There are a ton of reasons why we love Android over its competitors like Blackberry, Windows Phone and even iOS. But one of the major reasons is the developer community and the ability to flash a new ROM on our phone or tablet to get new features or just get the most up-to-date version of Android. But there are so many ROMs out there, especially if you have a Nexus device, how do you know which one is the perfect one for you? Well you'll have to try them out and see. Since one ROM isn't going to be loved and preferred by everyone, we can't say "Oh CyanogenMod is the best" that would just be my personal opinion. But what we can do is break down the different ROMs and show you the differences between them all.
AOSP-based ROMs basically turn your phone into a Nexus. They are meant to be stock Android with no special features. Although some AOSP builds will have a custom kernel which will give you better performance or better battery life. But for the most part it's stock Android straight from Google, but optimized for your device so everything will work correctly.
Android Open Kang Project, is a newer ROM. It got started with Ice Cream Sandwich back in late 2011. It's stock Android with a few tweaks and new features. Some of my favorite features from AOKP is the ability to change the color of your software keys, you can also add new software keys like search and menu. AOKP also uses a few features from CyanogenMod. You can check out our full review which we did in 2012. We'll probably do a new review once it gets updated to Android 5.0.
CyanogenMod is probably the most famous ROM out there. It's been around since....well forever! It's been around since before I knew about Android. CyanogenMod features stock Android with a few tweaks and special features like AOKP. It has it's own launcher called Trebuchet and its not much different from the stock launcher. It also has the theme engine, some lock screen tweaks. But it's probably the most up-to-date ROM out there and supports a ton of devices.
This one is a new up and coming ROM. I first head about it when I got my Nexus 7 last year. It's a rather interesting ROM. It is built from stock (AOSP) but it has some rather compelling features like tablet and phablet interfaces, the ability to change your navbar to fit with your currently open app, Pie control (you can swipe up from the bottom to access your keys), and they are always adding more. But it's only officially available for Nexus devices.
These are mostly for HTC devices, since they are based off of HTC's skin, Sense. But they basically look like the stock ROM on your HTC device with a few tweaks. Usually speed, performance, and battery tweaks. Sometimes you'll find Beats Audio being added into them, but that's mostly for the older phones, like the HTC Sensation 4G.
We all know Samsung's skin is called Touchwiz, so these ROMs are mostly only available for Samsung devices like the Galaxy S3, Note 2, etc. But usually they are similar to stock, like the Sense-based ROMs are. Sometimes you'll find they have a bit of theming to them and tweaks like making the battery last longer, making the phone a bit faster, etc.
Personally, I love Paranoid Android, and CyanogenMod. But there are millions of ROMs out there. In fact we feature a different one every Friday on our Custom ROM Spotlight. When people ask me what is the best ROM for such and such device, I don't say which is the best, but which one I recommend. See not everyone wants or needs the same features. I like CyanogenMod because it's usually really stable even on Nightlies. I also like Paranoid Android because I feel they are the most innovative ROM development team at this point.
So not everyone is going to love the same ROM, but hopefully this will help you out in picking the right ROM. Make sure you back up before flashing a new ROM. That way if you don't like it, you can return to your old one. What are some of your favorite ROMs?