Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

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To flash or not to flash?

Flash!!! Its the most amazing thing ever!
1
4%
Flash, but make sure you do your homework first.
20
83%
Who cares, an official ROM is good enough.
1
4%
Don't flash, too many bugs to be bothered.
2
8%
DON'T flash, worst experience ever, your likely to brick your phone!
0
No votes
 
Total votes : 24

Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon May 19, 2014 4:00 am

FLASH.

After many years in the Android scene I've convinced myself that nothing custom ROMS had to offer were worth breaking warranty or possibly breaking your phone. After all the official ROMs are made by the guys who designed the phone! Who better than them to create the full experience from hardware to software for me?

The Android Dev community is, to get straight to the point. For years I resisted thinking it was just another techy thing to tinker with for the sake of saying I've done it. But I found myself in a position VERY frustrated and extremely tired of BS excuses for release push backs. You see, I own an Atrix HD, which according to Motorola; more than 6 months ago, is on the upgrade list for Android 4.4 KitKat. For the entirety eternity of that time I attempted to scour the web for any news on the official release. This last week I thought it was finally here when I asked my system to check for updates. Excited to see the update/download window pop up I began to look over the "goodies" for the update to see if it would solve performance and stability issues I was having, namely GPS acquisition and Bluetooth stack failure requiring a restart. My heart sank as I noticed it was just a heart-bleed security update!!! While attempting to apply the update knowing it might be a prerequisite for KitKat I was unable to download the file via Motorola's or AT&T's update servers which continued to be overloaded probably due to the demand that users are putting on it for the update. I found myself deeply disappointed with the fact that I was unable to even do this small 7mb security update that was released a month+ after the exploit was known.

I fell into the ARMs of another developer(s) (see what I did there... because of my phones uhhh, processor... terrible). The first place of course was XDA, where I learned that KitKat variants were extremely abundant, stable, feature rich and SUPPORTED by the community and its developers. I began reading through flashing a ROM for noobs and realized that I'd be well within my means to perform the flashing task. Unlike documentation I recall near the birth of custom android ROM development, the XDA community has created a sort of standard for presenting and delivering ROMS that make it much easier to find what you need. Most popular ROMs come with step by step instructions including common issues you may encounter when flashing your new OS.

The steps for pretty much any phone go like this, with a few differences depending on hardware. First off you have to root your phone, giving you access to... well, your root directory. After you've done that you will need to replace the "Recovery" with a custom one. This is sort of like flashing your BIOS over to a new custom version with more built-in features. One of the most common Recovery ROMs is CWM (ClockWorkMod). Once you've installed CWM or Philz or any other recovery of your choice, its all business. The next bit is probably the most important part of any custom ROM flash. You will need to do a factory wipe, clear out your systems dalvik cache and a few other cache/system folders. Luckily that's where CWM comes in as you simply tell it to perform these actions without the need to type them into a command window. Once done, using CWM again, you choose the .zip file containing the entire android OS downloaded for your device. Usually this is saved on your internal SD card which oddly enough doesn't get wiped regardless of which system reset you run. You select the ROM and off it goes installing. Once its complete you may want to install other apps such a Gapps, short for Google Apps which consist of official stock apps that generally ship with a phone. Sometimes you don't need these apps and they are optional, other times certain base functions rely on them, I chose to install them. If all went well your able to reboot your phone and it should load into your new OS!

The world of custom ROMs are still not without their issues though as I encountered with my first flashing. Documentation for my specific phone appeared to be excellent. One user on the forums posts a very informative thread about first time flashers and what you need to know before trying it yourself. I like that he explains that you should understand the process manually so that you fully understand what your doing to your device before using some of the automated tools that are now available to the community. This is something else that I've noticed with the dev community, prior to Android ICS it seemed like automated tools for the many steps required to flash were pretty few and far between. Some of the ones out there were noted as being possibly dangerous for users to rely on because the tools wouldn't double check that you had all of your ducks in a row for a flash. From my experience with my flash, today's automated tools (specifically Myth Tools) double and sometimes even triple checked that you had everything done before it would allow you to proceed with possibly "dangerous" steps. The general notes on the XDA forums assumed you would know certain sub-steps to the process, so further Googleing and research was needed to fill in the gaps, yet nothing too crazy was missing.

