How to Find Custom ROMs for Your Android Phone

It’s Customization Month on Android.Appstorm! Throughout March, we plan to share with you all our tips, tricks, apps and resources to help you improve your phone or tablet experience and make them suit your style.

Time and time again when people ask me why I prefer Android to iOS, my number one answer is, “freedom.” The freedom to customize the homescreen as you see fit, not just moving icons around, the freedom to use custom launchers, and the freedom to install apps that are not on the Play Store. And because Android has such an active developer community, that freedom increases a hundred fold when you root your device. Once you do that, you have the ability to install custom ROMs, or builds of the Android OS. That’s when things get really fun.


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I’m going to break this article up into 3 sections: types of custom ROMs, how to find ROMs, and then I’ll have a look at some of my favorite and some of the more popular ROMs. Let’s get started!

For a detailed explanation of what Custom ROMs are, the benefits, risks, and answers to several questions you might be wondering about, check out Ashish’s thorough FAQ.

Two Types of ROMS

The first thing you should know is that there are two types of ROMs out there: OEM and AOSP.

OEM — which stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer — ROMs are those that are re-releases of ROMs for specific devices. For example, you can get a modified OEM ROM for the Galaxy S3 — like FoxHound. It will be the same ROM that comes stock on the S3 with some custom modifications. While these ROMs tend to be more stable/bug-free, they are for a limited audience; that is, only those people who have the specific device the ROM was made for can use it.

The other type of ROM is AOSP — Android Open Source Project. These ROMs were created by developers using the stock Android ROM that anyone can download from the official website. These are much more popular because they aren’t tied to a specific device, but they can be less stable/more buggy with your specific hardware. In many cases, the ROM will also need to be available for your device. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.

It’s likely that most of the time, when looking for custom ROMs, you’ll be looking at AOSP ones to get rid of TouchWiz, Sense or other skins, and benefit from the stock look and fluidity that comes with AOSP. Speaking of, let’s take a look at some places we can find ROMs.

Finding ROMs

A ROM is basically just a bunch of files zipped up and sent to an installer on your Android device, so theoretically we should be able to find ROMs anywhere. Of course, there are some methods that make the overall process easier. In particular, I have two apps in mind: ROM Manager and Goomanager.

ROM Manager

This app was my first foray into the wonderful world of custom ROMs. It comes with its own bootloader/installer called Clockwork Recovery that allows you to install new ROMs from an SD card, reinstall a backup ROM, take backups, and more. As for the app itself, there are a lot of nice features that make finding/installing custom ROMs a lot easier.

ROM Manager

ROM Manager

The app will let you search for ROMs from a bunch of different developers in a handy directory with ratings and comments. It will also download the ROM and take all of the necessary steps in booting it — namely wiping cache, removing data, creating backup, and so on…

Depending on the ROM you get, you will need to wipe all data and start from scratch. If you’re moving to a new version of the same ROM, say CyanogenMod 10 to CyanogenMod 10.1, you don’t need to. If you move from CyanogenMod to ParanoidAndroid, you need to wipe everything or nothing will work properly. In this case, use Titanium Backup to backup all you apps beforehand then restore them after you flash the ROM.

ROM Manager also has a $5 Premium Version which will give you access to more ROMs, notify you of updates to your current ROM, and more.

Goomanager

My friend recently showed me Goomanager as an alternative to ROM Manager and it’s the one that I prefer. First of all, the app is completely free. It offers all of the things that ROM Manager offers, but at no cost. It’s also a very clean app. Where ROM Manager bugs you to install a bunch of other apps (even if you pay), Goomanager simply looks for and notifies you of new ROMs.

Goomanager

Goomanager

The app also makes it a lot clearer that you’re viewing ROMs compatible with your device. Finally, its own bootloader is a lot more feature rich, user friendly, and supports touch.

XDA-Developers

There is one website I’d like to mention, and that’s XDA. XDA is widely considered the de-facto source for lots of custom Android apps and ROMs. If you have some knowhow and are looking for new ROMs, Beta ROMs, unofficial add-ons, and more, XDA is the place for you.

Choosing a ROM

Alright! We now know what kind of ROMs there are and where to find them. Now onto the hardest part: choosing a ROM.

There are dozens, even hundreds, of ROM builds to choose from. Different versions for different devices are out there and new ones show up everyday. I’m going to tell you about a few that I’ve used, as well as some popular ones.

CyanogenMod

CyanogenMod (or CM for short) is one of the most popular ROMs out there, and for good reason. The latest stable version is 10.0, which is built on Android 4.1. The huge team behind it releases regular builds and is constantly updating them.

You can also get CM 10.1, which is built on Android 4.2, but beware, it was incredibly buggy and unstable on my Galaxy Nexus.

CM has a lot of great features added on top of stock Android, like the ability to add 4 apps to the swipe wheel on the lockscreen for faster access. There are also lockscreen gestures, themes, hardware profiles to help boost performance, and a feature called “Phone Goggles,” which will filter communications based on user-defined criteria.

I was using CM10 for a while but noticed that it degraded my battery life quite a bit even after changing some of the hardware profiles. Once I upgraded to CM 10.1 the phone became unusable and I decided to switch ROMs. What I’m currently using is…

ParanoidAndroid

This is a super clean, really fast ROM that I’m incredibly happy with. Currently on version 3.10, ParanoidAndroid boasts Android 4.2.2 and a lot of added great features. The most notable is their Hybrid Mode, which allows you to run UI elements and even certain apps as if your device were a tablet, a phone, or a combination of both. You can also set custom colors for apps so that the notification and menu bars match the colors of the app you’re in.

Hybrid Mode in Gmail, and ParanoidAndroid Hybrid Mode settings

Hybrid Mode in Gmail, and ParanoidAndroid Hybrid Mode settings

Like I said before, this is my current ROM and I would strongly recommend it. I’ve seen a pretty decent improvement in my battery as compared to CM10 and perhaps the best part is that there are no added apps. Where CM10 comes with it’s own ‘bloatware’, ParanoidAndroid has none of that.

MIUI

MIUI is a beautiful custom ROM that focuses a lot on design and UI. There are custom icon sets, improved call and SMS screens, and a very nice, feature-rich dropdown toggle menu with 19 functions you can turn on or off.

MIUI. Image from http://en.miui.com/

MIUI. Image from http://en.miui.com/

There are also over 200 added features including flashlight, a notes app, weather, and a lot of fantastic security apps and features. I used it with my HTC Incredible and was very happy with it. It’s currently using version 4.1 of Android.

AOKP/SuperNexus

Here are two pretty popular ROMs that I haven’t used. The first one, AOKP looks really nice, and is using Android 4.2.2. Some of the features it boasts are the ability to customize the LED notifications, navigation bars, and performance, changing the CPU speeds and voltages used.

SuperNexus is a ROM designed to bring stock Android to other devices. While it has a few custom features, you’re getting the standard Android experience here. The only drawback is that it only supports a few devices. It is using 4.2.1.

No matter what ROM you install, keep in mind that the AOSP ones likely will not come with Google Apps (GMail, Calendar, Play, etc). While most installers make that clear and even give you the option to download in separately, make sure you know ahead of time because a lot of the functionality in Android relies on those apps!

Conclusion

Phew! We covered a lot of ground today. We talked about types of ROMs, where to find them, and some good ones to check out! My current set-up and the one I recommend is Goomanager and ParanoidAndroid, but there are tons of options out there. What do you use?


  • Charles

    While the article does a great job on the positives of alternate ROMs, it leaves of the all to frequent problems plaguing many. Cameras not working, distorted sounds, low volumes. I haven’t mentioned the more rare but more catastrophic problems like losing the ability to use the play site, losing the ability to reboot/recovery, lost IMEI numbers, inability to download and install future “official”updates.

    Those are what I want to know about! I lost a Captivate to that, and it makes me shy of fishing my S3.

    • http://www.casabona.org Joseph L Casabona

      Thanks Charles. I have not seen those problems on the ROMs I talked about; I guess the important thing to remember in general is to read reviews and use caution as ROMs can definitely buggy, especially on less popular devices.

      I did mention above the Conclusion that a lot of the AOSP ROMs do not come with Google Apps (including Google Play) and that those have to be downloaded separately. In both Clockwork and Goo, you’re given the option to install Google Apps at the same time you install a new ROM.

