When I first got my HTC Desire Z, I was in love, awestruck at the beautiful Sense interface and the numerous tweaks HTC had done to take the Android experience to the next level. However, as I went about installing my plethora of apps, games and widgets (over a hundred, I am a junkie), Sense started getting in the way instead of improving my experience. The home screen would restart every few hours; every tap took longer to register; screen rotation when sliding open the keyboard went on for ages; and the whole phone felt like it was struggling to get by.
CyanogenMod 7 (CM7), a Gingerbread-based stock Android ROM, had been on my radar for a while. It’s currently available for 28 devices, old and new, tablets and phones, including the Nexus One, HTC Incredible, HTC Hero, LG Optimus 2x, Motorola Droid, Samsung Galaxy S, and Nook Color. Since my Desire Z was rooted, I decided to give it a shot. Lo and behold, a breath of fresh air swooped through my phone and it felt brand new without the clunky, RAM-hungry, processor-intensive Sense layer. Two months later, I am a convert, for several reasons which I’ll recount below.
10 Reasons To Try CyanogenMod 7
If you’re big on personalization, then you must look at the color of the Android status bar icons, selection boxes, highlight texts, and wonder why can’t you change any of them. After all, a new wallpaper can only go so far in refreshing the look of your handset. With Theme Chooser baked into CM7, you can pick by default one of three available themes, or download any of the CM7 themes available in the Android Market. I’m personally a fan of the work of UpwardSpiral, who provides several colored free themes. I can switch through them every week, and it’s almost like I have a brand new phone every time.
2. Lockscreen Gestures
CM7 comes with several tweaks for the lockscreen — including music controls, several lock styles, unlocking with the trackball if your phone has one — but the winning feature is the gesture support. Simply wake your phone and draw a gesture on your lockscreen, and a plethora of actions are accessible: opening an application, toggling the flashlight or sound, dialing or messaging a contact, getting maps directions… It’s brilliantly simple and it’s a huge time saver.
For example, if I draw a C on my lockscreen, it opens the Camera. No longer do I need to unlock my phone, look for the Camera icon, and then tap to launch it. A “G” opens the Gallery, an “S” opens SoundHound, a circle toggles the flashlight… Basically, the sky is the limit, and I have set it to the actions that I don’t necessarily use frequently (the homescreen is for that), but that I usually need super quickly.
3. Eye Candy
Other than themes, there are some cool animation effects in CM7. For example, you can set the screen to play the CRT animation available on the Nexus S when it’s switching off and on. You can also set the overscroll effect to glow or bounce, so when you scroll a bit too quickly and reach the end of a list, it signals that to you. Another neat trick is allowing you to rotate the screen 180 degrees, so you can even use your phone upside down.
4. Phone Goggles
Nothing to do with Google Goggles; this is for those who know they get drunk at times, or would really like to avoid dialing someone’s number or messaging them by mistake. Goggles is for that. It’s like a second check on your outgoing calls and messages to prevent you from doing something you might regret later on.
I wouldn’t be a fan of CM7 if not for its speed. For all its tweaks and options, it’s amazing how fast it runs. Even with over 115 applications installed right now, and several of them running, I have 192MB free RAM, and my phone doesn’t slow down, reboot or restart the home process when I open a new application. It sounds simple, but the Desire Z only has a 800MHz processor, and it crawled under Sense. For example, opening the Applications list under Settings used to take over a minute when I was running Sense; now it takes less than 5 seconds.
6. Input Tweaks
Other than haptic feedback personalization, you can set the behavior behind long-pressing the home button to either open an application, or show 8, 12 or 15 of your recent applications. You can also change the search key behavior to launch an application on a short press or a long press. I have personally left the search button intact on a short press as I use it way too often, but a long press launches Twitter, which is one of my most used applications that I’d often like to switch to quickly.
7. Browse Incognito
CM7 brings several improvements to the Android browser, including instantly reflowing the text if you pinch to zoom; inverting the colors for less power usage on AMOLED screens; and selecting a user agent to open pages as if you’re on a Mac, an iPhone, or even IE6. However, the stellar feature is the Incognito mode, which is like the feature of the same name on Chrome, or Private Browsing mode on Firefox. Simply said, it won’t keep track of your browsing or downloading history or your cookies.
