Long Term ROM Review: Apex 2.0 “Beta”

Well guys I know its been a while, but life happens ya know? And one thing you can always count no matter what happens in life is that the world keeps spinning. Including the tech world! One of our favorite devs, Fabdroid/@bigxie has done just that and released the “beta” version of his Apex ROM for the Droid X and Droid 2. Now this isn’t like what most people think of when they hear “beta”. Like he says himself, it’s “beta” in the Google sense of the world. This is no doubt a daily driver ROM. I’ve been going back and forth with other ROMs based off of various (read: waaaay too many) different leaks of the Gingerbread build from Motorola. ZombieStomped, Liberty GB, Rubix BlurryBread all come to mind and none have left me properly satisfied. Granted Liberty isn’t finished yet and I’ll of course be giving it a fair shot when it’s got some polish and finish. But until now there hasn’t really been “that” ROM based off Gingerbread for our Droid 2. In fact, this is one of the few I’ve tried that’s being made for the Droid 2. Most of the ones I’ve flashed that get updated are actually Droid X ROMs and then having the DXtoD2GB.zip flash file on hand. But this Apex 2.0 has really come along and I think you’ll be very impressed with how it looks, feels, and performs.

Keep clicking if you want to find out more in my in depth review and whether it’s worth installing for you or not! 

Starting from the very beginning, Apex 2.0 aims to be the AOSP Gingerbread based ROM for you to run on your Droid 2 or Droid X. Now, all my experiences are with my own R2D2 Droid 2, but of course the experience will be more or less the same. On my Droid 2, since I was running a custom Froyo ROM, my install path was a little more of a pain than usual. But, such is the case when going back and forth between Froyo and Gingerbread on the D2/DX. I flashed an SBF of the stock 2.2 update using RSDLite 4.9 from my desktop. After that installed and I set it up with my Gmail account, I rebooted in bootstrap recovery (thank you Koush, you demigod). This is what’s a pain and I’m not sure if it’s completely necessary. I’ve been told it is so I do it either way. I then flash the original 2.3.3 update.zip file from Team Black Hat and boot into that. Once that ROM is installed and set up, I bootstrap into recovery and then install Part 1 of Apex 2.0. Phew that was a mouthful. In reality, it’s not that bad and totally worth it. I’ve heard going from similar GB ROMs based off the same leak its safe to flash over, but I’m still leery and usually end up just sbf flashing to stock and starting over. It also gives you a fresh start, something you might be looking for.

And what a fresh start! Upon first boot, after the all too familiar “Apex” boot animation (without sound!!!), you’re greeted with the standard Android setup wizard. Follow all the steps and soon the wonderful world of AOSP Android welcomes you with rolling green hills and an unmodified version of Gingerbread 2.3.3. The stock launcher is intact perfectly, I just used ADW for my screenshots. My apps synced up very quickly over wifi and I was soon busy side loading the rest of my backups. After all was said and done, I believe it was 1 hour total spent getting my apps back in, wifi set up, and I was back in business! Having run 99% stock Android ROMs before, this whole setup was familiar, simple and easy to do. No problems, force closes, anything. Great way to start of a new ROM. Now onto the good stuff!

Apex 2.0 came with really high hopes from me. With Apex and Liberty being the two main ROMs (ZombieStomped is up and coming, but really doesn’t have too much custom going on) they have a lot of pressure riding on them from the community. We’re not like the Droid 1 or Incredible where we have 30 different ROMs to choose from. So if you’ve got only 2, they better be pretty good, right? Apex 2.0 certainly stands up to the pressure. It is an extremely well done piece of software. Blur lovers aside, this ROM is the closest us Android purists are going to get to an AOSP Gingerbread ROM. There’s almost nothing “custom” about it in terms of added features, and that’s ok. This ROM is like if Motorola decided to do the right thing and release a stock Android experience for all it’s Droid branded devices. It’s got the basic Motorola modifications (no doubt left in to retain functionality) such as on the Dialer app and certain parts of the system settings (calibrate compass, double tapping “Home”). All of the changes left in don’t detract from the overall stock feel of the ROM and in fact add useful functionality.

