Cyanogenmod (CM) is the most popular Android ROM supporting the greatest number of devices. Along with CWM and TWRP recovery, I’ve installed CM on 3 phones and 3 tablets, currently run it on 1 phone and 2 tablets. Here are the practical reasons why:
- No bloatware from carrier or manufacturer
- Clean, well organized – Android as it was meant to be. In comparison, stock ROMs like TouchWiz are a hot mess.
- Faster performance, equal or better battery life.
- All Android features supported, even ones your carrier might disable in their ROM (like tethering).
- Root is built-in, turn on or off with a checkbox.
- Easy automatic updates, just like a stock ROM.
- More frequent updates – most daily builds are stable enough for daily use.
I used to list the following, but removed it:
- Long term support – no planned obsolescence.
Originally I listed this because thanks to CM I’m running Android 6.0.1 on my 4-year-old Note 2 phone, long after Samsung & Verizon abandoned it to Android 4.3. However, I removed this point when I recently learned that CM stopped development for the Note 4. I realized that long term support is always fragile. The most you can expect from the manufacturer is a couple of years. With CM it may go longer, but you depend on developers with professional skills working on it for free as a hobby. At least with CM, if it ever is abandoned there’s at least a chance it will get picked up again, if it’s a popular device with developers.
There are also philosophical reasons I run CM:
- If I own a device, I should be able to run any software I want. I applaud carriers and manufacturers for the work they do building reliable software, yet I object to them locking down the software. Customers should have the choice to run any software they want, so long as it plays nicely on the carrier’s network.
- The above point is especially true when a carrier or manufacturer abandons a device. One could argue that as long as they’re providing software, they can prevent customers from running anything else on their network. I disagree, but there’s at least a thread of merit to that argument. But once a carrier abandons a device, they lose any right to tell customers they can’t run their own software.
- Suggestion: carriers like Verizon and AT&T who lock the bootloaders, should issue their final software release on any device with an unlocked bootloader.
- All human institutions are fallible, but when it comes to security and privacy I trust the open source community and transparency more than I trust any single company. Even for companies like Apple who have earned a public reputation supporting security and privacy, it is reasonable to wonder what goes on privately. What backdoors might exist in their ROM, what private data are they collecting and sharing, because some government agency forced them to do it? Since their ROMs are proprietary and close-source, we’ll never know. Prior to 2013, this would sound like paranoia, but events since then have proved otherwise.
Practical tips before buying any phone or tablet
- Check to see if CM is available and how current it is.
- Make sure it has an unlocked bootloader. This depends on the device and the carrier. For example, the Galaxy Note phones are unlocked on T-Mobile, but locked on Verizon or AT&T.
- Remember – “unlocked” is ambiguous – don’t get confused.
- Carrier unlocked: carriers are required by law to unlock on request any phone that is not on contract.
- Bootloader unlocked: there is no law requiring this – carrier’s discretion.