Why You Should Install a Custom ROM

Did you know you can wipe the default version of Android and install a completely new, customized version of the operating system? Thanks to Android’s open-source nature, you aren’t bound by any copyright agreements, meaning that makers of phones allow you do this and — following HTC’s recent announcement to unlock their bootloaders on their devices — may even encourage you to do so.

Before you start tinkering with any kind of custom ROMs, you’ll need to “root” your phone (the Android version of jailbreaking; this basically allows you to access your phone’s core) which isn’t as scary as you might think. Rooting your phone is quite a simple process and brings a wealth of advantages.

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Before you start playing about with custom ROMs, you'll need to root your device first

There are numerous custom ROMs out there designed for all kinds of Android phones, but if you’re new to this area, CyanogenMod is a good one to start with owing to its stability, large developer community and support for a wide range of devices, making it one of the popular ROMs out there. If you’re still having doubts, here are five reasons which I hope will convince you to take the plunge and install a custom ROM on your phone.

1. Performance

Custom ROMs are tailored to your particular make of phone and the developers have optimized the kernel so that they can get the most out of your phone’s processing power.

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Developers of custom ROMs often allow you to overclock your phone's processor

There is no bloatware in custom ROMs to slow your phone down and via the rooting process, you also have the ability to overclock your phone’s processor. This ramps up your phone’s performance, meaning that you can push it further and improve its performance, although it doesn’t do wonders for your battery life.

2. Customization

Anyone who has read any of my previous articles may have noticed my various snipes at HTC Sense, of which I am not a fan at all. Custom ROMs allow you to get rid of any custom interface and bloatware that comes with the phone.

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The Oxygen ROM running on a HTC Desire

Makers of custom ROMs such as Oxygen and CyanogenMod try and cut out most of the junk in Android, leaving a completely clean (or “vanilla”) version of the OS. This can significantly increase the performance of your phone and coupled with overclocking, as mentioned above, can give it a real kick up the backside and push it further.

3. More Frequent Updates

Developers of ROMs are often far more active than the manufacturers, and so release updates a lot earlier. My HTC Desire HD didn’t start getting Gingerbread till May, a full seven months after that version was first released by Google!

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Upgrades to Android are released far quicker on custom ROMs, owing to the more active developer community

There is none of the awkward red tape that new OS builds have to go through; when the new version is ready, the developer puts it out there for all to download without having to wait for the manufacturer or network provider to “approve” the update, which can often take quite some time. This keeps your phone shiny new and up to date, and any bugs that are discovered are often patched more quickly through custom ROMs.

4. Apps on the SD Card

This feature varies with different phones and different versions of Android, however most custom ROMs will allow you to install applications onto your phone’s built-in SD card, allowing you to save space on your phone for other stuff.

[Editor’s Note: I use Darktremor Apps2SD along with CyanogenMod 7; this lets me set a portion of my SD card to act as an extension of my phone’s internal storage, effectively boosting my internal storage space. It’s far better than Froyo’s Apps to SD implementation.]

5. Upgrades

Custom ROMs often support older devices, which means that your phone does not become a relic of the past too quickly. Take the HTC Wildfire for example. Officially, it only runs Android 2.1 (Éclair) however Cyanogen have created a ROM for it based on Android 2.3.3, the latest version.

Cyanogen Devices

Custom ROMs, such as Cyanogen, support a wide range of devices, including older ones

Don’t be downhearted as soon as your phone’s manufacturer drops support for your current phone – all they want you to do is go out and buy their latest model! You can rekindle your phone’s aging innards, meaning that it doesn’t become an antique so quickly.

Have I Convinced You?

It’s up to you whether you choose to go ahead and install a custom ROM. It isn’t a simple process, though most ROM developers do provide detailed instructions on how to do it, and with a bit of computer knowledge (and a lot of patience), you can get the process done in 30 minutes or so.

Just make sure you back up everything on your phone (and make sure every piece of information is synced with your Google account before you start), otherwise you’ll lose everything valuable on your phone (I speak, unfortunately, from past experience here). You can really get more out of your device and I’m sure that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Now you just need to pick a ROM to try out. Check out our Android ROM reviews here!