Android purists live by two basic truths: First, Android is better than iOS in every way. Second; stock, unadulterated Android is the best, the closer a firmware is to stock AOSP, the better. These guys won’t stop at anything to get their vanilla Android fix. This movement became so massive and it resulted in the birth and thriving of the aftermarket android firmware a.k.a Custom ROMs. Popular ones like the now defunct CyanogenMod, now Lineage OS, Resurrection Remix, Paranoid Android and many more became common phrases among geeks.
Custom ROM’s brought so much more than stock android to non-nexus phones. These firmwares were tweaked to squeeze out every ounce of performance from hardware by overclocking it out-of-the-box. Custom ROMs stretched out the battery lives of the phone and also brought new Android versions to devices whose manufacturers had abandoned support for. All in all, people who flashed custom ROMs onto their devices just wanted to get rid of the skinned Androids that came with their phones. Samsung’s TouchWiz was clunky and ridden with bloatware, no one understood HTC’s Sense and don’t even get me started on the skin’s Chinese OEMs bundled with their phones.
In general, people who flashed custom ROMs onto their devices just wanted to get rid of the skinned Androids that came with their phones. I mean, people actually voided their warranties, unlocked bootloaders and flashed custom ROMs and kernels because Samsung’s TouchWiz was too clunky and ridden with bloatware, no one understood HTC’s Sense and don’t even get me started on the skin’s Chinese OEMs bundled with their phones. It was bad. Since then, however, OEMs have come a long way, polishing their UI’s and suddenly, stock android doesn’t seem to be the best version of Android.
The traditional arguments against skins and manufacturer tweaks, issues that pushed people to AOSP, were plenty. To list a few:
- Skins are uglier than Stock Android
- They added unnecessary bloatware or duplicate apps
- They slow down your phone
- They are inconsistent with Material Design in apps
- They get updated more slowly
- They make Android more confusing
- They drain battery
While some of these arguments still hold true to date, most of them don’t. Phones have continued to become powerful with each generation. So much so that we’ve got to a point where some phones out-spec most laptops out there. Manufacturers have also gotten better at optimization. Most OEM skins are now very fast and responsive. Manufacturers like Huawei have gone a step further with their machine learning game to ensure your device does not bug down after a few months of use, an issue that was a common place only a few generations ago. Even more powerful hardware makes the difference even less apparent.
Another reason why geeks opted to rock custom ROMs on their phones was Updates. CyanogenMod ensured Nightly builds for the phones under active development with so many Milestone builds that fixed bugs while adding a few more features. OEMs on the other hand hardly, if ever, updated their devices. That too is changing. Samsung, despite its extensive skinning, is normally pretty fast about security patches and provides beta updates for its major releases.
Unique and useful features
Despite most of the value added services on OEM skinned versions of Android being mostly bogus and useless, some are genuinely useful. Case in point would be split-screen multitasking. Samsung, while looking for better ways to utilize the humongous screen real-estate on their Galaxy Note lineup introduced the idea of multitasking on your phone. The feature has been such a hit on aftermarket firmwares with various modes of implementation.
Android being an open source project pretty much guarantees a legion of innovative developers out there with brilliant ideas, and that is the driving force for Android as a platform and for tech in general. OEMs have come a long way, polishing and fine tuning their user experiences to become more relevant and useful to the end user. The issues that drove people towards custom ROMs have for the most part been addressed with time, innovation and consumer feedback.
For Android Fanboys and purists, flashing custom ROMs is not a habit they are shedding anytime soon, the many projects based on AOSP is a testament to this. For the Common-Joe, however, he may never know what Lineage OS or Resurrection Remix is because his XOS, HTC Sense or Grace-UI offers everything he will ever need from his Android. And that is okay as Android is now for everyone. They say the best version of Android is that which works best for you. And that’s what Android fans should’ve been doing all along. For my geeks out there who won’t settle for OEM firmwares, Happy Flashing!!
DroidViews, XDA Developers, TheNextWeb