Dear Lifehacker, I've been reading a lot about Android tweaking lately. With tweaks like GravityBox available, is there any advantage to flashing a custom ROM? Wouldn't it be better to just add the features I want with Xposed? Sincerely, Sayonara CyanogenMod
A lot of Android rooters are asking themselves the same question right now: why ROM if you can basically make your own ROM with Xposed? To an extent, this is a valid question. If all you want is a tweak or two to make your experience better, Xposed might be the better way to go. But let's not forget some of the advantages ROMs can offer.
The Advantages Of Xposed
If you haven't looked into Xposed yet, I can't recommend it highly enough. Almost like Cydia for Android, it allows you to build a custom version of Android from stock, adding your favourite tweaks one by one until you have a perfectly customised system. It has a few advantages over ROMs:
- Xposed tweaks are easier to use than ROMs. You need to be rooted for Xposed to work, but in theory, the process is simpler than ROMming. You just download the tweaks you want, install them as you would any other app, and enable them in Xposed. You don't have to flash any ZIP files, clear your data or worry about finding the right Google Apps package.
- Xposed gives you just the tweaks you want. Instead of downloading a pre-built ROM with all the community's favourite tweaks, you can install as many or as few tweaks as you want — and just the ones you want. If all you want is a gesture here and a pie control there, that's all you have to add.
- You can tweak without abandoning your current version of Android. If you really like HTC Sense or the Moto X's exclusive features, you don't have to give them up to use Xposed. Sure, Sense ROMs exist, but the majority of quality ROMs are based on stock Android, which means you'd lose out on the exclusive features your phone comes with by flashing one.
The Advantages Of ROMming
All that said, there are a lot of other advantages to ROMming besides the tweaks contained within, even if you're on a Nexus phone. For example:
- ROMs let you upgrade Android before your manufacturer does. Still waiting for KitKat on your HTC One? You can often get updates much faster with a custom ROM like CyanogenMod. This doesn't matter as much as it once did, but it's still the best way to get those updates when your manufacturer or carrier is lagging behind.
- ROMs are going beyond simple tweaks. CyanogenMod, for example, has started introducing new features with its separate user accounts, like a remote find and wipe. As this trend continues, you'll probably find that ROMs offer advantages Xposed cannot.
- ROMs can bring stock Android to any device. If you don't like Sense or TouchWiz, ROMming is a great way to get stock Android on nearly any device out there. Xposed can't do that.
- You're guaranteed, at least in theory, a certain amount of stability. ROMs are built and tested for stability, with all their features intact. If you build up your own system with Xposed modules, some may conflict with each other, be unstable, or just won't give you the smooth, integrated experience of a well-built ROM.
- Xposed doesn't cover every tweak. Certain things, like theme engines, LED customisation, and other tweaks don't exist in Xposed yet — or aren't as good as their custom ROM counterparts. Depending on what's important to you, a ROM may be preferable.
That may seem like a longer and more compelling list than the Xposed list, but it's really about your preferences and needs. I personally have given up ROMs — Xposed is all I need on my Moto X. But if I were on a different device or had different requirements, I'd be right back to flashing ROMs without a blink. The two are much more different than people give them credit for.
So think about why you like custom ROMs and what you'd want from an Xposed-based system. If you find that all your needs can be met, I recommend trying it out. But ROMs are far from dead, and they're still one of the best ways to get a better Android experience on any phone.
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