I’ve been using an Android since 2010. I’ve been rooting my Android devices and putting custom ROMs on them since about 6 months after that. The recent emergence of the stage fright bug is a great example of one of the primary reasons that I root my phone.
Updates and Security
To understand why a custom ROM is beneficial in a scenario such as that presented by stage fright one must first understand the android ecosystem. Android, despite being maintained by Google, is an open source operating system. Google publishes the source code as the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Anyone can download this code, modify it to suit their needs, and distribute their own version. All variants of android are based upon this original code. It doesn’t matter which brand you have, a Samsung, an HTC, a Motorola, a Google Nexus, ect.
Manufacturers maintain their own code bases. This simple fact has been a sore spot for the android user community. Manufacturers often significantly modify android. The main motivation, or so they claim, is to further differentiate their products from those of their competitors. While many consider product identity valid, manufacturers have used the control they have over the devices they sell to more nefarious ends.
Often times manufacturers, or sometimes carriers (the carriers handle distribution) will withhold the latest android releases from their older devices as a means of planned obsolescence, forcing users to buy new phones if they want the latest android features. This is where stage fright comes in. If you have an android phone that your manufacturer or carrier wishes you’d upgrade they likely won’t be rolling the stage fright patch for that phone. This means you’re caught between the rock of upgrading and the hard place of exploitation and data theft.
The ROM I’m currently running, cyanogenmod, had the patch incorporated into their code within days. The custom ROM community in most cases maintains code for devices on 3 metrics, popularity of the device, hardware specs, and willing developers. If you buy a flagship phone this year, like a Samsung Galaxy S6, the custom ROM community will support it far longer than the manufacturer does.
Earlier I talked about “product identity”. Much like with laptops and desktops android manufacturers and service providers try all sorts of techniques to try and convince you that your phone is more than just a hunk of hardware, barely different than their competitor’s offerings. They use branded bloatware you can’t remove that presumes to replace stock or free features, sometimes for a cost. Branded backgrounds and themes that are more advertising than pleasant art. You’ll even find proprietary ringtones that somehow market the product, maybe the one they used in that catchy commercial.
With a custom ROM you get to build your experience your way, from the ground up, without having to validate your manufacturer or carriers’s sleazy marketing tactics.
Control of your Hardware
Your smartphone is a fully fledged computer. Men went to the moon and back with far less computing power than you walk around with in your pocket. It’s got a 802.11 wifi radio, a multi-core proc, RAM, a Bluetooth radio, NFC, the list goes on. With a stock ROM, the OS limits what you as the user can make the hardware do. For instance, most people don’t know that restrictions on tethering are a phone-side “feature”. From your carrier’s perspective they have no idea if the obscene amount of data you’re using is your phone or the 4 laptops you have on your personal hotspot, unless you’re running their ROM.
When you install a custom ROM you are seizing complete control of your hardware, root access. At the point when you install your custom recovery (think BIOS if you’re used to PC terms) you are root, the admin, the boss. Most users don’t need root after the initial install, but there are apps that make use of it. There are performance tuners, backup utilities, ect. My personal favorite is Shark for Root, because who doesn’t want to capture packets on their phone? It is my opinion that the only real way to truly experience and fully enjoy the android OS is to customize it all.
Here are some additional resources on the subject:
The XDA Developer Forms – This is the mecca of android ROM development. You can find a ton of custom ROMs at varying levels of stable for any device. You can also get support on the ROMs from those devs, though RTFM is a must. For most custom ROM devs their ROMs are a side project, not their day job. Don’t wast their time.
Android Open Kang – is another AOSP/Cyanogen based ROM, though it seems to have slowed in development in recent years.
Android Central is another great forum for finding ROMs, tutorials, and troubleshooting help.
- Google is your friend.
- Make no mistake ROMing certain phones may have been made to be easy, but what you are doing is very advanced.
- You should go into it informed about your device and your target ROM.
- You should have a rollback plan.
- You should be ware that you are likely voiding your warranty.
- And last, but really should have been first, BACK UP YOUR DATA! If you’re not me, and you’ve been using the stock ROM longer than the 15 minutes it took you to drive home from the cell phone store the new ROM wiping your phone completely before installing might be problematic.
What do you think? What ROM are you running? Tell us in the comments below!