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Custom ROMs are third-party builds of Android that you can install on your Android phone or tablet. You can even install them on some devices that didn’t originally ship running Android, such as the ill-fated HP TouchPad. Custom ROMs are powerful and allow you to get the latest version of Android without any manufacturer-installed junk and with advanced features and tweaks. But they have downsides, too.

While Android fans extol the virtues of custom ROMs, many never stop to note that custom ROMs aren’t an ideal solution for everyone or every device. They may be useful in many cases, but custom ROMs can also lead to problems.

Is It Worth It?

Before picking up a new Android phone or tablet and racing off to install the latest custom ROM How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device Android is super customizable, but to fully take advantage of that, you need to flash a custom ROM. Here's how to do that. Read More , ask yourself why you’re doing that. Do you want the latest version of Android on your device, are you trying to remove junk apps installed by your manufacturer or carrier, or do you just want a variety of additional features and tweaks you can’t get unless you install a custom ROM?

If you have a new phone with a fairly recent version of Android — anything Android 4.1 or newer — you shouldn’t feel a strong urge to upgrade. Sure, Android 4.3 is available with 4.4 on the way soon, but Android 4.2 and 4.3 are fairly minor updates What Are The Biggest Improvements In Android 4.2 and 4.3? What Are The Biggest Improvements In Android 4.2 and 4.3? If you're stuck on 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or 4.1 Jelly Bean, should you upgrade? Read More . Android 4.0 and 4.1 were both significant upgrades, but 4.2 and 4.3 aren’t anywhere near as big a deal. Many of the new features that have been introduced since Android 4.1, such as device tracking Locate Your Misplaced (Or Stolen) Device With The Android Device Manager [Updates] Locate Your Misplaced (Or Stolen) Device With The Android Device Manager [Updates] The announcement of the Android Device Manager is sure to be good news for those of us who habitually lose or misplace our phones. Another little feature that allows you to securely wipe all the... Read More , have been rolled out to every device.

You could also disable manufacturer-installed bloatware What You Need to Know About Removing Android Bloatware What You Need to Know About Removing Android Bloatware Lots of phones come with annoying pre-installed software, but you can remove it. Here's how. Read More or root your device and use Titanium Backup to remove it entirely. This doesn’t require getting a custom ROM.

It’s important not to just install a custom ROM for its own sake — unless you’re an Android geek that just wants to mess around — but to have a good reason for doing it. For example, maybe you have an HP TouchPad How To Install Android Ice Cream Sandwich On The HP TouchPad In Minutes How To Install Android Ice Cream Sandwich On The HP TouchPad In Minutes As slick, smooth and functional as webOS is on the HP TouchPad, and wherever the future of the platform may lie, there remains a problem – the shortage of apps. The fact remains that there... Read More with the defunct WebOS operating system or maybe you have an older Android phone that was never updated to Android 4.0. Using a custom ROM often involves a trade-off.

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Manufacturer Software and Optimizations

The versions of Android that come with Android phones and tablets definitely have problems — they’re often slow to get operating system updates and filled with carrier-installed bloatware like a NASCAR app — but they also have advantages. Updates may take some time to arrive, but they’re official and delivered to you over the air. The manufacturer and carrier have put time into polishing and bug-testing your device, ensuring it doesn’t crash during phone calls — yes, this may happen on some custom ROMs.

You’re giving up this polished experience by installing a custom ROM, but you’re also giving up other manufacturer tweaks and optimizations. For example, if you have a Samsung Galaxy S4 and install a custom ROM like Cyanogenmod, you may be giving up useful Galaxy features Interesting Galaxy S III Features That Make Samsung's ROM Better Than Stock Android Interesting Galaxy S III Features That Make Samsung's ROM Better Than Stock Android I just got a brand-new Galaxy S III. It’s a beautiful device, except for one big flaw: Samsung TouchWiz. But when you eliminate the ugly looks, it turns out TouchWiz actually does add value! If... Read More like the ability to have two apps on screen at once. Some custom ROMs may incorporate such manufacturer features, but many do not.

Samsung and HTC both offer “Google Play Editions” of their Galaxy S4 and HTC One phones. These editions remove much of the manufacturer-installed software and offer a “cleaner” experience with mostly stock Google software. Even on such officially supported ROMs, many reviewers noted that camera performance wasn’t as good. The devices captured better photos with their cameras when used with their default, optimized ROMs rather than Google’s stock ROM. This is the kind of thing you may be giving up by installing a custom ROM.

Warranty Issues

Theoretically, installing a custom ROM will often void the warranty on your phone or tablet. Some phone manufacturers — like HTC — ship their devices with a locked bootloader. They allow you to unlock the boot loader, but only by agreeing to limitations on your warranty first.

If you install a custom ROM, then discover a problem with your phone or tablet, the manufacturer or carrier may blame the custom ROM first. If your device is still under warranty, bear in mind that installing the custom ROM may cause you hassles in the future.

While custom ROMs may cause many problems, such as crashing apps and poor battery life, they won’t cause hardware failures. You could always uninstall the custom ROM and revert to your manufacturer-provided ROM before taking the device in for service, assuming it’s working well enough that you can boot it and switch ROMs.

android-boot-menu

How Well-Supported is Your Device?

Before installing a custom ROM, be sure to consider how well-supported your device actually is. For example, if you have a common smartphone such as an HTC One, Nexus 4, or Galaxy S4, there’s a good chance that the custom ROM community for such devices is thriving and active.

