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Want to get KitKat early? Dodge the Android bloatware? Here are four ROMs to try

Most consumers just live with the version of Android that manufacturers ship with their device — and the updates they choose to deliver — but that doesn't need to be so. Here's a look at several alternative versions out there to pick from.
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By Liam Tung, Contributor on
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1 of 5 Google

Time and again, customers see the maker of their handsets refuse to rollout the latest version of Android to their device, excluding them from new features the OS brings.

As some Android enthusiasts have long known, one way around this problem is installing an alternative version of Android, often called "after-market firmware" or a "custom ROM", which is based on the bare-bones version Google submits to the Android Open Source Project.

One of the main reasons Android customers swap their stock Android OS for a custom ROM is to bypass the often-long wait for vendors to release their Android firmware updates. But there are a few other benefits that are hard to ignore, such as stripping out 'bloatware' that often comes with Android phones, and adding different privacy controls, customisation, and multitasking options that might not be available in OEM's firmware.

One argument against the practice would be that, in certain cases, a device needs to be rooted before an alternative ROM can be installed, which in some cases voids a device's warranty. On the other hand, there's a tiny list of hardware makers, such as Oppo, that actually support the process of installing alternative firmware.

Read on for a sneak peek at some of the main Android ROMs out there.

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2 of 5 Cyanogen Inc

CyanogenMod

The best known firmware is of course, CyanogenMod (CM), which is known to be installed on nearly 11 million devices. Flush with venture capital funding, CM's maker Cyanogen Inc is taking out some of the complexity of 'rooting' a device and 'flashing' new firmware by way of new Windows and Mac installers.

Founded by Steve Kondik, CyanogenMod has built a reputation for swiftly taming Google's latest Android builds and bringing its take on the OS to Nexus, Motorola, HTC, Sony and Samsung devices. So when Google released KitKat, Cyanogen Inc launched it in the form of "nightly" (unstable) builds of its CM 11, well ahead of OEMs.

Features include 'Privacy Guard' to help prevent apps from accessing things like contacts, messages and call logs on the device. It's also integrated PIE mode from another ROM, Paranoid Android (read on for more), and a range of options to customise how the device operates, from CPU performance to tiles.

The company has recently partnered with Chinese hardware maker Oppo to preinstall the OS on its N1 handset. OnePlus, a new startup, expects to launch its first device in the second quarter with its own version of CyanogenMod. CM's latest versions also integrate encrypted messaging support for multiple apps.

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3 of 5 AOKP

Team Kang’s Android Open Kang Project (AOKP)

If pink unicorns and magic bytes tickle your fancy, AOKP may be your perfect ROM.

AOKP is another popular ROM that's been around since 2011 and supports around 60 mostly high-end devices from Asus, HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony, and Oppo.

The ROM, which is known for its customisation and theming, releases nightly builds every three days and more stable 'milestone' releases once a month.

As AOKP's developers highlight, their builds are lighter weight than stock ROMs since it stays fairly close to the Android Open Source Project. Its main features include custom toggles, custom vibrations, the ability to change the colour of a device's LED notification light, and unique UI features such as its gesture ribbon and navigation ring.

An interesting side note showing the momentum building behind Cyanogen Inc is that AOKP's founder has now joined the company to work there.

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4 of 5 Paranoid Android

Paranoid Android

The developers behind Paranoid Android have impressed the ROM's large fan base with the launch of HALO multitasking bubble last year.

The developers took a leaf from Facebook's Chat Heads for the concept, which handles and displays messages from different social media and messaging accounts.

Another feature it's known for is PIE controls, which fan out Android's bottom three buttons with a swipe. It was popular enough for CyanogenMod to later include the feature in its builds. 

 

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5 of 5 OmniROM

OmniROM

OmniROM is a newcomer that's quickly gaining in popularity and supports around 30 devices, including popular Nexus, Oppo, Sony, Samsung, HTC, Asus, and LG models.

Announced in October last year, some of the features the developers behind OmniROM have built into their nightlies include richer audio controls, per-app permissions, and a unique incoming call notifier that slides up unobtrusively from the display.

OmniROM is also working on "integrated phone number search", which offers OpenStreetMap or Google Places based number searchers. The user would type keywords or a place's name into the Dialer search bar and would be returned a list of relevant numbers.

The developers are focussed on delivering new features to its Android 4.4-based builds, though it does have 4.3 builds available too. It's also working on expanding its list of supported devices, with the addition being the Galaxy Nexus GSM model (which missed out on getting KitKat from Google). 

One of OmniROM's chief developers who goes by the name 'xplodwild' is currently figuring out the best way to implement multiple-window capabilities on smaller screen devices, for example whether they should be split, stacked or floating windows.

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