The Best ROM For Sony Xperia Z? PAC, Reviewed

Erez Zukerman 02-07-2013

rom sony xperia z


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: Paranoid Android and 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 How To Install CyanogenMod On Your Android Device A lot of people can agree that the Android operating system is pretty awesome. Not only is it great to use, but it's also free as in open source, so that it can be modified... Read More ).

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


rom sony xperia z

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


rom sony xperia

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 How to Back Up Your Android Device Properly Here's how to completely back up your Android device by protecting your photos, SMS, contacts, and everything else. Read More 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


rom sony xperia

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 Google Gesture Search: Better Than Your Launcher [Android] Look at your phone. Now look at me. Now look at your phone. Now me. Okay, how many apps do you have installed on your droid? 50? 100? I bet you don’t even know! To... Read More , best phone search app ever.



Come from: AOKP

rom sony xperia

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 Top 5 Ways to Find & Launch Applications on Your Android Phone Find your apps quicker and easier with these tools. Read More , 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 How Facebook Is Ruining Your Android (and What You Can Do) If you care about battery life, performance, or privacy, you're going to want to uninstall the official Facebook app and use one of these alternatives. Read More . 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:

rom sony xperia z

No less than six different entries. Themes and Launcher aren’t that important (especially if you use a third-party launcher like Nova Nova Launcher - Even Better Than The Default Android 4.0 Launcher Up until Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) came along, Android’s interface felt somewhat less polished than iOS’s. But with Android 4.0, Google made a clean break with the previous visual style for Android, introducing Holo... Read More ), 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.

Final Thoughts

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!

Related topics: Android Rooting, Custom Android Rom.

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  1. Roshni Sharma
    December 5, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Hi here, thanks for that PAC review! I want know about PAC-man or CyanogenMod Rom.

    I've heard about these two roms many times and over google found a list having these two Roms listed ( ) . I'm still confused, which one is good for me! Pac-man, it has several features of CM and CM Rom is not yet official! If any one can help it will be appreciated!

  2. M
    October 24, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Do you find that not having the BRAVIA enhancement engine is a big deal? One thing I really like about my Xperia Z is the quality of the display.

    • Erez Z
      October 24, 2013 at 9:54 am

      For me, it is really not a big deal at all. I really like the screen's color profile without BRAVIA - I think it might even be better this way. It's a matter of taste really, but BRAVIA tends to show very saturated color.

  3. achim
    September 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    is there a custom rom with internal external memory swap. the xperia z is quite useles with just 16gb and i'm about to buy a htc because i wasted 2 month trying to do the swap and just end up with the ui crashing or bootloops. apart from that its waterproof its not much better than my old s2 and i'm really pissed off that i bought this junk. please help!

    • Erez Z
      September 15, 2013 at 7:08 am

      How is it useless with 16GB? I have a 16gig model with a 32gig SD card and I have tons of space (and believe me, I am using the phone). What exactly is taking up all that space on your phone?

    • Achim
      September 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Well how useful can it be if its out of memory all the time. I got a 64gb sd installed and that's ok for moving downloads videos and pics to but I can't install stuff on it. Its also annoying that I have to move before I can film something or make pics or something like that. Don't get me wrong I like the phone but it doesn't have enough memory. 10gb are used up quickly with a few games and apps. I'd really like to get it to work with the memory swap. Htcs have 64 gb but aren't waterproof ;-)

  4. williamworlde
    September 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    The ONLY thing I miss with having a custom ROM is Navigation Bar customization. (Thanks to this article, you sent me searching for the second feature I like quite a bit too: Pie controls. I got a free one by coolace and it does all that I want it to.)

    It's coming up on a year since I've had my GNex. Save for the ridiculous amount of its 1GB RAM usage (about 1/3!) out of the box, I love this 2-year old piece of technology! The first thing I did was unlock and root it so I could remove my ISP's restrictive ROM and load Google's pure Android, takju.

    The second thing, and biggest mistake, I did was to test 6-7 custom ROMs. They all had one common crippling factor: Extremely poor battery life! Also, even though most were the most popular ROMs, none were as stable as Google's. I'm back on Google's and really enjoying my "old" phone.

    I may have an advantage in having Google's pure Android, but you may not with your Sony, HTC, Samsung, etc., so you may want to try a custom ROM. But please note the caveats noted above. That said, newer devices with more horsepower may not be as negatively impacted.

  5. saif
    July 7, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    is it better for longtime battery support on xperia z?

    • Erez Zukerman
      July 8, 2013 at 8:30 am

      That's a good question, and a major pain point on the xperia z. Unfortunately, the answer is no, at least from my experience. It gives me about the same battery life as the stock ROM.

      • Josh
        July 21, 2013 at 2:01 am

        Erez, are you saying the battery life is poor? I was planning to get this
        phone due to the large battery capacity. So would that be the wrong reason to buy it?

        • Erez Zukerman
          July 21, 2013 at 7:14 am

          I wouldn't say poor, but if battery life is a major concern, I would go for a phone with a user-replaceable battery like the Galaxy S4. That way you can always pack a compact spare battery and know you'll be just fine no matter how much you use the phone. Very useful on long days.