A lot of terms today are thrown around in the Android community that to some, may be a little confusing. I have decided to write a post that may help clear up some of the confusion for the newcomers to the world that we have come to know as Android. The first part (that I will not covering today) is the hardware our phones are built with; the processor, screen, battery, and etc. The other is the software that is on the phone, generally referred to as the firmware. Today, I am going to go over some of the terms in reference to the software known as ROMs, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each ROM. A ROM is an after-market replacement for the firmware that comes installed on the phone at purchase.

What is Android? 

I will start at the beginning with “what is Android?” Android is described by the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) as “an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a corresponding open-source project led by Google.” Well, what does that mean? Android is a mobile Operating System (OS) that is based off of the Linux kernel. This mobile OS is running on every Android phone and tablet out there;  many times people will refer to it as vanilla Android when it is just the basic OS without any manufacturer skins on it. Well you may ask why do they all look and function differently? That is because of the skin that each hardware manufacturer puts over the vanilla OS.

I guess the best way to explain this is by looking at the basic automobile. Most cars have 4 wheels and an engine but, after that, they all differ very significantly. If you compare a Camry and a Taurus, each will have the basics mentioned before but the interior and the exterior of each are different but serve similar functions. The same can be said for HTC and Motorola. Each serves the basic function as a smartphone, yet how they look and operate is unique to each device.  Pictured below is the home screen of a Rezound by HTC and a RAZR by Motorola; they are both Android phones, yet  they look very different.

Now that we have that covered, lets move on to something a little more in-depth.  Since AOSP publish’s the basic software that all Android devices are built on, it can be in itself the fully functioning operating system without the need of a skin. Many times people prefer it without any customization by a manufacturer. At the moment there are three versions of vanilla Android running on a few devices, each named after a dessert:

  • Gingerbread – version 2.3
  • Honeycomb – version 3.X
  • and Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) – 4.0 Finally!

It is a little more complicated then this but lets keep it simple for now. Gingerbread was originally made for phones, although early tablet adapters made it available on various tablets. Honeycomb was made specifically for tablets, whereas ICS was released recently to merge the tablet and phone OS together.This brings me to the topic I want to cover today which is ROMS. I currently own a Droid 3, a phone that many people  in the Android community find as sub par when compared to many of the superphones being released today (such as the Rezound, RAZR, and Galaxy Nexus) for three reasons.

The screen is Pentile instead of LCD  (for example), the antenna is 3G instead of 4G (I don’t mind because its global phone), and the RAM is only at 512MB instead of the standard 1gb.  In reality, for all intents and purpose’s the phone is still great! I love it, despite what many people say about it. What makes me content with the phone is a developer by the name of Hashcode who develops ROM’s for the Droid 3 specifically. He is hard at work on a CyanogenMod 9 (CM9) ROM based off of ICS, that should be done long before Motorola even announces ICS for the Droid 3.

It’s all about the Developers…

Developers dedicated to a phone are hard to find, and when a manufacturer abandons a phone, a developer can increase the shelf life which is what makes them so important. They do this by keeping the phone’s OS up to date far longer then the manufacturer is willing to. Many smartphones released today see little in terms of development outside of the manufacturer. In relation to my Droid 3, if it wasn’t for Hashcode it may never have seen Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.  One of the reasons that a phone may never see development may be due to outdated specifications (even at release) which leads to developers having little interest in working on the phone.  Another would be when developers are having a hard time rooting the phone, which pretty much limits any development from ever being done on the phone. Also it could be due to limitations that phone manufacturers put on the phone such as the boot-loader being locked and encrypted which again could lead to limited development  in a phone.  So, when deciding to choose a phone, if future development is important to you, make sure and do your research and find out if there is a development community behind the phone.

Well, what really is the benefit of having custom ROM’s for your phone anyways? Custom ROMs bring many benefits to the table. With CyanogenMod and most of the other ROM’s built from source, they are generally easier to be kept up to date with the current version of Android because they are running on vanilla Android. In many cases (depending if the bootloader is unlocked) custom ROM’s have overclocking baked right in to the OS’s settings so there is no need to download any additional overclocking apps. Many ROMs also give you the option to install them with or without the bloatware that phone manufacturers have loaded on the original phone. Funny thing is – believe it or not, some of bloatware is useful, but rarely can you uninstall the ones that are not. Beyond this, there are many other benefits to running a ROM on your phone, but the best way to find them out is by running one yourself.  Feel free to find any of the tutorials on this site to help you along the way.
Lastly, if you found this helpful, have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for a future topic, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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