A big draw to the Android platform, especially for those who enjoy tinkering under the hood, is the ability to apply custom ROM images. An Android phone with a new ROM becomes a totally new phone, as ZDNet blogger Jason Perlow correctly points out. The homebrew ROM phenomenon has gotten so big that there are quite a few images to choose to apply to your Android phone. I have been using the VaelPak ROM on my HTC EVO 4G for months, and I can highly recommend it for EVO owners.
I am not going to give a primer for applying a custom ROM to Android phones, there is plenty of information online that covers that in detail. This is simply a review of the VaelPak ROM as applied to my EVO 4G. Briefly, you must root your phone, which gives superuser privilege (required to mess with the ROM image), backup the existing phone ROM image for safety, and then flash the new ROM to the phone. When the process is complete you have a brand new, totally different phone to play with.
The usual caveats apply here: tinkering with the ROM is not for the faint of heart, you void your phone's warranty and you risk turning your phone into an expensive paperweight. That aside, changing the ROM on your Android phone is very cool and a lot of fun.
I chose the VaelPak ROM (only available for the HTC EVO) over others for a couple of reasons. Primarily, other custom ROMs for the EVO do not support the Sprint 4G network, and VaelPak does. I pay for the use of Sprint's 4G, and losing that ability was not an option for me. Secondarily, the VaelPak ROM is designed for easy support and maintenance, even upgrading, and since I didn't want to spend an excessive amount of time playing with it I chose VaelPak.
I have been using VaelPak through a number of versions for several months without issues. The benefits I get from this ROM over the stock Sprint/HTC ROM are significant:
Better battery life
The first two benefits are self-explanatory, and the UI enhancements are what makes using the EVO with VaelPak worth the trouble. VaelPak (like most custom ROMs) is designed to use third party launcher apps, typically ADW or LauncherPro, and these allow customizing the user experience to a significant degree. I prefer LauncherPro, as the paid version adds widgets much like those on HTC Sense phones that I like to use.
There are minor UI improvements, some borrowed from Gingerbread, that greatly improve the use of the phone with VaelPak. There is a battery indicator that sits in the status bar at the top of the screen with a percentage indicator. The Android notification shade that is pulled down from the top of the screen to check system notifications is translucent, allowing you to see the screen underneath it. This is very useful and once you use it you wonder how you ever lived without it.
There are other UI enhancements that are configurable, notably dialog box transition effects that are very cool and create a personal UI experience. These transitions are activated through a special app unique to the VaelPak ROM.
When the VaelPak ROM is applied to the EVO, an app called VaelPak Settings is installed. This is a utility that provides complete control over all aspects of the VaelPak system. ROM updates can be downloaded and applied with a few taps on the screen, and the running environment can be tailored to user preference the same way. Any modification chosen in the Settings app that requires reflashing the ROM does so automatically, a process that is rock solid in my experience. Even new kernels can be applied and tested through this Settings app. The VaelPak Settings app is regularly updated through the Android Market.
Many people choose custom ROMs over stock systems to get the phone rid of unwanted apps that are preinstalled by the OEM and carrier. Some folks don't like the HTC Sense interface that ships on the EVO, and VaelPak gets rid of all of it (and the Sprint apps) leaving the system very clean. If there are some HTC or Sprint apps that you prefer to keep after flashing the ROM, VaelPak makes most of those available through the Settings app. I like Sprint TV and applied it with one tap in the Settings. The ability to pick and choose system elements is very powerful, and VaelPak makes that a simple process.
Jim Weiler, the developer of VaelPak, has included some special utilities that trick out the system nicely. There is a boot utility in the Settings app that makes rebooting, including an option to boot into the bootloader, a one tap affair. There is a screen density utility that lets you increase the density of the display on the EVO for displaying more on the screen at once. A Wireless Tether app is available that lets you use the EVO to provide 3G/4G connectivity for another device. You can even install the launcher interface from the Dell Streak if you want to totally change the look and feel of the Android device.
I have not experienced any issues with system operation since installing VaelPak months ago, but as always your mileage may vary. I do believe VaelPak is a straightforward way to get initiated into the homebrew ROM experience, and may appeal to newbies. The developer of VaelPak is very responsive to problems and requests for new features, which are handled on the VaelPak user forum.