This weekend, while visiting the New Museum's Carsten Höller: Experience, which is, in large measure, inspired by a wild pyschotropic trip, with each floor at the museum dedicated to stimulating and confusing different senses, I discovered a real work of art. It wasn't the three-story metal slide flinging museum-goers through the entire exhibit. It wasn't the large room lined with flashing florescent tube lights or the giant mushrooms, either.
It was a dated touchscreen phone, handed to me by my sister's husband. His phone, which look like it had been in a war zone, was running an operating system that I've never seen before. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen on a mobile device, frankly. It was CyanogenMod, an after-market firmware based on the Android operating system.
Though his phone, the HTC EVO 4G, was released more than a year ago, which is why it was much more grimy than my shiny new Samsung Nexus S, it ran much faster and more fluidly. The Samsung Nexus S, my phone, was co-developed by Google, creator of Android, but the old HTC device was running like a champ while my phone sat running the standard Android Gingerbread 2.3.3. His phone, despite having a case with a large chip in the upper corner from being dropped so many times, was in better running condition than my barely blemished Samsung Nexus S. It was this mysterious operating system that seemed to put it above and beyond any phone I've ever used at a bar or a phone store. This operating system was special.
CyanogenMod, as I came to find, is extremely customizable and includes several features that aren't included in standard versions of Android. One feature is that the user can unlock the phone by drawing literally any shape imaginable. Another feature allows the user to customize sound output using an application called DSPManager, which is essentially a high-powered equalizer display. Other features include OpenVPN, Phone Goggles, Incognito Mode and more.
While CyanogenMod seems to cater more toward the programming crowd than the average user, it's also evident that running CyanogenMod may be the best way to keep an old Android phone up to par with the latest phone releases. The software is a phone-saving product by and large.
From what I can tell, CyanogenMod runs on nearly every phone one the market (okay, not quite). Information on CyanogenMod can be found in many of the Android communities, including a CyanogenMod Wiki, RootzWiki or XDA-Developers. The developers of CyanogenMod have guaranteed that the software will never include Carrier IQ, which the community considers to be bloatware.