Buying a Nexus device means you can be sure you’re going to get timely Android updates direct from Google, as the line runs ‘pure’ or ‘stock’ Android. That means you’re at the front of the queue for all the coolest new features and improvements, getting them months before the owners of rival phones.
Sometimes though, even being at the cutting edge of smart phone development loses its appeal. Thankfully, Nexus devices — such as the much sought-after Nexus 4 — are also well served when it comes to custom ROMs. These are versions of the Android OS, re-programmed by a fervert community of tinkerers, that come with additional embellishments or features to make things faster, smoother or more intuitive.
I’ve listed five of the best examples for the Nexus 4 below, but before you jump into the warm and inviting waters of custom software, you should make sure you’ve already consulted our exhaustive guide to unlocking the bootloader and rooting your phone. You’ll need to have done both before you can start flashing custom ROMs all over the shop.
I’m also duty-bound to remind you that flashing any kind of custom software to your device carries inherent risks, and CNET cannot be held responsible for any damage that may arise as a result of you following this guide. With that out of the way, we can finally get down to business.
To flash these ROMs to your phone, it’s worth downloading the excellent ROM Manager application from the Google Play market — it makes the process much easier. With each ROM, you’ll need to download the file and then copy it to the root folder of your phone using a micro-USB cable.
It’s a good idea to create a backup of your current ROM — just in case things go belly-up during the flashing process — before selecting ‘Wipe data/factory reset’ and ‘Wipe Cache partition’. Enter the Advanced menu and wipe the Dalvik cache, too. Then enter Recovery Mode, choose ‘Install ZIP from sd card’ and select the ROM package.
One of the most popular Android ROMs around right now, ParanoidAndroid has really come into its own since the move to Jelly Bean 4.2.1. It allows you to configure a hybrid user interface which fuses together elements of the Android tablet and phone UIs, so you can have the tablet-style notifications bar on your handset — the best of both worlds, if you will.
You can also tinker with the quick settings menu that was introduced in Jelly Bean, swapping out options you don’t use for ones you do.
There’s an impressive amount of customisation on offer here, and the ROM is attractive and relatively stable. If you’re after a more refined version of the stock Android UI, this is a cracking choice.
As the name suggests, this ROM is all about speed and fluidity. It’s also friendly on your battery, making it a useful option for those who like to get as much stamina out of their phone as possible.
Like all the best ROMs, LiquidSmooth is bursting with options that allow you to customise your user experience down to the tiniest detail. One of the coolest features of this ROM is the ability to tinker with your lock screen, adding in loads of additional quick-launch options to go alongside the usual camera and unlock choices — a real time-saver.
Forget the rather playful name — it’s a play on Android Open Source Project — this is one of the most accomplished ROMs available right now. As well as offering a stable experience, AOKP for the Nexus 4 offers robust customisation options for your lock screen, widget support for your navigation bar, the ability to switch status bar icons and much, much more.
AOKP has only been running since 2011, but it’s one of the fastest-growing ROMs out there in terms of support — so expect even bigger things from future releases.
CyanogenMod is perhaps the most famous of all the Android custom ROMs, and has been around since the very early days of firmware flashing. The developers behind CyanogenMod pride themselves on making the ROM as fast as possible — in fact, when compared to rival ROMs, it usually comes out on top.
Features include the ability to customise the home screen shortcut dock, extensive launcher options, theme control, status bar customisation and overclocking, which means you can make your Nexus 4 run even faster than usual. I should note this can result in lower battery life and other undesirable side-effects.
Proudly touted as the ROM that takes you ‘beyond Android’, Xylon’s objective is to provide a fast, intuitive and fluid experience — and it certainly does that. While it lacks the deep customisation of other ROMs, it still allows you to tailor the look of your phone to your own personal taste.
Many of its ideas are borrowed from rival ROMs, but Xylon has a few tricks of its own — one of the most obvious being the ability to tweak the layout of your navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, and change the colour, placement and function of the icons present there.
There’s also the chance to add additional options to the Google Now navigation ring, which normally only displays Google’s digital concierge. Xylon is very much a work in progress and is a very young ROM, but it’s certainly one to keep an eye on.