My first ROM flash for my Atrix HD was the CarbonROM (Unified) 4.4.2 (5-16-2014 Nightly) meaning they update it "nightly" or every few days. Once booted I could FEEL a huge difference in the phone, note that all of the same apps got re-installed, many of which auto pulled data from the internal SD (more on that later). I noticed a few programs like Chrome and the Play Store crash the first time I entered them but then were solid afterwards. I assumed this was due to it pulling up old cache files from the folders, then over-writing them making it stable the second time I started the apps. However as time went on I noticed my phone would randomly reboot or shut off. I narrowed this down to Pandora causing it to reboot more frequently. After 1 days worth of testing I knew it wasn't stable enough for me, rebooting anywhere from every 30 minutes to 2 hours. Yesterday, the Carbon crew released another Nightly dated (5/18/2014). I went through the process of wiping my phone using CWM again, this time making sure to manually delete ALL folders for old apps (previously backed up) to prevent my theorized "cached" issue. If I had a good install, future updates can be done automatically without an entire system flash. The update can be done via settings/about just like on most factory installed android OS.

I can say that after flashing the newest Nightly, I was able to stream Pandora over Bluetooth and using WiFi without a single issue for over 4 hours. Another small issue I had where the screen was unresponsive after the first 10 seconds of a phone call for anything other than the Home and Back buttons was also resolved. The phone runs AMAZING now in comparison and the best way to explain the performance increase is that its like going from an old hard drive and upgrading your system drive to a state of the art SSD. The phone feels completely like a different phone and is close to on-par with my wife's Moto X, at least as far as UI snappiness goes. My Bluetooth connects much faster and GPS acquisition no longer takes 20-30 seconds, it maybe takes 5.

So for any of you holding out for those official ROMs, or thinking you won't benefit from it tremendously, I say give it a go. If you've got an older phone you'd like to breathe new life into, try it. Especially if you don't have a warranty left on your phone anywhere and your prepared to buy something new. I hope this little story about my first experience with flashing helps you to get the most out of your device whether you flash or don't.

For those of you who have already dove deep into the dark dark world of breaking warranties, what sort of experiences have you had and what advice would you give to someone completely new to the custom ROM world?
Last edited by Welch on Mon May 19, 2014 4:19 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon May 19, 2014 4:06 am

Do your homework. When you are confident that you now what you're doing, go for it. Your phone will thank you for a smooth and clean OS ;)
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon May 19, 2014 4:10 am

And obviously don't flash unless you're prepared to buy a replacement phone just in case something goes horribly wrong!
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon May 19, 2014 6:15 am

Ha, if only manufacturers would be as good as the community with their roms. The only one that does a good job is Motorola (and Oppo, as it's supporting CyanogenMod officially). HTC and Sony do a decent-ish job, and Samsung is usually the worst.

I'd say do your homework and then flash. That's what I always do (when I bought my Nexus 7, I didn't even boot into stock. It went straight to CyanogenMod).
About the rom, I usually suggest CyanogenMod because it's the one that feel more polished, has more official support and actually include features that I care for (Location tracking without having to rely on Google, Secure SMS between CM users out of the box, permission management like iOS) instead of trowing everything into the mix. Other roms that I like are Omnirom (still in development so it's still missing some features, but it's good enough) and Slimkat. I'd advice against running nightly images, because you never know what could break (I use the CM Milestone releases), but usually those are mostly fine.
The only exception here is about the Samsung Notes, since AOSP doesn't support the S-Pen as good as stock. The situation is improving, but for now I'd still recommend to flash a rom based on stock (which are usually still miles better than stock).

Regarding your issues, it's a well-known fact that you should always do a full format when switching between roms (especially if they are on a different version and base), even your applications data. If you need some data backupped, there are some applications that can do a backup/restore for you (Helium comes to mind).

As for the recovery, you've flashed CWM which is fine, but I usually suggest TWRP since it's opensource and has more features. It's also the one supported by CyanDelta/OpenDelta, which allow you to quickly upgrade your rom.

And for warranty, you can always flash back to stock :wink: Only the Galaxy S4/S5 have an hardware check that you can't revert back (and some phones require you to ask for a code to unlock the bootloader, and so voiding your warranty).

Oh, and XDA is terrible. It's the place to go, but still terrible. I don't know why there isn't a better alternative yet.

cheesyking wrote:And obviously don't flash unless you're prepared to buy a replacement phone just in case something goes horribly wrong!


It's pretty much impossible to **** up an Android phone. If you break the system (which is pretty hard as well) you can always boot into the recovery and format/flash again. If you break the recovery (I'm not sure how one could), you can boot into the bootloader and flash a new recovery.

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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon May 19, 2014 8:28 am

If you happen to soft brick your phone I can usually restore it back to the latest official rom.

I just did that with a softbrick (boot loop) on my droid bionic.
Rather trying and failing to get to cyanogenmod to work on it I went droid 4.2 instead.
It is still a huge improvement over the standard 2.2 it came with.

From the reading I've done most bricks are soft bricks where you are in a boot loop or boot freeze and with a Motorola these are easily fixed.

