customizations. Big companies like Samsung, HTC, and Sony make their own changes to the vanilla Android OS and then ship the final product. Many of these changes are in the UI and in the applications. One of the main reasons for making these changes is to make the smartphone stand out from other vanilla Android-based models. Furthermore, these modifications also convey the brand's identity that goes along with the model.
That said, these modifications don't necessarily make the Android smartphone better. In fact, they're the number one cause of Android's famed fragmentation problem. Also, apart from fragmentation, the manufacturer's software often tends to bloat the system making it sluggish. And yeah, the worst part is that you can't get the same smooth feeling of a vanilla OS your Nexus-owning friends get.
Thankfully, though, there is a simple solution to those problems. Soon after the introduction of the HTC Dream in September 2008, developers found out a way to attain privileged control or root access within Android's Linux-based subsystem. Having root access, combined with the open source goodness of the Android operating system, allowed the phone's stock firmware to be modified and re-installed onto the phone. This is where the craze of ROMs began.
For the uninitiated, Android ROMs are modified versions of Android OS that you can install on your phone. Since Android's launch, developers have come up with various such ROMs, which add different features and functionality to smartphone without the bloat. Also, people go for these ROMs not just for the features, but also because they want the latest version of Android, which, thanks to the manufacturer, takes months to reach the user. Thus ROMs serve as a great way for users to get the most out of their system, making them quite popular, not just among tweakers, but among normal users as well.
So, if you're clueless as to which custom ROM to choose for your beloved Droid, here's a list of the best ones:
Undoubtedly the most popular ROM around, CyanogenMod (pronounced sigh-AN-oh-jen-mod), is a customized, aftermarket, open-source firmware distribution for Android devices. The project is based on Android's open-source version AOSP and has a huge community supporting it.
CyanogenMod 6, which was the first release of this firmware, was based on Android 2.2 Froyo and was released in 2010. Later, many new versions came up with the latest being CyanogenMod 9, which is based on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Cyanogen offers features like native theming support, FLAC support, OpenVPN client, support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and USB tethering, CPU over-clocking and many other features that are missing in the vanilla or the manufacturer's version of Android.
As of today, there have been over 3.1 million installs of CyanogenMod.
Pronounced Me You I, MIUI is an aftermarket firmware for Android-based phones made by Chinese mobile phone company Xiaomi Tech. Despite being closed-source, MIUI has achieved immense popularity thanks to its distinctive look and amazing features. The custom ROM features a heavily modified UI that is kind of a cross between Samsung's TouchWiz UI and Apple iOS. Though not a complete iPhone rip off, keen observers will find many similarities in both the operating systems. Features included in MIUI are toggles for notification pull-down, improved music, gallery, and camera, and a gorgeous-looking phone dialer.
MIUI is based on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and CyanogenMod 9 and includes some extra applications to enhance its functionality. One of the most popular ones in the stock app is MITalk, which is a Blackberry Messenger Clone along with other applications.
Android Open Kang Project is another great custom ROM distribution for your Android device. Though it is quite similar to the aforementioned CyanogenMod ROM, it does offer some features that make it stand out. With support for add-ons and other customizations, AOKP isn't simply a Cyanogen-alternative.
SlimROM is a lightweight ROM for Android that gives you all the basic features without any bloat. Designed to keep things to the bare minimum, SlimROM brings some great new tweaks and add-ons to your phone. The latest version of the firmware is SlimBean, which is based off of Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean).