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Why should/shouldn't I switch to cyanogenmod
December 5, 2013 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I’m thinking about installing cyanogenmod on my samsung galaxy s3 ( SPH-L710 ) phone. Does anyone have experience with cyanogenmod on this phone or a similar model?

The potential benefits of cyanogenmod that particularly appeal to me are:

fewer unwanted apps on my phone
longer battery life
greater configurability of phone

Potential downsides are :

poor interaction with some hardware - (GPS rumored to take some additional time to initialize )

instability - anecdotal stories of frequent crashes.

incompatibility with apps - I don’t have lots of apps installed but I use talkatone and skype and both of those need to continue to work for me.
I don’t really care about improved performance and I’m not too concerned about voiding my warranty.
I would particularly appreciate hearing from anyone who has first hand experience - good or bad.

posted by metadave to Technology (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is your phone already rooted?
You can do all of the things in your "potential benefits" with a rooted phone and keep the stock image, if you're worried about cyanogen-specific incompatibilities.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2013

I agree with jozxyqk - if you root, you can get all the benefits you are looking for without dealing with nearly as many instabilities.

As for battery life - nine times out of ten you'll get better battery life from the OEM stock ROM than from Cyanogen or any other AOSP-based ROM, as the manufacturer has specifically coded the software to match the hardware. This can include using binaries that are tied into the stock ROM and can't be easily extracted and used in other ROMs, which is a major frustration to ROM developers.

I recommend using a battery monitoring app like BetterBatteryStats to find the apps that are preventing wakelocks - this keeps your CPU awake and out of sleep mode, which eats your battery much faster.
You can use Titanium Backup or another similar app to freeze the unwanted stock apps that you can't uninstall if you see they are part of the problem.

In terms of configurability - once rooted you can install the Xposed framework, which allows you to then install specific modules that let you configure certain aspects of the software and UI, without the need to flash an entire custom ROM.

I'm not sure if it's possible to flash custom kernels on your specific device, but custom kernels typically allow for finer-grained control of CPU frequencies, under- and over-clocking, and under-volting, all of which can contribute significantly to better battery life as well. If that's possible for your device, you may be able to flash a new kernel and make some significant gains without installing a new ROM.
posted by trivia genius at 11:33 AM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can do all of the things in your "potential benefits" with a rooted phone and keep the stock image

I didn't know that.

The phone is not rooted.

Maybe this should be a different question but after rooting the phone what would I do to achieve those "potential benefits" ?
posted by metadave at 11:35 AM on December 5, 2013

Thanks, trivia genius! You answered my question before I finished writing it.
posted by metadave at 11:38 AM on December 5, 2013

I like cyanogenmod a lot. I've been running it on both a samsung captivate (att galaxy s) as well as my current galaxy sii skyrocket.

The galaxy s phones had a hardware gps issue that no ROM can really help, stock or no. I've never heard of (and have never experienced) any apps that work on one ROM but won't work on another. Crashes can be an issue if you're using nightly builds - but I only use stable releases.

It's fairly easy to irrevocably screw up ("brick") your phone if you haven't installed custom ROMs before, so make sure you really have all the instructions/binaries you need and lots of time (and working backup phone, just in case you really screw up). On the plus side, the s3 is one of the better supported phones, so there should be plenty of documentation and easily available stable builds.

If all you want is to get rid of carrier apps and longer battery life - you can do both of those with root and apps. ROMs are one way towards better customization, but maybe you can get what you want through a new launcher app.

Personally, I won't buy a new phone if it's not well supported by cyanogenmod or nexus branded and consequently free of carrier cruft.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:39 AM on December 5, 2013

Way back in the day (er, 2011), I loved Cyanogenmod. It was about the only way to get updated to 2.3 on many devices that had poor carrier support.

Now, I wouldn't recommend it unless you just like to tinker with installing other OSes on your phone. The stock ROM works well enough. If you read the forums, you'll see users posting a host of issues with the Cyanogen ROMs that really would frustrate the average user.

Be aware that Samsung is already working to push out a 4.3 update for the S3 (they already did the S4), and possibly 4.4 beyond.

Also, if you like the TouchWiz features of the stock Samsung, you might not like the bare-bones feel of Cyanogen/AOSP.

Again, I used to love to flash ROMs, but now about all I would do is root the device if it allowed some functionality I wanted (e.g. I had to root my new Nexus 7 LTE to patch the AT&T code that disables tethering/hotspot when an AT&T SIM is inserted). Otherwise, Android development and support is worlds better than it was a few years ago, at least on the upper-tier devices anyway.