The stock feel is felt in all aspects of the ROM. This ROM may not be for everyone. Lots of people are liking the new Blur, and that’s why Fabdroid has included a script to restore all Blur apps to their original state. This might be handy because as far as I can tell, I cannot for the life of me get Calendar to start or sync. If anyone knows of a solution or if I’m doing something wrong, please let me know. Aside from the Calendar app, all other AOSP apps are present and functional. In fact, I couldn’t find anything functionality wise to knock off points for here. Everything just works. It really feels like something Motorola should have made in the first place, but probably better than they would have done it.

The lock screen, the browser, the clock app, everything in this ROM is built from source. It’s not one of those ROMs that looks like source but is really just themed. This ROM is pure and anyone comfortable at all with stock Android (like myself since my OG Droid) will be right at home. Only the Dialer app is left Blurred, but even then it’s themed to look AOSP. The attention to detail is just awesome. It’s ok leaving the Blur dialer in because honestly, the stock one needs a little work. The one Motorola has cooked up adds prediction and a couple extra options notably missing from the stock Android dialer. The theme work done on the app is incredible, and totally realistic as a stock app.

Performance on this ROM is just awesome. The whole software UI seems fluid and the complete work done on theming everything AOSP really provides a well rounded experience. I feel like I’m back on my Droid 1 again, but this time my Droid is crazy fast a double the RAM. And that is most definitely a good thing. I’ve really fallen in love with my phone again thanks to how easy moving between apps is and quickly everything loads. I’ve had this ROM for close to a week and a half and even fully loaded (100+ apps) this thing is still just as quick as the day I installed. Alright that’s a little bit of an overstatement, but seriously this thing is quick! And it really feels like an Android experience, not a Motorola one. The stock Froyo from Motorola was miserable and made me feel like I was on my Droid 1’s 2.0.1. And that software was stock! Apex 2.0 is smooth through all apps, loads web pages more than decently and I easily pull 15 hours out of it. Sure, that’s not great, but that’s with some pretty heavy mostly 3G usage. It’s a full work day and that’s all I need. Charging every night is never that big a deal for me.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though. The Calendar app errors not withstanding, the most annoying thing about this ROM is the constant syncing icon in my notifications. I can’t get it to go away! I have Calendar set not to sync, thinking that would stop it. And it did! For about 5 minutes, then it’s come on and hasn’t left since. One other major annoyance/possibly serious bug is running WidgetLocker on this ROM for about 2 hours had my battery seriously over heating, drained 50% of my battery, and managed to get about half a dozen apps to force close, including itself. I have no beef with the stock Android lock screen, I just feel like it can be so much more useful. I have no idea what WidgetLocker does wrong, but man does it go wrong. Users of that app, beware. Also of note, I’ve never had any problems with that app on any other GB based ROMs. The only other annoyance I could come up with (besides pretty middle of the road battery life) would be taking away the Blur browser. I know it’s kind of shallow for an “Android purist” but I really liked the gimmicky 3D carousel effect on your history and book marks. More finger friendly and actually ran pretty decent. I don’t mind losing the 3D effects on the gallery. In fact I like how he got the stock camera and gallery working, something missing from his Alpha builds. I guess I just expected the Blur browser app to be left alone. Oh well, there’s always FireFox.

To conclude this rather exhaustive  review (I know I lost a lot of you at the 1,000 word mark) I will leave you with a decent summary of the highlights, shortcomings, and overall impression of this ROM wrapped up into one neat little paragraph. Ok here it goes:

It’s 99% stock Android 2.3.3. That means speed, stability, and a smooth, unified experience. It has decent battery life and almost no bugs to speak of. There are some parts left unthemed, and that constant syncing icon can be really, really annoying. But with such great real world performance, fantastic AOSP feel, and a great develop behind it, I really see personal preference as the only reason you’re not running this ROM right now. AOSP isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of fish in the sea. This ROM is no doubt staying my daily driver for quite some time. I’ve honestly never been this whole heartedly satisfied with a ROM. Tip of the hat to @bigxie for Apex 2.0! It truly is at the top of the Droid 2/X pyramid!

Links:

Droid 2 via DroidForums

Droid X via DroidForums

Screenshots!

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P.S. Just a note for anyone using ADW launcher. This ROM, for whatever reason, runs it like a freaking pro. Redraw time is gone, and rotations and swiping after exiting an app are all super smooth. It’s a great experience and one that’s unrivaled by any other ROM I’ve run so far. ANY. I mean it, if you use ADW get this ROM right now. It will blow your mind away. Also, the wallpapers I used (and am still using are the leaked Droid X2’s wallpapers. Pretty slick, download from the TBH app.

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