While we are anticipating the "official" release of Windows Mobile 6.5, the "unofficial" versions of the new operating system have been making the rounds through cooked or home-grown ROMs for some time now. Chefs at such sites as XDA Developers, PPCGeeks, and Mobility Digest have successfully cooked WM 6.5 ROMs in their kitchens, and we decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Understand that cooked ROMs are a lot like beta versions of applications. They can work like a charm or turn your phone into a "pretend" phone for you children (if you are so inclined) to play with. If you are considering flashing your Windows Mobile phone with a cooked ROM, extensively research the process as well as the ROM you are considering. Then and only then proceed at your own risk. Just as cooking up these ROMs isn't for everyone, flashing them isn't as well.

Now that the obligatory cautionary statement/words of warning have been tossed out, to see what our experiences has been with the cooked ROM menu, just follow the break.

 

Understandably, there is a lot of apprehension about installing a cooked ROM. The fear of turning your Windows Mobile phone into a paper weight is not exactly unwarranted. However, with most un-nerving events, the hardest part is often the first step and the more you do something the easier it gets. After conducting a considerable amount of research, as well as conquering my own fears of bricking my phone, over the past two weeks, I've flashed my AT&T a dozen or more times with different cooked ROMs. I found that the process isn't that complicated (as long as you follow the directions and DON'T take shortcuts) and that each ROM has a distinct flavor likely reflective of the personality of the cook.

Keep in mind that not every Windows Mobile phone can operate off a cooked ROM. HTC Windows Mobile phones have a more accessible architecture than other WM phones (as well as being everywhere) so they are found in most kitchens. Before you consider an item off the Cooked ROM menu, I strongly urge you to research things. Two sources helped me tremendously in understanding what I was about to do (essentially wiping out an industry tested OS with a homemade version).

XDA Developers Forum may very well be the leader in cooked ROMs and ported apps. They have a discussion thread about flashing ROMs for newbies that walks you through the process really good. If you're using a Touch Pro/Fuze XDA also has a very informative WIKI Site on your phone. As mentioned earlier, PPCGeeks.com and MobilityDigest are also good sources for information on installing cooked ROMs as well as the ROMs itself.

Choosing From The Menu

There are tons of cooked ROMs out on the internet and each are unique, reflecting the tastes and personality of the chef. Each ROM has customization that can be described as bloatware with a purpose. You won't find one with the AT&T Mall application but you might find one with Total Commander (file manager) or Advanced Configuration Manager (utility) as part of the ROM. Most ROMs are posted as part of a discussion thread on the various developers forums and after reading up on what the various ROMs had and the experiences of those who came before me, I choose XDA member NRGZ28's EnergyROM to begin with.

Based on Windows Mobile 6.5, EnergyROM was advertised as working best with the radio already installed on the Fuze. There was enough apprehension about flashing the ROM that I didn't want to push the envelope and have to flash the radio as well.

As I understand it, your Windows Mobile phone has two major components under the hood; the ROM and radio. Some radios work better with some ROMs as well as working better with certain networks. Being a "newbie" at this, I opted to trust AT&T's choice of radios and choose ROMs that didn't require a radio version change.

The actual installation of the cooked ROM wasn't any different than installing an updated ROM from the manufacturer. You do have to install a Hard-SPL package (installer package) that will facilitate the installation but the steps are very similar. Each installation took about ten minutes to perform and then, depending on how much customized installation (the bloatware with purpose) is needed the entire process can take up to twenty minutes.

One last note on choosing the ROM is that most chefs constantly update their ROMs. It's amazing at the speed these updates are cranked out and it's a shame the "official" ROMs didn't follow suit. Most chefs will post a change log with their ROMs to show diners what's been fixed, added or changed. If something isn't working just right, give it time and the chef will likely iron out the bugs with the next update.

Windows Mobile 6.5

I was impressed with the performance these cooked ROMs brought the the Fuze. The Fuze was noticeably more responsive and newer versions of Touchflo 3D (Rhodium Manilla) that is used in these recipes is equally more responsive. Keep in mind that there's no telling what the "official" version of Windows Mobile 6.5 will look like but I doubt the increased performance will be much different.

The updated Touchflo 3D that has the calendar and stock tabs along with the ability to customize the tabs (delete and change order). I also enjoyed having a horizontal view of the tabs instead of the action menu the original version has.

What I didn't care for was the new "Today" screen. Maybe it was because it was dramatically different from the "Today" screens of old but I just never got the hang of it. I couldn't help but think Microsoft was struggling to put something out there to compete with Touchflo 3D and SPB's Mobile Shell.

I did find that the "Today" screen varied in appearance from chef to chef. Some included the weather panel, fave people or Windows Live panel while others didn't. It's just another way these chefs can make the ROMs reflect their tastes.

Battery Life

Battery life with cooked ROMs varies about as much as it does from device to device. Some simply manage power better than others. Most cooks will alert potential diners that their ROM is a gas guzzler. There is also a school of thought that a battery needs a few charge cycles before the ROM can adjust properly. I had tremendously good battery life with an earlier version of NRG's EnergyROM, terrible with the next version and back to good performance with his current version of the ROM. Herg62123's Cooked ROM over at Mobility Digest had marginal battery life and I'm hoping when the next version comes out battery life will have improved. Herg's work may have been the most responsive versions I tried which likely attributes to the lower battery performance.

Overall Thoughts

As mentioned several times, dabbling with cooked ROMS isn't for everyone and should only be attempted after thorough research. I have to commend all the chefs out there for their ability to create these free ROMs that often gives us better performance and a peek at what's around the corner with Windows Mobile 6.5.

For me, the hardest thing about dealing with cooked ROMs was restoring all my contacts, appointments (thank goodness for Google Sync) and setting up my email accounts. For now I'm settling down with NRG's latest version of EnergyROM but may give Herg62123's latest version a try when he releases it.  I just hope that when the "official" version finally comes out it can hold its weight against all these cooked versions.