Rooted your Galaxy Note 2? You'll be champing at the bit to try out new software -- we've tested five of the best stable ROMs.
If you followed our instructions to the letter, you should have a rooted Samsung Galaxy Note 2. You might be wondering what all the fuss was about, as it's pretty much identical to how it was before -- hardly worth the years taken off your life by the stress of breaking the warranty on your new £500 gadget. But we were just warming up for where the real fun begins, and that's with custom ROMs.
A custom ROM can be the best thing you ever do with your Android phone. Android is extraordinarily customisable -- that's why comparing an HTC device to a Sony one is like looking at two different species. Samsung's TouchWiz interface divides critics, with some liking its similarity to iOS, while others lament the sheer amount of Samsung-branded junk that clutters up the phone. At the very least, a custom ROM will allow you a faster and more slimline OS, but they can offer much more than that too.
Stable custom ROMs are a little thin on the ground for the Galaxy Note 2 at the moment. This isn't entirely surprising, given its only been out for two months. The future's bright for the modding scene though, what with 5,000,000 units shipped to date, and we'll hopefully see the more established Android ROMs (Cyanogenmod and MIUI spring to mind) getting Galaxy Note 2 flavours in due course.
For now though, here's five I've been playing with on my Note 2, with a rundown of what they do and how they perform.
CrashROM takes the approach that Samsung did a pretty good job with the stock ROM in the Note 2, but you should be able to add more features to it. Some of them you could download from Google Play yourself, others are niceties that come from rooting.
By default it includes call recording, the Sony Bravia Engine, Flash Player Support, VPN and loads of other things. If you want even more options, it also has a whole bunch of extras including some Sony Xperia bits and pieces, programs that will let you download YouTube videos and other stuff.
Your feelings towards this ROM will depend on how much you like the Samsung original OS -- tipping the scales at nearly 1GB, there's an argument to say it feels more bloated. The flipside of this coin is that all of the functionality you expect from the Note 2 -- S Pen detection, multiple windows open and so on -- are all present and accounted for: you just get a bit extra.
Battery life was a little underwhelming, unfortunately, down to less than 60 per cent in under 12 hours. That's not bad by smart phone standards, but a little low when compared to what my Note 2 usually delivers with heavier use.
After the heavyweight CrashROM, here's a featherweight. The HyperNote ROM weighs in at a svelte 243MB, or around a quarter of the weight of its bloated rival. Unfortunately, it had a real issue with my 64GB microSD card, which became corrupted shortly after using it. I found that after formatting the card, the phone would crash if I tried to copy anything back onto it. Once I removed the card, the ROM ran smoothly -- but obviously that's a pretty big shortcoming.
Other than this hiccup, it's a very speedy, minimalist ROM with a lot going for it. Battery life on a heavy day's usage was pretty impressive, and navigating between apps and screens was suitably nippy. Despite its minimalism it still managed to pack in Swype by default, which earns major brownie points from me.
There is one downside to this sparsity though: although split screen and the side navigation bar still work fine, removing the S Pen no longer brings up note-taking apps because they're no longer there. Perhaps there's such a thing as too minimalist.
While 100 per cent official MIUI support may be coming soon (it's currently thrashing the competition in a community vote for the next device for them to support), some bright spark has taken the initiative and tried to build their own Note 2 ROM based on MIUI and Cygenemod.
And it works really well -- as well as MIUI has done in the past for me on other devices, such as the Galaxy S3. The interface is radically different from the Note 2's default, getting rid of the app drawer entirely and creating a more iOS like display, and it includes things like toggles on the notification dropdown and new camera and gallery apps. Battery life was at least as impressive as the stock ROM, and possibly a bit better.
It's not without its drawbacks, however. Although you'd be hard pushed to tell this wasn't an official MIUI ROM, it doesn't at this stage take advantage of the Note 2's features from the get go. No S Pen detection and no windowed stuff -- essentially it's like using a MUIU ROM on a bigger screen. This may be enough for some, but if you love the Note 2's more unique qualities, then you should keep looking...
OmegaRom offers the most user-friendly installation of the lot, giving the user full control over how much of the original Samsung experience they want to have with the ROM. In a very smart move, ClockworkMod brings up a full installer which gives you three choices: install with bloatware, install without bloatware, or decide which bits to keep and jettison. This is valuable, because one man's bloatware is another man's treasure: especially when the list contains the likes of YouTube and Chrome.
Performance is excellent though, and the extras included are very welcome indeed: call recording, faster GPS locking and FlashPlayer Support are among a long list of minor improvements. Battery is impressive too, with 54 per cent left after 16 hours of heavy use gets a thumbs up from us.
The Android Revolution HD ROM thread on the XDA forums offers an eye-watering number of changes, but after you've gone through the Aroma installation process (which allows you to pick and choose which bits of the stock ROM you want to include), it's a surprise to find the UI looks identical. You may find yourself wondering if you've installed the stock ROM by mistake.
But all the action under the hood makes a huge improvement. The phone zips along without losing any of the functionality the phone originally had -- multi windows, S Pen and all. Battery life is impressive, the phone is completely stable and there's not a flicker of slowdown. Although it may not be the most radically different looking ROM around, it's perfect for those who just want to eke out a smidge more performance, without losing the core Samsung experience.
Note 2 modding is clearly in its infancy, but the early signs are promising. It will be interesting to see what modders will be able to do with the Note's unique features over the next 18 months or so, particularly the S Pen.
For now though, there are some decent stable ROMs out there that offer useful advantages over the stock OS -- even if the most compelling of these is removing the bloatware Samsung stuck on the phone in the first place.