Cyanogen: The Closest Thing to Vanilla Android

Rich (@rmanalan) has been bragging about CyanogenMod (@cyanogen) for nearly a month because it provides the closest experience to a vanilla Android install, if you don’t have a Nexus One.

For the unfamiliar, the basic Android distro is modified by hardware manufacturers (e.g. HTC, Motorola, Samsung) and carriers (e.g. Sprint, Verizon, AT&T) and installed on a new device. This is one reason why a Verizon Droid X functions slightly differently than a Sprint HTC EVO even though they both run Android and have similar hardware specs.

This is also why the latest version of Android, i.e. 2.2 dubbed Froyo, has been trickling out to phones for the better part of a year. After Google releases the final build, the carriers and hardware manufacturers modify the source for their handsets, e.g. Froyo includes a hotspot feature that is disabled by default in the carrier versions so that they can bundle their own version and charge for it.

Note, I’m not against this model.

Anyway, one awesome thing about Android is the geeky modding culture that has arisen around it. The community is not unlike the jailbreak/unlock community around iPhones, minus Apple’s ongoing crusade to squash them.

All well and good, but why mod in the first place?

On the left, base HTC Sense. On the right, Cyanogen. I did buy Weather and Toggle Widgets to replicate the Sense clock widget.

Why root?
Let’s start with why I rooted. Rooting an Android phone is a relatively trivial task, if you can follow simple instructions (ahem, Chet @oraclenerd). I initially rooted my EVO using the unrevoked (@unrevoked) method, just as Louis Gray (@louisgray) and many others have done.

Rooting also allows you to use apps that require low-level access to graphics and other phone internals, like ShootMe, an easy screenshotting app (h/t Oliver @osteinmeier). When you root, you can approximate a vanilla Android experience by hiding your phone’s base OS, but even so, you’ll still use precious resources to hide it.

The advantage of easy rooting with a tool like unrevoked is low risk; of course, when your OS has an update, you’ll have to wait for the unrevoked team to crack it before upgrading.

Why mod?
So, why did I go to a full mod if rooting was so great?

Aside from a geeky desire to mod, I wanted to remove the bloatware that carriers and hardware manufacturers have added to Android and run a cleaner, faster version of the OS. I wanted to be in full control of my phone.

As I mentioned, Rich had been in my ear about Cyanogen for a while, and I can’t underestimate how valuable it is to have someone do this first. I had been curious as the 2.2 version of Cyanogen reached stability, and he allayed my fears about the process.

The only thing to do was wait until after OpenWorld because modding one’s phone while traveling is not terribly bright. Last Friday, I jumped in and got it done.

Before jumping in, I did a full backup of data and apps using MyBackup Pro. There are tons of backup apps; Rich uses Titanium Backup. Whatever you choose, take a backup before you mod, JIC you need to revert.

Rich suggested using ROM Manager to manage the modding process. This isn’t required, as I found out from @David004, but the process is significantly easier.

ROM Manager applied the Cyanogen image, and I had a working phone within 20 minutes. Easy peasy. Applying the backup data and tweaking took a bit longer, but overall, the process was an easy afternoon project.

And I’m happy with Cyanogen so far. The OS is noticeably faster than HTC Sense, which seems logical. I feel liberated and slightly cooler as well.

A couple downsides. There are no 4G drivers yet, which is a bummer for me, living in a 4G city and all. That will soon be fixed I suspect as 4G rolls out in bigger cities. Also, no FM radio drivers. I’ve also noticed the battery drains faster, like it did OOTB before HTC pushed an OTA fix.

Yeah, that’s a downside, but don’t buy an EVO if you expect excellent battery life.

Natch, there are disclaimers for modding, even for the skilled. See this interesting case study from Engadget; there aren’t always base images if you lose your way. So you could be lost forever. Well, not forever, since I’m guessing you could wander sheepishly into a carrier’s store to get a reflash of your bricked phone.

No one wants to do that though.

So, comments on modding and/or rooting? Find the text input directly below the post, a.k.a. the comments.

Update: Thanks to Rich again (everyone needs a Rich, seriously), I’ve alleviated the battery drain issue with Juice Defender. Highly recommend adding JD to manage how and when your phone is using the battery. I’ve gone from less than 18 hours on a full charge to well over 30, maybe more.




  1. Let’s be honest. IOS looks the best 🙂

    Dunno, I think they look pretty much alike. Even so, it’s worth it to me to dump the bloatware and extra OS layer to get better performance.

  2. I just rooted and flashed my myTouch Slide 3G with C7.  It is a totally different phone, screaming fast.

  3. CM6 was rock solid, but I’ve had issues w CM7, GPS, missed calls, 4G spotty. It’s still a great ROM, but I can’t miss calls. I might need to flash back to the stock ROM or try to hold out for the Nexus 4G. The Nexus S is now $100 on Sprint, which would be tempting if there weren’t even better phones on the horizon.

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