The promised benefits of increased battery life are often way overstated, and can come at other costs. I'd leave it stock unless there was a real definite reason for flashing an alternate ROM that would allow you some greater functionality that is lacking now.
posted by planetesimal at 11:41 AM on December 5, 2013

For me the big upside to Cyanogenmod is that you can do the updates on your own and not wait for the b.s. over-the-air update that may or may not ever come. For example, I use Cyanogenmod on a first-gen Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" and I was able to move it up several versions of Android and it went from being essentially a this-OS-sucks-so-bad-I'll-never-use-it device to something that is pretty dang snappy for an old device. I would *love* to put a Kit-Kat based Cyanogen on this one, as a major feature of Kit-Kat is that it is actually _less_ resource intensive.

Along those lines, I also think Cyanogenmod is a really good option for those that have been dead-ended by e.g. Google because they only support devices for 18 months, after which their support policy is "buy a new device". I have a Galaxy Nexus S that would probably be awesome with Kit-Kat and won't get it because it's 2 years old.

The big downside for me is that I find the process to root and mod incredibly opaque, time consuming, and somewhat nerve-wracking, and this is coming from a reasonably hardcore linux tinkerer. I can do it and have done it, but after completing it I often feel only marginally more informed on what I just did.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:46 AM on December 5, 2013

For potential benefits, continued support. My first phone, now used by one of my kids was a Galaxy S (similar to the Nexus S), which isn't supported. However, it's running Mackay's build of cm-11 (I.E. kit kat), while even the nexus s is no longer supported (much less Samsung's "support"). Granted, you can always do this later if you want, but this way you're used to the extra features/settings.

Another potential benefit is if you're using talkatone for a google voice number, you can use voice+ for closer integration to the system.

If you want to remove apps, even without root, recent android versions let you "disable" the app, and for many intents and purposes, that's good enough. At least I thought it was fine for the few months before I rooted my note.

Downsides, it can become a time sink. Maybe less so, if you just install it once, and from that point only let the phone update itself on only stables, then there's nothing really to follow (however you might be unaware of some new features you could be using

It will be annoying to do your first recovery. Make sure to install and use helium (was carbon) for pre-root backup capability. that will doesn't do your phone settings. I'm pretty sure you'll be adviced to factory reset before installing (unless you want to be someone complaining about frequent crashing - seriously, don't dirty wipe). Between multiple phones for me and the kids, and tablet, and me playing with roms, I am really starting to get sick of setting up android devices.

Because of heimdall/odin it's fairly hard to brick a samsung, so you don't have to worry about the negative of turning your phone into a paper weight.
posted by nobeagle at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2013

I have Cyanogenmod running on a SGSII.

Installing it was a bi... um, unpleasant experience. I was within moments of throwing the phone through a window or running it over with a car; more than once I basically gave up and declared it dead / bricked, and it finally seemed to start magically working only when I threatened to replace it with an iPhone and nailgun the Samsung to a 2x4 as a warning to others. (Threats worked when nothing else did; what can I say.) You could probably pay me to do it again, but it would be a great deal of money.

And this was on a phone that was already rooted.

I wouldn't do it unless you are willing to risk the phone. If this is your only phone, if you would be seriously harmed (emotionally, socially, economically, etc.) if it suddenly became a paperweight, I don't think you should do it. It requires, I think, a certain cavalier attitude to get through the process. But if it's an extra phone and you're comfortable living dangerously with it, and particularly if you're just trying to extend its life for a while longer before replacing it, then it might be worth a try.

If you decide to do it, I suggest getting yourself a large quantity of whiskey and fortify yourself to spend a lot of quality time reading unhelpful forums frequented by people with a hate for punctuation and a love of telling others to "use search" (always as the last post in a thread created by someone with your exact problem and it will be the only such thread anywhere).

I would recommend doing a lot of research/reading on the particular point-release that you plan on installing before you move forward, to see what the known issues are with your particular submodel of phone. I made the mistake of trying to install the latest "stable" version and it wouldn't boot, but an older version finally worked. Also keep in mind that the same 'model' phone may actually be two or three different actual hardware configurations (e.g. the SGSII sold by TMobile is different from the one sold internationally); installing the wrong version on your phone can brick it.

