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What are the Pros and Cons of Loading a Custom Rom on Your Android Smartphone?

Updated on July 28, 2012

What is a Custom ROM?

All smart phones have an operating system (OS), in very similar fashion to PCs, that allow us to interact and utilize the capabilities of the device. This OS is what is termed the phone ROM. The OS is installed (or loaded) on the device during manufacture by the maker of the smartphone. Loading the OS is a technically involved process that draws on the skill sets of technicians and engineers and is not a process to attempted by the casual user. A custom ROM is an OS that has been engineered by someone, typically software developers, other than the manufacturer of the device,to provide unique functionality and sometimes even unlock capabilities that may not necessarily be available off the shelf.

I'm by nature a tinkerer and so I was fascinated with the availability of aftermarket ROMs that provide additional capabilities on my smartphone and allows further customization to my experience with the device. Here I review my experiences with a custom ROM with a focus on it's relative benefits and disadvantages when compared to the stock or manufacturer installed ROM.

The Pros About Custom ROMs

Custom ROMs are available from various sources on the Internet. The most popular is XDA Developers from what I've seen and it is indeed where I got my custom ROMs. My device is an HTC magic but I believe most of the points are applicable to virtually any device.

  • More features are available
    Since custom ROMs are usually developed by Software Developers they tend to implement features that they would have liked in the stock ROM. These features more often than not are features that benefit the general populace of users. You may find them useful as well.
  • Accessibility of additional apps
    On android phones in particular there are apps that are not always available depending on your provider, the phone itself or restrictions of the stock ROM. By loading a custom ROM you open accessibility to the full range of applications available for your OS.
  • Upgrade till you can't upgrade no mo'
    One of the main benefits of a custom ROM is the ability to upgrade to newer versions of Android. Unfortunately providers and phone manufacturers will refrain from upgrading firmware on phones for various reasons, but custom ROMs tend to be a lot lighter and with special tweaking by avid developers, can push your phone to the brink of it's capabilities. By improving on the efficiency of the ROM custom developers can take newer versions of the OS and integrate their capabilities into a palatable form to breathe new life into your aging phone.
  • More Customizations
    Hence the name "custom ROM." The customizations range from changing the whole look and feel of the phone with custom themes to more developer specific tweaks that aren't typically accessible with the stock ROM like overclocking the processor. There are some applications that also allow you to make use of features that your provider or the stock ROM doesn't facilitate because of various constraints.
  • Community Support
    While there's no formal support, most custom ROM sources have a community of individuals that offer assistance to the uninitiated. It's best though to do proper research before asking questions because some of the more "enlightened" members tend to be critical of questions that have sufficient wealth of information floating around in forums.

The Cons About Custom ROMs

Although there are some great benefits to using a custom ROM there are some poignant draw backs that any sober minded individual will need to take into consideration before trekking down the custom ROM road.

  • You Can Brick Your Phone
    If you don't take sufficient care in what you are doing you can render your phone as useful as a paperweight. The techie term is "brick" your phone. There's a lot or reading that needs to be done to successfully load a custom ROM and if you miss some small but critical detail you may find yourself back at the mobile shop.
  • You Void Your Warranty
    It should be obvious that if you change out the operating system of your phone you smashed through the confines of any valid warranty agreement. Typically you install a custom ROM at your own risk and you will have to accept the consequences of your actions. Now one else will
  • Support Isn't Available From The Provider
    It may be pointless to try and get support from the provider when you have a custom ROM depending on the issue you have simply because the interface on the phone itself may be completely changed and the support techs may have no clue of how or simply will not assist you. You really won't have anyone to point a finger to if things go wrong.
  • Phone Features May Not Always Work
    Depending on your model phone, it may be more difficult for developers to reverse engineer all the drivers that get several little features to work on the phone or they may even find it's not worth the while figuring it out. For example, my phone's trackball would light when a notification is pending when I used the stock ROM. I couldn't get this feature back when I loaded a custom ROM.

My Experience With Custom ROMs

Generally, custom ROMs I've been able to benefit from custom ROMs.

I was able to change the whole look and feel of my phone and when the stock ROM stopped at Android 2.0, I could leverage off the work of developers to go two generations of Andorid above that. This also meant that I could download and use applications from the Android market (now PlayStore) that would not be allowed on my phone.

Having said that, the performance of the phone did suffer, despite all the tweaks. So although the newer features were available it started to become almost painful to use the phone with the basic function of the phone, making a call, taking inordinately long to perform.

I decided to switch back to the stock ROM after a couple years with custom offerings to see if the performance would improve. It did, slightly, which leads me to believe the custom ROM may have been leaner, seeing as how there was more that I could do on it. The stock ROM comes with a lot of bloatware, apps that I don't use. Right now I'm looking at getting a new phone but I believe I can the best of both worlds by just rooting the stock ROM and removing all the bloat.

To Use of Not to Use (A Custom ROM)

If you are a sensible kind of person that prefers to play it safe then I would suggest no. If you are technically challenged then don't even bother, be content with your phone as it is because you may end up getting that newer phone sooner than you anticipated. However, if you're like me, a ticker to the nth level then you'll really find a custom ROM very hard to resist.

If anything, installing a custom ROM on you phone gives you some bragging rights if you hang out with a technical crowd.

If not, you'll just confirm your geek status among regular, technically agnostic, smartphone users.

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