Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Part 4 : Selecting your first Custom ROM

This is part 4 of a series of posts on rooting and ROM-ing on my new Galaxy Nexus. This guide will be useful for other newbies like me who are trying ROMs for the first time.

1. Don't ask 'which is the best ROM?'

You will not get an answer to this question in forums and rightly so. Instead, you will be directed to read up and choose. Developers put a lot of effort and time into creating ROMs and giving them freely to the community. So it's unfair to compare or rate them, though you can always ask people to share their experience.

If you read extensively on the XDA Developers Forum's it is easy to figure out popular ROMs. Look for indicators like number of replies, response time of the developer and number of updates. An active thread is a lead indicator of a popular ROM and this is a good place to start.

As a Galaxy Nexus user, I am excited by the wide range (at least a dozen) ROMs available for my device. I intend to try each and every one of them over time and grow my own knowledge and experience in the process! For me ROMs are a perfect metaphor for Google's dessert themed Android OS - they are sweet, available in many flavors and you can gorge as much as you want!

2. Understand the approach of the developer.

Every developer introduces their ROM with a detailed note on features, sometimes including screenshots to give you a feel. And each developer/team also has a unique approach/ philosophy which reflects in the ROMs they create. Some ROMs are heavy on customisation and theming and can give your phone and user interface a completely different look and feel. Some focus on being light, simple and fast. See if the approach appeals to you, and choose a ROM accordingly.

3. Download a stable/ milestone version rather than a nightly build

This depends on your comfort level, but as a newbie, I started with trying stable (though older) versions of ROMs. These are bug-free and there are known fixes for problems which have been documented. Once I am more comfortable, I will move to downloading experimental builds

4. Judge a ROM by qualitative rather than quantitative factors alone and take your time

I try to not get caught up in stats like battery life, benchmark tests of speed etc. To be frank, I don't understand them totally. I rather focus on my experience - do I like the look and feel? To what extent can I customise it? Does it feel fast and fluid? Does my phone last longer through the day? Does everything work the same or differently? For me, this is the enjoyment factor of a new ROM and I don't want to spoil it by anxiety about battery life or performance. So far, I have tried 3 ROMs and kept one for a week, so that I get a complete feel of how it works. And before this, I used the stock ICS which comes with the phone for an entire week too, so that I understood the difference with custom ROMs. I like to spend enough time with each ROM to do it justice. The only time I removed a ROM in a day, was  when it had a bug which drained my battery. I will re-load it as soon as it is fixed!

5. Try a kernel after trying a ROM for sometime

I have not yet downloaded a kernel for any of the ROMs I am trying. Because a kernel will add a new dimension of experience and I first want to get a hang of each ROM and understand how it works. Then, I will understand better the difference and improvement which comes from adding a kernel. Also I am reading up a lot more about kernels - the ultimate goal as an amateur is to learn as much as I can about hacks and mods. And learning is half the fun for me!

And this goes without saying - backup everything with ROM Managers backup function and Titanium Backup before you flash a new ROM. It's a matter of ten minutes to restore your old settings if you decide to discard the new ROM.