8. Notification Bar Power Widget
If you’re as much of a control freak as me, you’ll want to keep tabs on how your phone acts at any given time. WiFi, bluetooth, data, brightness, and other toggles need to be readily accessible, and CM7 brings that to your notification bar. You can set how many toggles appear there, their color, order, and whether or not the notification screen closes after you toggle something. It’s a power user’s dream come true.
9. Performance Improvements
Other than the obvious speed improvements that CM7 brings you out of the box, it also allows you to set the CPU usage and profiles on your phone, for either high performance or a more conservative usage, for example. You can also lock the home screen and the messaging application in the memory so they don’t close if you ever run low on RAM.
10. Features For The Geeks
If the above doesn’t sound geeky enough for you, try looking at what CM7 offers in terms of OpenVPN and DSP Equalizer. Unfortunately, I am not knowledgeable on either of these, but if you’re interested in audio performance or tunneling and VPN tweaking, then this might be right up your alley.
5 Tricks to Stick With CyanogenMod 7
One of the downsides of CM7 that I instantly noticed the moment I flashed it on, was how pathetic the stock Android applications are compared to Sense. Now, you might like the stock effect of CM7, but you have to agree that it’s too boring and many simple functions are just not there. That might even be enough for you to run back screaming to the closest Sense or modded ROM available. Well, that was my instinct, but I learned to live with CM7 thanks to the tricks below.
1. Get a Predictive Dialer
It boggles my mind that there is no predictive dialer in Android. Samsung has it in their TouchWiz, HTC has it in their Sense, so I assumed it was there. Well, it isn’t. Apparently Google expects you to remember the phone numbers of everyone, or open Contacts to call them.
There are many smart dialers on the Market: I searched and installed and removed over 15 of them until I found “the one”: TouchPal Dialer. It’s free, it looks gorgeously clean and it has an integrated call log and contacts viewer. Basically, it’s what a modern phone’s dialer application should be like. Another beautiful alternative is AContact.
2. Get QuickPic or Picturen Lite
The Android Gallery is painfully slow, and even that is an understatement. I have copied images to my SD card and never saw them in the Gallery until I rebooted. I have modified folders, moved images, and the changes never appeared in the Gallery. Well, that’s a thing of the past with QuickPic that we reviewed earlier. Right now, it’s my default gallery application, and it works beautifully fast, with a clean UI, the possibility to hide folders and small image editing options. Picturen Lite is a disturbingly similar application, except it lacks the multiple selection option of QuickPic. Both are free, so it wouldn’t hurt to try them.
3. Get Alternatives if You’re Big on Calendar, Messaging or Music
I barely use SMS anymore — it’s been replaced by Gtalk and WhatsApp — but I’ve heard wonders about Handcent SMS and GO SMS. As for Calendar, I personally vouch for Business Calendar, a wonderful calendar replacement application that syncs with your Google Calendar and offers a much nicer UI and way more functions than the default Calendar application. And when it comes to Music, PlayerPro won my heart thanks to its automatic album art download, grid view, and ratings. For other alternatives, you might want to check our previous article about customizing every aspect of your Android experience.
4. Never Stop Tweaking
Thanks to the oodles of options in CM7, you’ll keep on discovering features and enjoying them. Remind yourself to check your lockscreen gestures every couple of weeks to make sure they are relevant and to add new gestures if the need arises. Also, themes are a wonderful way of keeping your device fresh. Get several CM7 themes and several ADW themes, mix and match, change wallpapers, change your widgets… Go for a minimalist view at times, or a very powerful icons-everywhere look at others. There’s something for everyone and CM7’s advantage is to allow you to switch your device’s personality when you reach that boredom/envy stage where you feel that you badly want a new phone without really needing it.
5. Fill It With Software
The beauty of CM7 is that it can take a beating and still hold strong. No longer should you worry about RAM or speed, even if you have an older generation device. Want several running widgets on your home screen? Get that. How about many games? No one will stop you. CM7 will even allow you to move applications to the SD card, without the need for App2SD. As I said, I have over 115 applications installed on my Desire Z, and there is no sign of it slowing down, even with 10 different live widgets, and over 15 non-system applications running at any given time.
A Last Thought
Amongst the modding and custom ROM community, CyanogenMod continues to be the largest team with the most devices supported and frequent stable updates. They even recently received the endorsement of Samsung who sent their team member a Samsung Galaxy S2 to port CM7 to it. With several tweaks and options, a fast and solid offering, CyanogenMod deserves at least to be run once on your phone if it’s rooted, in order for you to check it out and form your own opinion about it.