Paranoid Android is one of those rare innovations to have come out of open source software that thoroughly reinvents the way software is designed. With features like Hybrid UI, Pie Controls and the recently released HALO multitasking interface, this custom ROM for Android can reinvent your Android device like never before.
When asked about the leading Android custom ROM, the first name that comes to mind is undoubtedly Cyanogen Mod. The kind of features that it brings to the table, along with its rapid development and updates that are available almost instantly, make it the only custom ROM that most people use. But there are just a few that can match Paranoid Android for innovative design and unique features. Though not available for every Android device in the market, it is one of the few powerful Android ROMs that takes customisation to a whole new level. While Cyanogen Mod focuses on improving the overall experience and adding useful features to the stock Android interface, Paranoid Android focuses on bringing out features like the Tablet and Phablet UI on the smartphone, Per App DPI and the revolutionary HALO interface. The hybrid engine, which forms the heart of this ROM, attracts enthusiasts and developers alike. However, the best part is that it is open source and quite a few features are shared between the developers of these ROMs. This product of open source development can be shown off as an example of the freedom that the Android eco-system provides.
As mentioned earlier, quite a few features have been adopted from other sources or are restructured third party apps. This allows developers to advance things that are already popular and avoid re-inventing the wheel. For instance, take Pie Controls, which has now been included in Cyanogen Mod as well. This was originally developed by the Paranoid Android team and was in turn inspired from a somewhat similar feature in the stock Android browser. The new HALO notification system is borrowed from Facebook Messenger’s Chat Head feature. This shows how open source makes the environment conducive to further development. Actually, before the Paranoid Android 3+ release, it was directly based on Cyanogen Mod sources and only after Android 4.2 was released, was it rebased to develop its own code on top of AOSP. Since then it has been referred to as AOSPA.
Installation is like that of any other ROM. If you are not familiar with rooting or customising your phone, you should probably go ahead and read up the innumerable tutorials available online. The process is highly device dependent, and it is not possible to describe the detailed steps. Overall, it just includes flashing a custom recovery, doing a factory reset, installing the latest zip along with the Google Apps package and, finally, a full wipe of the cache and dalvik cache. In case you are not sure how to go through these steps, there are You Tube videos aplenty that demonstrate them. Once you are done with the set-up, you can go through the usual set-up wizard and tutorial on how to use the different features.
This is one of the features that very few ROMs provide out-of-the-box. The Hybrid Engine and the customisability it provides would be ideal for large screen phablet devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note series, provided they are officially supported, as the Nexus devices are. The Per App DPI feature allows you to choose between the tablet and phone interface for an app. It needs to be used with caution, taking extra care that you do not set everything to be so small that you cannot see anything or it strains your eyes. Per App Colour, on the other hand, is a fancy feature that changes the colour of the status bar, according to the app displayed in the foreground.
While you might be able to configure something similar to this on any other ROM, Paranoid Android lets you do it in style, complete with customised preferences and detailed settings that are available in the Paranoid Android Preferences App, which can be accessed as ‘Hybrid Properties’ from the ‘Settings’ screen. One can choose from the Stock UI, Phablet UI and the various Tablet UIs from the main screen (Figure 1). Further settings can be accessed from the menu by swiping left on this screen. The interface menu, for example, takes you to a screen that allows you to change the size and colour of various screen elements like the navigation bar and status bar (Figure 2). The ‘Apps’ screen, on the other hand, provides similar options for individual apps, even allowing you to choose which apps need to be opened in expanded desktop mode, and letting you choose the pixel density and status bar colour for each app (Figure 3).
The Pie Controls feature is an innovative way of navigating the Android interface, and is meant to replace the on-screen navigation buttons that come with most devices like those in Nexus phones and tablets. While it might be redundant on devices with hardware buttons, it still is beautiful enough for everyone to give it a try. The ROM allows users to customise various options related to the trigger area, alignment, speed, size, etc. These configuration options related to Pie can be changed from the ‘Toolbars’ menu in the ‘Settings’ screen (Figure 5). This same menu also allows changing options related to the HALO interface. The Pie Controls can look particularly beautiful when opened in the ‘Extended desktop’ mode. This mode replaces the status bar, to move all the details that it provides onto the screen when the Pie Controls feature is triggered. The way its fan-out transition has grown to be more and more fluid over the years, is the result of the hard work put in by the developers who have re-written its code base to ensure that there are no hiccups whatsoever.
Personally, I prefer to configure Pie on the right edge of the screen, where it feels more natural to right-handed users like me and can be triggered effortlessly with the thumb. This provides for much more natural, fluid and effortless navigation. While the direction for each action might take some getting used to, once you do get accustomed to it, this looks much cooler to show off and obviously saves screen space.
HALO is a recently released feature by the Paranoid Android team, and is possibly one of the biggest developments in AOSP-based ROMs till date. It brings forward the possibilities for true multi-tasking applications with floating windows, to avoid having to completely switch to an application that takes up the whole screen. It also incorporates one of the few innovative features of the Facebook Messenger app, and extends it to implement a similar chat head like a notification system for every notification in Android. A small bubble pops up whenever there is a new notification from any user or system app. What’s more, in conjunction with the expanded desktop mode, it may be used to completely replace the notification drawer. Whenever a notification pops up for a particular app, and the user clicks on this bubble to access that notification, the app opens up in its own overlay window, instead of replacing the current app. This is ideal when you need to perform a quick task that breaks the workflow of what you were previously doing. Need to take a quick look at that new email? Just click on the bubble and you can do so easily without having to navigate away from the previous app.
This feature is expected to see more active development in the coming months. If, however, you are not a fan of that ever-present bubble lurking in the corner of your screen, you can set it to disappear unless there is a new notification for you. On the other hand, if you like to use its functionality even more, you can pin multiple apps to it with the help of the ‘HALO’ companion app (Figure 7). These apps can then be accessed with the help of the click-and-drag gesture to select the appropriate app. A blacklist or whitelist limits the number of apps that are allowed to display notifications from the HALO interface.
While these are certainly not all the features of Paranoid Android, they are what stand out. If you feel like supporting the developers of this ROM, go ahead and buy the Paranoid Android Preferences app from the Play Store, which provides some additional preferences and access to some cutting-edge beta features that the developers might release from time to time.
Android custom ROMs let you choose what you want and customise it even further in the way that you will never be able to in the stock ROMs provided by the manufacturers. One thing that needs to be kept in mind, though, is that if you break something, repairs can be costly and support is scarce, i.e., restricted to online forums. One needs to be aware of all the risks, and most importantly, take backups before trying out anything. This becomes all the more important, considering that you will be evaluating more frequent updates and, often, it will turn out that you are not satisfied with a feature that is still under development.