    • http://bit.ly/khouryrt Rita El Khoury

      Charles, those are real issues, yes, and common sense dictates reading a lot before installing a custom ROM (or at least having a backup of what you had before so you could back to that). Joseph couldn’t address the issues of custom ROMs because these are very specific to every ROM, and even differ between ROMs on different devices. For that, you NEED to read the forums (especially on XDA) and the known-bugs section of a ROM release detail.
      However, Joseph did mention that there are 2 types of custom ROMs. To repeat:
      1. The AOSP ones are stock-Android based, so basically they build on the Android code released by Google and try to make it work on whatever hardware you have (HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony…) and so come with bugs and things that don’t usually work as expected. I experienced that while flashing Paranoid Android on my international S3 for example, where the bluetooth audio would cut every few seconds when my S3 was more than a few feet away from the bluetooth receiver.
      2. The manufacturer-based roms however, are based on the ROM released by the manufacturer for the device, but introduce some modifications. They are generally more stable (as it’s basically the code that HTC or Samsung or LG or Sony or whatever used on their phone after a lot of testing), don’t drop features (TV-Out and FM radio works for example on Samsung-based ROMs for the S3 whereas it doesn’t on AOSP), but either remove bloat (think manufacturer skins and added useless apps), or change themes, or add some functions…

      • Ahmed

        im running the latest build of AOKP build 6 on 4.2.2 and my google search is completely fucked now. force closes every time. i went on xda but nobody has this problem :(

  • jong

    Hi there… just want to ask if what really the best ROM for samsung s3??? Because I’m afraid to touch anything that is complicated on phone… please I want to have a developement on my phone… please help… thank you so much and GOD BLESS US ALL…

  • http://android.appstorm.net/how-to/rooting-and-roms/how-to-find-custom-roms-for-your-android-phone/ rahul singh

    i have micromax a54 and i want to root it but in doubt that it will damages my physical button and void my warranty and i also want to know which custom rom should i choose

  • Pingback: Облечете вашия Android смартфон с нови модерни теми

  • Przemyslaw Orawiec
  • Fernando

    U.U there’s no rom for my phone (razr i)

  • vishnu

    is there any custom rom suite to micromax a89?

  • http://androdify.blogspot.com Ravi singh

    Hey der,….i’m not able to find out custom rom for my Huawei c8511 CDMA, currently running v2.2 froyo. i’ve checked xda and cynogen sites and forum but no solution. Plzz help me!!! :(

  • Tony Marinelli

    Before you can use custom ROMs you have to ‘root’ your device. I have an older Samsung Tab 7″ (SCH-i800) and I cannot root my tablet for the life of me. I’ve tried to log on to ‘Oneclickroot’ several times but the website is very rarely available. Can you recommend an EASY way to root my device? I’m not terribly technical, but I’m certainly not a novice to computers and software. Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated.
    Tony

  • saad kazmi

    hi, i cant understand 1 thing. there is no official update for xperia u to android jelly bean. so if i use this custom rom does that mean my phone would not remain an android phone? would it be using android like operating software? i.e cynogen mod android like OS? PLEASE HELP???

  • Mohammad hayat

    Dear sir
    Thank you very much for a nice and informative presentation. I am not an android master but I have a craze to install different software and CROM. I have pantechp9070 which is an excellent set. After several attempts I root it. Now I have AOkp on it and enjoying. The only drawback is that device has lost the wifi tethering. Now I am using USB tethering.
    Sir if you have any other good Custom rom please inform me.
    Here is one question as well.
    Can I install pandroid on my above device?
    Regards

  • Brian

    Can you tell me whether there is a custom Rom for Tecno D5 that enables 3G network access

  • http://twitter.com/HackingDutchman Hacking Dutchman♔

    I have a Iocean X7 which is running Android 4.2. Now it is a Chinese almost not known phone and will, I think, not give any more updates. Is the Iocean X7 supported for using the paranoidandroid ROM??
    This is the first article I read about custom ROM’s so I don’t know anything about this, except for what I read here above ;)

  • karl

    hi! sir

    can you tell me where i can find a custom rom for a my/phone a818 Duo ?

  • FaysalXD

    does the paranoidandroid rom work for samsung galaxy pocket? pleas reply…

  • aravind Prasad

    Please find an app to download custom roms directly to phone without the help of computer…..For example if you need to download videos tubemate have a button link below to download.

  • Help I am noob

    I have a alcatel onetouch s pop (4030)
    and I got stucked because i dont have ROM ….Can someone pls help me ?

  • Timmy

    This article is ridiculous. Stating that you can get ROMs almost anywhere is stupid, dangerous, and wrong, you should only ever get ROMs from XDA Developers, and from within the sub-forum for your particular device. Getting ROMs from other sources is a really bad idea as other sites do not always properly distinguish between phone models so people end up flashing the wrong software and end up with a brick. This article should be revised, it is giving false and dangerous information. If it’s not going to be revised it should be deleted. I would strongly suggest anyone reading this who wants to modify their phone to head over to XDA Developers and start learning. It’s not as simple as this article would have you believe, each device has its own specific quirks and therefore its own specific unlocking and rooting methods. Do a lot of reading before even attempting to modify your phone.

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