If you have a cheap Android smartphone that you purchased from a carrier a few years ago or a dirt-cheap tablet imported from China Tablets Compared: Why You Shouldn't Spend Money on Cheap Chinese Android Imports Tablets Compared: Why You Shouldn't Spend Money on Cheap Chinese Android Imports To answer the question regarding the quality of cheap, Chinese-designed tablets, I purchased an ASUS Nexus 7 and a Hyundai T7. Ultimately, I determine whether Chinese tablets are worth importing. Read More , there’s a good chance that the custom ROM communities for these devices aren’t very active. Even if custom ROMs for such devices are available, they may have problems — for example, they may not support some of your device’s hardware or drain the battery faster than the default ROM.

Before you install a ROM, check how well your device is supported by popular custom ROMs What Are The Best Custom Android ROMs? What Are The Best Custom Android ROMs? The moment you realize you can flash your Android phone with a new ROM is a pivotal one. Suddenly, you're free: Endless customization options, no more vendor bloatware, and, best of all, you don't have... Read More like Cyanogenmod and examine the XDA Developers forum for your device to see how well its custom ROMs work. Don’t be surprised if no good custom ROM is available for uncommon devices.

Be Prepared for Bugs and Less Polish

If you’re lucky, you may install a well-tested custom ROM like Cyanogenmod on a popular, well-tested device like a Nexus 4 and have very few issues.

However, many custom ROMs will have problems. This is especially true if you use a more uncommon device or a niche custom ROM developed specifically for that device. You may run into a variety of problems:

  • Bugs and Glitches: Certain apps the custom ROM’s developer didn’t test may not work properly. Apps may force-close or have other bugs.
  • Hardware Compatibility Issues: A custom ROM may not be able to support a device’s camera, Bluetooth may appear to work much of the time but occasionally crash, or the custom ROM may not be capable of reading the device’s sensors properly. Manufacturers make a variety of tweaks in software and custom ROMs can break things. For example, we once saw a phone where the camera was built into the device upside down. The device’s manufacturer made a tweak in software that flipped the image, allowing the camera to work normally. After a custom ROM was installed, images from the camera appeared upside down because the custom ROM hadn’t accounted for the phone’s odd camera configuration.
  • Worse Battery Life: The phone’s default ROM may be better optimized for battery life than the custom ROM is. The custom ROM may drain battery power faster than the stock ROM if the custom ROM doesn’t allow the hardware to go into maximum power-saving mode. On some devices, the custom ROM may include less junk apps running in the background and may offer improved battery life.

cyanogenmod-on-samsung-galaxy

Custom ROMs are a powerful option for Android users, giving us more flexibility. But not every Android user should install a custom ROM, and good custom ROMs aren’t available for every device.

If you are interested in using a custom ROM, you should read the experiences of other users who have installed that custom ROM on their device. This will inform you of any problems and you’ll be able to decide whether you want to accept the problems for the benefits of using the custom ROM. You can often find such information on the XDA Developers forum for your specific device.

Do you install custom ROMs on your Android devices? Have you run into problems while using them? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

Image Credit: eggrole on Flickr, Danny Choo on Flickr, Danny Choo on Flickr

  1. Brandt
    December 2, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Best site ever total description

  2. Wafty Waftam
    August 13, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    As I wait for my stock ROM to download I agree. After trying dozens and dozens of custom ROMs for SGS2 and SGS3, I give up. For example, this week, just when I thought maybe Miui was going to work OK on my SGS3, I eventually discovered that the orientation for landscape was upside down, and the compass was out so that essential apps that use them like GPS nav and Peakfinder, were not only upside down, were inaccurate.

  3. Edison
    February 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Good article, I agree with the author. I have had many experiences with custom ROMs and somehow I ended up installing again the original stock ROM of my device. Thanks for the good tips.

  4. Joel L
    October 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    When I had a dinky Galaxy S that came with Froyo, I HAD to flash a custom ROM because I was missing out on so many features and performance improvements. Went through dozens of ROMs, most of which I didn't end up liking too well, but there are some great ones out there.

    I recently upgraded my phone to a Galaxy S3 with 4.1 and it's good enough. Not perfect, but I don't feel like the risk and hassle of flashing a custom ROM is worth it anymore. Maybe in a year or two when 4.1 is super outdated!

    Great points in the article.

  5. Achraf A
    October 26, 2013 at 4:23 am

    Does rooting a Samsung tablet void its warranty ? please tell me.

    • Susendeep D
      October 26, 2013 at 7:21 am

      Rooting does void your warranty.No manufacturer like it and hence makes it difficult to do so in their updated device lineup.

  6. Iuli
    October 25, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I agree with the above writer. I have a Galaxy S Plus and now, after flashing, I have JB 4.2.2 (2.3.6 is the highest official distribution )and better battery consumption (but this may very from one ROM to another, just find the right one).

  7. David Albee
    October 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    The alternative is a "boot disk"; a bootable sd card that your device boots from instead of the rom. Does anyone know of better device-specific images of cyanogenmod, such as for the B&N Nook Tablet?

  8. James Bassett
    October 25, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Surely the biggest thing to consider is "Do I want to risk bricking my device?". I've installed hundred's of ROMs on tens of devices and only ever bricked one - a Samsung Galaxy S - but it can and does happen.

  9. Asif
    October 25, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Apart from the battery life issue I pretty much disagree with the author in all the other cases he has mentioned. Phone crashing during phone calls seemed like a joke to me :-). Please use some of the most polished custom ROM's and again write the same article...I'm sure you'll be forced to change your views on most of the issues.

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