It’s very easy to find yourself locked into a single user experience, especially with smartphones. As a long time CyanogenMod user, I thought that perhaps it would be a good idea to check out what else is available in the pool of custom Android ROMs, and Paranoid Android’s commitment to innovative new features seems like a sensible place to start.
After a weeks’ worth of daily use, here are my thoughts on Paranoid Android, and how it compares to the incredibly popular CyanogenMod 10.1.
For a start, it’s worth nothing that I’m still quite happy with my Samsung Galaxy S2, which is powered by an Exynos 4 processor, infamous for its problems with custom ROMs. So my CyanogenMod experience was slightly tainted by the odd 3D application crash, and such similar mishaps, which occur with Nightly builds.
Similarly, the latest versions of Paranoid Android aren’t officially supported on the Galaxy S2, so I’m running an unofficial version of 3.68 put together by XDA forum member fldc, so many thanks go out to him. But this is more of a feature comparison, so I’m happy to let the odd app crash slide.
Having installed a custom ROM before, I performed a factory reset before switching ROMs to Paranoid Android, and if you’re thinking about doing the same, you’ll need the latest version of ClockWorkMod Recovery, the required ROM and GAPPS files, followed by a full cache and Dalvik cache wipe.
On the whole, if you know what you’re doing, installing either of these two ROMs is simple enough, although the initial setup guide crashed when I first booted up Paranoid Android, so I had to learn how to use all the features myself.
Performance and features
Both Paranoid Android 3+ and CyanogenMod 10.1 are based on stock Android 4.2.2, and come complete with all the most recent Android features, like Google Now and an updated camera app. However, PA offers the option to save pictures to SD card, which was missing from my version of CM10.1.
Even on my aging device, I found both ROMs to be super smooth, with no noticeable delay between switching apps, booting up, or playing games, they’re both much faster than Samsung’s tweaked version of Android. The two ROMs share many common features, from the DSP manager, right down the same Trebuchet launcher.
PIE controls are also implemented on both version of the ROM, although it is missing from some versions of CM depending on your handset. But I found that this functionality caused some lag and miss-clicks when typing on my keyboard and selecting options near the bottom of my screen, as that’s where the PIE control trigger area is located. In the end I turned this feature off, as I didn’t feel that the damage dealt to my handset’s responsiveness was worth a feature that I could access via the Galaxy S2s hard buttons, although you can move it around if you’d rather keep the function enabled.
Now to delve into the more noticeable differences between the two ROMs, and we’ll start with PA’s new Halo feature. Essentially this works as a floating notification panel, which gives you the option to free up some more screen space, and grants access to PA’s multitasking functionality.
Simply clicking on the circle when a notification comes in will open up the related application, giving you access to the full functionality of the app without closing what you’re currently doing. CM’s quick response feature in the notification bar, which only works with a limited number of apps, is perfectly functional, but feels a lot more primitive by comparison.
You can also add applications to Halo, which can be used to bring up your favorite apps quickly and whenever you need them. After just a few days with Halo, I’m totally sold on the feature, and would certainly struggle to move to a ROM without a similar multitasking feature.
This is a PA feature which is a lot more subjective to taste, but offers users a lot more customization than any other ROM that I’ve tried. Combined in this section of the settings menu is the option to change your devices PPI and layout, turning your smartphone into a mini tablet, and adjust individual app DPI’s and colour schemes.
At first, I didn’t like the look or feel of shrinking everything down to fit in a tablet-like notification and a lot of apps looked a bit weird. But after messing around with the options for a while, I eventually stuck a delicate balance between squeezing a little more on screen without making everything too small to read.
It depends on the app, but sometimes having the tablet optimized version on your smartphone is a really big help when it comes functionality; email is a good example of this.
The changeable app colors are also a nice touch if you’re really into customization, as it blends the notification bar to better fit the look of whatever app you’re currently running. If you find yourself using any of these features, then PA is a clear choice over CM.
And the winner is…
On the whole, Paranoid Android feels like a more unique ROM, with a perfect balance of unique features and small tweaks which improve on the default Android experience, which also give it a slight edge over CyanogenMod. Some of the features will obviously boil down to preference, and CyanogenMod is still an excellent ROM if you’re looking for a more standard experience. But I don’t think I’ll be switching back to CM, at least not until the 10.2 update.