Android's open nature allows anyone and everyone, to a degree, to go ahead and modify their smartphones to their heart's content. And thus so, there are a plethora of different custom ROMs, like Lineage OS, Pixel Experience, Resurrection Remix, just to name a few, to choose from for a variety of devices.
When you are looking for a smartphone with healthy indie development support, there are a handful of key factors to consider. One - the bootloader of the device must be easily unlockable. Two - it must have an SOC with loads of open-source development going on, and the one and only silicon manufacturer famous for that at the moment is Qualcomm with their Snapdragon chips. Thanks to their efforts of providing open-source system-on-a-chip specific code, the Code Aurora project on GitHub is the main platform that developers can base their custom ROM development trees of off. And lastly, the phone has to be quite a popular one too, of course. 😜
Custom ROM features
In the Android world, there are merely two manufacturers openly supporting this, with OnePlus being the best when it comes to timely publishing kernel sources, etc. and Xiaomi by not dropping warranty on modified devices (I am not sure if on all though). All OP's - from the One to the latest 7 and 7 Pro boast excellent specs, have a premium build quality, are fairly priced, and event the newest 7T looks great on paper. Now about Xiaomi, they release so many smartphones under different brands such as Mi, Redmi, and Poco, covering separate markets and price points, and they are the one to beat when it comes solely to price to performance ratio. Another manufacturer making good strides in this regard is Asus with the quite affordable ZenFone 6, Max Pro M1 and M2's.
The no go brand right now is Huawei, because they stopped allowing bootloader unlocking and are using their custom-made Kirin processors. Also, Samsung phones sold in the US with Snapdragon chips are almost impossible to unlock, so stay far away from those.
Extremely popular smartphones and their respective development sections on XDA Developers
OnePlus 7 Pro
- 📱 OnePlus 7 Pro ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development section on XDA
- 🔥 OnePlus 7 Pro on Amazon - 588$
- 📱 OnePlus 7 ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development
- 🔥 OnePlus 7 on Amazon - 443$ (discount from 599$)
Xiaomi Mi9T Pro
- 📱 Redmi K20 Pro / Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development
- 🔥 Xiaomi Mi9T Pro on Amazon - 474$
Xiaomi Redmi Note 7
- 📱 Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development
- 🔥 Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 on Amazon - 182$
Xiaomi Poco F1
ASUS ZenFone 6
- 📱 ASUS ZenFone 6 (2019) ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development
- 🔥 ASUS ZenFone 6 on Amazon - 630$
Google Pixel 3 XL
- 📱 Google Pixel 3 XL ROMs, Kernels, Recoveries, & Other Development
- 🔥 Google Pixel 3 XL on Amazon - 598$ (discount from 899$)
I have a Pocophone F1 from Xiaomi, and my go-to ROM at the time of writing is Evolution-X based on Android Pie. It uses Pixel Experience as a base and ads loads of customization options atop. The default kernel that comes in the latest Pie build is called Disrupt, and the overall battery life / performance is on point. It is still early days for Android 10 development but things are looking fairly promising already.
To sum it up, you need to have a popular phone with a Snapdragon SOC to not have to go through dozens of hoops to get a device running a custom ROM.
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