I had recently started using the Sony Xperia Z, my first non-Samsung Android device in a while. After owning and using the Galaxy S, S II, S III, and S4, using something not made by Samsung was like a breath of fresh air – and unlike the international Galaxy S4 (i9500), the Xperia Z has a wealth of available ROMs, including some truly remarkable finds. Today I’d like to show you a ROM called PAC, which pulls out all the stops when it comes to customization. If you’re particular about how you like to customize your device, chances are PAC would help you get the result you want.
What’s In a Name, And A Caveat
First, what does PAC stand for? It’s actually Paranoid Android, AOKP, and Cyanogen, combined. If you’re not sure what these are: AOKP are two powerful and customizable ROMs, while Cyanogen is a more down-to-earth ROM which adheres closer to the “stock” Android experience (and which we’ve previously shown you how to install).and
Now, before you run off to install this on your Sony Xperia Z, there’s something you should know: Unlocking your bootloader (so that you can install the ROM) will wipe your DRM keys, which means the proprietary Sony BRAVIA display enhancement feature will stop working on your Xperia Z. Not a big deal for most users, and you can back up the partition with the DRM files so you can restore it if you ever revert back to the stock ROM, but still – something you should know.
Now, let’s look at some of the features that make PAC interesting.
PIE Menu and Full-Screen Mode
Comes from: Paranoid Android
Like the Nexus 4 and many other modern Android devices, the Xperia Z doesn’t have any hardware buttons, opting instead for a navigation bar across the bottom of the screen. After using Samsung devices for so long, I’d gotten used to having 100% of the screen dedicated to my apps, and the navigation bar was driving me crazy (I did say I’m particular about these things). Thankfully, PAC borrows a Paranoid Android feature that solves this: The PIE menu, which you can see above (CyanogenMod also borrowed this feature from Paranoid Android, so PAC is in good company).
With the PIE menu enabled, the navigation bar goes away – as does the status bar, optionally. You’re left with 100% screen real estate dedicated to whatever you’re trying to do, and zero distractions. When you want to hit the Home button or go back, just slide your finger onto the screen, and a menu pops up. I’ve opted for the bottom edge of the screen, but you can easily configure PIE to work from any direction you like. The menu has everything you need, including a notification summary. To get to the actual notifications, slide your finger over the upper-right half of the pie. If you want to get to the system toggles, slide over the upper-left half. It’s beautiful, very responsive, and generally great.
Per-App DPI – The Best of Tablet Mode
Comes from: Paranoid Android
The Xperia Z comes with a beautiful 5-inch 1080×1920 TFT display panel. It’s as high-res as they go, and remains beautifully crisp even when displaying small fonts. If your eyesight is decent, regular-sized apps can feel like an annoying waste of space. Everything is so BIG – if only you could fit in more information on the screen! With PAC, that’s not a problem. It borrows one of Paranoid Android’s most touted features, the per-app DPI system. In a nutshell, this is a simple way to specify which size each individual app should be. Maybe you like to have Gmail all tiny, but want your phone dialer to be large and clear. Or, in my case, I want most everything quite small, but I need Titanium Backup to be very large (as large as can be – 480dpi in my case), just so I don’t make any mistakes with this dangerous and powerful app. The per-app DPI system lets me do this easily, and I can definitely see why people are excited about it.
Per-App DPI can also control the overall appearance of your device: You can use it to get your interface to look more like a tablet, a smartphone, or something in between (a phablet), as you can see above. This has to do mainly with the shape and location of the notification area and the navigation bar.
Customizable Navigation Bar and Ring
Comes from: AOKP
Even if you like the PIE menu, you’re not going to be using it all the time. It works well when you’re spending a fair amount of time in one app (Gmail or Twitter), but when you’re looking to quickly move between apps and freely use your phone, on-screen buttons are useful. But are they as useful as they can possibly be? Definitely not, at least not in their natural state. PAC borrows AOKP’s powerful navbar customization options, and lets you do just about anything you can imagine: Customize the amount of buttons, what each button does (both long-press and short-press), customize the color and size of the bar, introduce hidden menu buttons both on the left and right side, introduce new arrow buttons for moving the text cursor while typing, and much, much, more. Here’s a full video overview:
Note that the video refers to AOKP, and not all of these features are available on PAC – but most are. What you see in the screenshot above is the multiple-target feature: Why have just a Google Now button pop up when I swipe up from the Home button, when I can have three useful buttons? And of course one of those goes to Gesture Search, best phone search app ever.
Come from: AOKP
AOKP’s ribbons are rows of buttons that can pop up in all sorts of strategic locations. You can have a ribbon on your lockscreen, or on the settings pull-down menu, or, as shown above, when you swipe from the right or left edge of the screen. Used like this, the ribbons are reminiscent of SwipePad, only not as powerful. Here’s a video that explains the feature more fully:
One feature that PAC ships with is a key selling point for Paranoid Android: HALO. This is a “chat heads”-like feature which works system-wide, and not just for Facebook Home. Here’s a video that explains more about it:
I don’t actually use HALO myself, because I dislike notifications and avoid them whenever I can, but it is a key selling point for this ROM.
The Downside Of Combining ROMs
If all of this sounds a bit complicated, well, it is. That’s the obvious downside of customization and openness: Not a lot of handholding, and lots of ways to make mistakes. Take the customization section on the main Settings menu:
No less than six different entries. Themes and Launcher aren’t that important (especially if you use a third-party launcher like Nova), but the other four are a handful. Hybrid Properties belongs to Paranoid Android, while ROM Control belongs to AOKP. Each of these leads to its own maze of configuration options, which can sometimes conflict. PAC’s developers did some work to alleviate this by removing obviously duplicate settings, but it can still get a bit hairy.
Another issue is documentation, or lack thereof: Since PAC is just a mash-up of existing ROMs with no original features of its own, PAC’s developers left documentation up to the original developers, which often didn’t document all that much on their own. Even the careful videos on the AOKP page don’t always accurately describe what comes with PAC, because you simply won’t find some of the options shown.
And finally, having three sources for one ROM means there’s more of a chance for bugs. I hadn’t encountered any crippling bugs in my time with PAC, but the risk is there.
Installing custom ROMs is not for everyone, but if you like to mod and tweak your device and have a Sony Xperia Z, PAC is one ROM you should definitely check out. And if you’re using another custom ROM, I would love to hear about your experiences with it in the comments!