashing a custom ROM runs the risk, however small it may be, of bricking your device. Whether this is soft brick (fixable though may not necessarily be easy) or hard brick (tough luck son, you gone done something to kill it), is entirely dependent on a) your luck, and b) the way you flash it. I will note as well that using unstable USB ports and USB cables run the risk or bricking your device, and also, I probably don’t need to say this but if your battery runs out in the process, it’s probably not a good thing.

Advantages/ Gains


ArtROM-Note2Samsung Galaxy Note 2 running DittoNote 4, giving it Note 4 + S5 functionalities

With that said, custom ROMs bring a lot of benefits to the end user. For starters, there are devices like the Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S that have been long discontinued yet due to the relentless effort of the developer community, these phones still see frequent updates even till today, with some even slated to run Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Dislike the stock ROM that your device runs? Find that its user interface is unintuitive and a hassle? Having performance issues with the device? A custom ROM can help with all of these, and most of the times that’s why people seek them out. The amount of changes they can bring to the user interface is entirely dependent on the ROM that it’s based upon, with ROMs based on AOSP like CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android, and AOKP being very similar to stock Android (i.e. Nexus), with each derivative having differences of their own, and on the flip side of things, there’s custom ROMs like MIUI (this may be the stock ROM on some devices), LewaOS, and ColorOS that have their own take on things and user interface.

Custom ROMs don’t necessarily have to be a massive change from the stock ROMs either, as there are ROMs out there that are customised versions of their stock counterparts, stripping away useless functions whilst adding in more useful ones, and perhaps adding more customisation and layers on top of it while still maintaining a lightweight footprint. They don’t necessarily have to be based off the existing framework either, as phones like the Note 2 now have access to ROMs that grant it the Note 4 and Galaxy S5 functionalities.

ArtROM-BatteryLifeXiaomi Redmi 1s – Stock MIUI v5 v45 vs CM11 Battery Life

Aesthetics and UI aside, there’s a good chance that running a custom ROM gives you better battery life as well. This can either come from the result of a much lighter system with less things running in the background, a more optimised kernel that knows how to throttle and control the processor through daily usage, or perhaps just from running apps that know how to control your phone when it’s in use and not in use to maximise the battery life. Either way, you’re probably going to get better battery life, though this is of course extremely dependent on a lot of things.

The long story short of what I’m referring to above applies mostly to Samsung devices running the Exynos processor (read Note 4 Exynos, Galaxy Alpha etc etc). Through my findings, Exynos processors don’t run anything but their base very well (Samsung framework as opposed to AOSP, MIUI, etc etc). This means that you may get better battery life on custom ROMs based off the stock ROMs as opposed to custom ROMs like CyanogenMod. This is because Samsung does not release the source codes for their kernels, making it difficult to make good new kernels for different frameworks other than their own. There are Samsung phones that run on Qualcomm processors however, and these devices can fully benefit from running an AOSP ROM, with what should be positive battery life changes.

But wait! Before you start flashing your device to a different framework however, there are things that you will inevitably give up. An example of this is the Note line up from Samsung. While running a different custom framework allows you to run a much lighter, cleaner phone, you will not be able to access features that are actually useful. Such features include multitasking capabilities like multi window and resizing windows, quick content sharing and most importantly, pen functionality. You then have to consider if you don’t mind losing these things to run an AOSP ROM. All hope is not lost however, as as mentioned above, you could always run a lighter, more customised version of the ROM that comes with your phone that should bring you the best of both worlds. As far as personal preferences go, I do not really prefer one over the other, but with phones like my Note 4, I much prefer sticking to ROMs based on the Samsung framework as that way I get extra customisability without sacrificing the loss of features and functions that I’ve come to like and love.

Conclusion


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I can say it without a doubt that almost all the time, running a custom ROM on your device is a good thing. It’s the first thing that I do when I get a new phone as I’m a customisation junkie. Most of the times for me it’s a matter of me just not liking what the OEMs have done by default with their phones, and just that desire to tap into their inner potential.

It’s not for everyone however, and I understand this. It’s a lot more of a hassle to maintain, and when you run into problems with it, forget about running to your phone manufacturer; you’re going to have to get help from the community, and this can sometimes be a massive pain. They’re not always the easiest to load onto as well, but the way I see it, the rewards are worth the risk and the effort put into it, especially if the device has long outlasted its shelf life.

If you however find yourself in a position where you feel you’re unhappy with your device or maybe just prefer running your phone like a stock Nexus, or perhaps your phone has hit EOL and stopped receiving updates then I’d definitely recommend flashing on a custom ROM. It may seem scary at first, but trust me, it will be worth it.

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