CM has some very nice features and is generally an improvement over Samsung's crapified TouchWiz, and it certainly made my phone feel faster and more responsive. However, it did completely break WiFi Calling. Having to reinstall all my apps wasn't much fun either (Titanium Backup didn't work; I'm still not sure why, but the backed-up apps just wouldn't run after the upgrade, so I wouldn't recommend trusting it). In the final analysis I feel like it basically just de-crapped the phone of all the Samsung garbage and brought me to approximately where I would have been if I'd just bought a Nexus phone in the first place. I don't suspect I'll do it again, only because I'll never buy another crapwared phone.

Rooting the phone, OTOH, was definitely worth it and I'd recommend doing it; it's a pretty mindlessly easy operation and there are good tutorials around (minimal forum-crawling required) for popular phones. It'll allow stuff like app freezing and WiFi tethering. So if that's all you want, going for a full OS-level reinstall isn't required.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, Kadin2048 gave me a good reminder of something to add. If you think you're going to install CM in a year from now when your phone is no longer supported, then do it now. Sometimes, if there's a partitioning change, you need to go from stock, to an intermediate version, and finally to the latest. If you've waited too long, if there's anything you need to get to the intermediate version, links may be dead, megaupload may be gone, etc.

I rooted two SGS's and put CM on them; one within a few months of gettting it (new), and the other about 2 years later. That second time was a bi ... t more of a process.

Battery - with phones I haven't really noticed a change - apps and settings will affect you way more than the rom/kernel will in most situations (the stock Note II 4.1.2 did something stupid with the wifi driver that drank juice in my employer's wifi - I got better results using my 1-bar cellular). With root and a stock rom, greenify can stop some things from waking, as well get a good program for getting at your battery/system stats.
posted by nobeagle at 12:18 PM on December 5, 2013

I'm running Cyanogenmod 10.2 on a Verizon Galaxy Nexus and it's been rock solid for me. No crashes and much better battery life than I was getting with the stock Android from Verizon. I've had no incompatibility issues and for a fairly old phone performance is really snappy.
posted by octothorpe at 6:25 PM on December 5, 2013

After reading the answers here I first upgraded from Andriod 4.1.3 to Android
4.3, then rooted my phone and then installed cyanogen.

The upgrade to 4.3 was easy. I used kies, a program from Samsung to do the upgrade. I don't think this upgraded could have been done over the air (OTH) at the time but my impression is that these things are usually rolled out through kies first and then OTH so maybe even now the OTH upgrade is available.

Using 4.3 immediately made my phone more responsive. Other than that I don't remember seeing any differences worth mentioning.

Rooting the phone turned out to be the hardest part of the process. I think
this was because I was starting from Android 4.3 which contains something
called "Knox", a security feature that, among other things, resists rooting.

For a couple of days I used my rooted phone. I installed Titanium Backup
which can "freeze" or remove unneeded programs but every program installed
became a little research project: What does it do? What does it depend on?
What depends on it? So I didn't get around to removing anything

My original plan had been to stop there but at this point I felt like I had
enough experience to install cyanogenmod so that's what I did. Compared to
rooting, this was easy.
posted by metadave at 8:02 AM on December 19, 2013

Getting back to my original question: "Why should/shouldn't I switch to
cyanogenmod?" here's what I would write to the me of two weeks ago:

Hi metadave_2013_12_05. I have a phone identical to yours and I switched to
cyanogenmod just last week. So far, it has been worth the trouble.

The benefits that I have seen are snappier performance and a minimal set of apps to start with. Battery life may or may not be improved but it really doesn't matter since it still lasts all day and I still need to charge it every night. I expected that I might try different configurations but so far, I'm just pleased with the fact that the switch didn't break anything.

All the hardware seems to work fine (GPS was my main concern) and so far, I have not seen any stability problems ( I used the "stable" cyanogenmod 10.2 version ).

An unexpected bonus is that WIFI tethering is available for free in cyanogenmod but I have not tried it yet.

Beyond that, I'm seen a few cyanogenmod improvements. For example, there's a
small collection of icons at the upper right corner of the screen that you can
"pull down" to see some status details like how much battery life is left,
what WIFI you are using. I don't remember seeing this in Android 4.3 . I'm
not sure that cyanogenmod really deserves the credit for these features (
maybe they are in Android but Sprint or Samsung was holding them back for some
reason ) but I don't think they were there before.

If you do decide to install cyanogenmod, your first step should be to install
ClockworkMod ROM Manager. This is a low level piece of software that will
make your life quite a bit easier as you go through the process of rooting or
installing alternate roms on your phone.

Best Wishes, metadave_2013_12_19
posted by metadave at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2013

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