I would definitely do your homework and make sure there is a current forum of people providing help and support before diving in.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Tue May 20, 2014 11:10 am

Do your homework. Some phones get better support than others and some issues are smaller than others. If you can live with any potential drawbacks, it's kind of fun.

I guess it depends on your phone, but I've usually run into bugs or gotten worse battery life out of custom ROMs. In the case of a T-Mobile G2X it was a faulty GPS (never got location), but that wasn't as bad as the official ROM that constantly rebooted for some reason. In the case of an HTC One S, data didn't work on early CM10 ROMs but eventually that got sorted. The Kindle Fire (first gen) was OK on CM7, but CM9 it wouldn't wake from sleep. On a Nook tablet, you can't let the device completely drain the battery or else you need an official B&N USB cable to charge it again (the one with the light-up Nook logo). On a T-Mobile Galaxy S3, it was completely stable and functional for me, but battery life was much worse. That was actually OK since the phone's battery life was terrible anyway so I got an extended 5400mah battery. The scariest was CM7 and CM9 on a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant - emergency services didn't work. You couldn't call 911, according to the official thread.

The best experience I ever had was an LG Optimus T (T-Mobile version of the Optimus One). good battery, stable, one minor issue in flashing was that you had to flash an extra package that could talk to the older baseband software. It was better on CM7 Gingerbread than it ever thought about with the official 2.2 Froyo ROM. My wife ended up with that phone for about 8 months before getting an iPhone 4s and she loved that thing. A friend with the Verizon HTC One m7 had a good experience with a Google Play Edition-based KitKat ROM long before the official KitKat ever came out.

So all that rambling is just to say, just be careful. Stock ROMs aren't bad usually but I'd love to replace Touchwiz with something less bloatful on my S4.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Tue May 20, 2014 3:29 pm

I think caution is warranted, but frankly I don't know anything about phones or Android and I was able to get 4.4.2 running on both my Nexus 4 and my ancient HP Touchpad. The Android dev community is very impressive in their technical chops and their eagerness to help. If you want something running on something, someone's likely to have already done it and documented how.

As a bonus, with a another fairly straightforward flash I was able to upgrade the Nexus 4 from 3G to LTE with full support from my carrier. Much fast, so enjoyment.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Tue May 20, 2014 4:15 pm

Root is honestly more important than flashing a custom ROM nowadays. With the existence of Xposed, you can basically modify your stock ROM to your heart's content as long as you have root.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:23 pm

I can't say I agree 100% there Chronos. I rooted my Atrix HD and modded the hell out of it to make it run lean and mean, but nothing was a replacement for a slimmed down android 4.4.2 (now 4.4.3) ROM vs the 4.0.x it was running before. On top of that some of the more stable roms release weekly stable updates. No company who puts out android phones currently can even come remotely close to that sort of support and attention to their own stock ROM.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sun Jun 15, 2014 2:06 am

Welch wrote:I can't say I agree 100% there Chronos. I rooted my Atrix HD and modded the hell out of it to make it run lean and mean, but nothing was a replacement for a slimmed down android 4.4.2 (now 4.4.3) ROM vs the 4.0.x it was running before. On top of that some of the more stable roms release weekly stable updates. No company who puts out android phones currently can even come remotely close to that sort of support and attention to their own stock ROM.

That's a bit apples vs oranges. You should compare root vs custom modding for the same Android base version. Of course 4.4.x is likely going to be smoother than 4.0.x, most things being equal. On the same version, rooting combined with unnecessary app removal and Xposed are powerful enough for a lot of users already. Of course going totally custom has its advantages too, but performance is only one aspect (not that it is not important). Assuming your phone has a fast enough dual core processor and enough RAM (that is the big problem for lower end devices where corner-cutting makes things suboptimal), IMO you don't need to go all custom to get decent performance out of the device, given the same version.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sun Jun 15, 2014 3:00 am

I don't feel it's apples to oranges at all. However I did root, removed just about everything possible (all AT&The bloatware). Also I used Xposed for a few mods. It did run considerably better with those things. But as they say you can't polish a turd.

I'm not saying if someone was on 4.3 that they can't make it run as good as 4.4 when tweaked properly. But if your going from 4.0 to 4.4.3 like I did that's a lot of update (optimization) to make up for with tweaking a stock android OS.

Also recently installed BMM for the Atrix 2 and installed SlimKat 4.4.3. The phone was already tweaked and rooted and yet again huge difference in performance, feature set and useability (actually having recently used apps ability).

I'm now using a Samsung S5 and won't custom flash it until I have to which will likely be awhile after Samsung fails to update the OS when new features release.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sun Jun 15, 2014 5:40 am

Welch wrote:I'm not saying if someone was on 4.3 that they can't make it run as good as 4.4 when tweaked properly. But if your going from 4.0 to 4.4.3 like I did that's a lot of update (optimization) to make up for with tweaking a stock android OS.
Actually I was trying to say exactly that. 4.0 tweaked to the max without going custom most likely cannot match 4.4.3 custom. My interpretation of the question here is custom rom vs root+optimization when you start from the same base Android version. There is only so much you can bring back from the more advanced OS like kernel features and others. Custom ROM with a higher starting point has an advantage over just trying to optimize from a lower point. All I was saying that if you have the same version, say 4.4.x, and you can go custom vs root+cleanup+Xposed, that the difference may not be too dramatic.

In your case custom wins by a mile not just because custom is sooooo good, it is because they pick up a lot of base OS goodies already. Plus the vendor itself stopped at 4.0.x already.

In my old Xperia Arc's case, the single core and the lack of system storage and RAM is what keep it from achieving greatness even with the community cooking custom rom's with the latest AOSP. Yes it is usable, but the base hardware is even further behind. (moving to 4.x made the phone never the same performance wise compared to GB) I am just flashing the latest unofficial nightly just to see as the device is now for play not my daily driver.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sun Jun 15, 2014 5:52 am

Welch wrote:I'm now using a Samsung S5 and won't custom flash it until I have to which will likely be awhile after Samsung fails to update the OS when new features release.


How can you go from stock Android to TouchWiz?

You'll get tired of that awful skin soon and flash.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Sun Jun 15, 2014 6:00 am

Welch wrote:I'm now using a Samsung S5 and won't custom flash it until I have to which will likely be awhile after Samsung fails to update the OS when new features release.


Like you, I used to run a Samsung and it was good until ICS was realeased. The delays for Samsung to fill ICS with their Touchwiz and replace decent Google apps with their own irritating custom versions, followed by the delays added by my carrier to add their own junk took over nine months.
Nine months was long enough for Jellybean to arrive (with Project Butter, which my Samsung-bloated phone was sorely needing with all those junk services running 24/7)

My Touch-wiz-molested, carrier-bloated ICS update was so slow, battery-draining, late and disappointing that I switched to CM9 and immediately regretted having waited; It was faster, longer-lasting, more flexible and more stable. There were absolutely no downsides and every single feature was better (or easily switched for one I preferred).
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Mon Jun 16, 2014 7:25 pm

DancinJack wrote:
Welch wrote:I'm now using a Samsung S5 and won't custom flash it until I have to which will likely be awhile after Samsung fails to update the OS when new features release.


How can you go from stock Android to TouchWiz?

You'll get tired of that awful skin soon and flash.


I completely agree that its crap. However it doesn't feel as much crap (performance wise) as previous Touchwiz, but I'm fairly certain thats due to the phones hardware overpowering its poorly thought out and non-optimized nature. I'm just trying to stick with something at this point that is STABLE. So far the stock firmware is just that, its stable. I've not noticed any major lag in the interface as some video I saw online demonstrating how bad it could be. Usability wise its alright, not nearly as simple and clean as stock android for sure. My biggest annoyance at present is their settings menu. Who thought it was a good idea to change them all to circles that are the same look and color with only words to differentiate settings categories apart? The inclusion of 2 different apps for each thing sort of peeves me off too... really do I need S voice when I have Google voice?

Like I said before, I bought it purely for the hardware knowing that eventually once the S5 dev community is rock solid and I feel up to it that I'll try flashing over someone much leaner and meaner. I'm sure as it stands the custom ROMS would break or have buggy issues regarding all of the sensors and extra features the S5 comes packaged with. There is also the issue of factory warranty, i'll probably wait it out and then flash the hell out of it.

@FlyingFox - Sorry I misunderstood your post. I can agree with that, as long as the user knows what they are doing they should be able to streamline an existing OS to run smoother than an equivalent version custom ROM. All bets are off however if its something like Samsung's Touchwiz, short of you ripping it out and replacing it with Google's own launcher/ect. For Motorola I think they would be one of the better ones as they keep things extremely clean and simple. At one point (not the Atrix 4g era), but the Atrix 2+ they had a fairly stock interface with very few bloat apps to get in the way. After they dropped Bloatoblur in favor of signing in with a Google account, things were pretty smooth.
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Re: Custom ROMS - To flash or not to flash!

Postposted on Tue Jun 17, 2014 7:08 am

S VOICE will change your life man! ugh.

Anyway, you can pretty much expect that if you buy nearly any Galaxy device you will have amazing dev support. It's a cool thing.
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