Android HTC Sense ROM development has suffered a continual stagnation from the beginning. Lack of commitment and agreement between developers lead to many conflicts. They started taking code, manipulating it, rebrand, and re-release this same work by someone else with no credit. Those incidents also show how Android’s openness doesn’t always profit. For a very long time ROM development for the flagship HTC devices was the same – unpack the official release, de-odex, change or update included applications, swap kernels and re-pack the ROM. The situation ended up in multiple Sense ROMs in which there was only one important change: branding. It’s rather an awkward situation, because even a non tech-savvy person is able to change the theme on the device. Unpacking the rom and changing images in there also shouldn’t overwhelm an average computer user.

I mentioned all the fuss about Sense developing, because times have changed. Finally, we look forward to the days when the best developers unite to provide unique solutions. Recently Team PkMn has rebranded to Team Venom to look more professional. Their latest ROM release named ViperS is truly a milestone in this area. I won’t mention all Sense 4 futures, because they are more or less the same for all the latest HTC devices. Instead of this I’ll focus on the special experience the ROM provides. There are numerous other custom firmwares, let’s find out what makes that particular one different.

 

Ease of use

Before I start with the appropriate review there are some advantages during the Rom installation. The installation script is based on Aroma 2.0 and allows you to customize packages, and the Bricked kernel settings. For example if you don’t have a Facebook account and do not plan to create one in the future it would be a good habit to remove that part from the system. This way you gain more available space on main partition, make the ROM more stable, and even remove bloatware making your App drawer cleaner. The Bricked installation wizard is pretty simple, but not idiot proof. If you pick the wrong numbers your device won’t probably boot. Of course the device won’t transform into a brick. Nevertheless if you aren’t an experienced user I suggest that you leave the defaults. Not to mention that they are picked quite optimal for the average usage. Both Venom HUB and Venom Tweaks are easy to use, however they could use some polishing here and there. Overall the tweaks application – from which you customize the most functions – is quite self- explanitory. Many options included there may overwhelm new users, but after you try them out sometimes you get used to them. Of course the application could use some polishing as always, for example in terms of integrating with the Hub applet, however we’re satisfied as the categories are well thought out, and the menus are intuitive. You’ll need to jump between the Hub and Tweaks a little bit to find out how all the tweaks looks like in practice. That’s not a big deal for sure. There is just one important function missing in the Tweaks, this will be mentioned in the Features overview with also affects the Ease of use score. More about it later, when it comes to score, we rate ViperS 4 out of 5 possible.

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Features

The tweaks application is the heart of the ROM. It’s the control panel for the most added content. It manages the Status bar, lockscreen, buttons, customizes and optimizes how Sense launcher works, and even smaller enhancements are there. During my testing period I enjoyed the most the famous Smooth Rosie Tweaks, enabling landscape support for Sense, increased app drawer capacity buttons mapping, and the custom 3-finger gestures. If this still didn’t impress you maybe the included Sony Bravia engine or Sony XLoud will. This wouldn’t be anything new for xda-developers users, but having the engines included in Tweaks makes this something worth mentioning. No more flashing, no more compatibility problems. Just tick the engine in settings and you can benefit from it. Personally I also loved how the Autobacklight Brightness is designed. Not only can you dim the screen a little bit, but also you can customize each step. That’s something I missed since I switched to HTC Sensation as my daily driver. It’s there, fully working, and even Sense themed. Well done Team Venom, well done. There is just one big thing missing in Venom Tweaks, namely profiles backup. The application allows you to create different profiles for settings you picked, but you cannot export them in any way. I even tried to export them using Titanium Backup, but that didn’t go very well. So if you do a full wipe – consider that you might have to reconfigure the tweaks. Because there are so many of them, you’ll spend some time to get them back.

The Venom HUB is an innovation in itself. Not only does it inform you about the latest develop changes, but also allows you to download themes or icon packs for the ROM. Now you don’t have to go through all topics at xda-developers to pick something that’s compatible with your ROM. Just tap, download, and apply in settings. Satisfaction guaranteed. Currently there are not many of them listed, but I guess that’s going to change soon.

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One of the most impressive functions the ROM differs from others are the OTA updates. The first update has been already pushed to the users improving a lot of small glitches. Also a performance update has been announced, but no release date is known yet. Of course if you want to have the update locally, just refer to the developers thread at xda-developers and download the full package. To manually check if there is an OTA available, go into Settings -> About -> Software updates. In my opinion that’s a standard that is missed in the most ROMs nowadays. Android openness gives a great opportunity for developers to implement this way of updates that it’s such a pity being so underdeveloped.

The last paragraph I decided to dedicate for flaws. The biggest annoyance is the camera. Not only does it work slowly, but also it’s full of bugs. It closes itself without reason, changes the backlight settings and doesn’t return them to previous state. After I changed to the Sense 4 ROM the camera quality is so bad that I’m carrying my old Canon IXUS 70 with me just to take photos. Even a decent Sense 3.6 ROM that included the old camera app with an additional tweak to improve the photos made my Sensation make pictures that could replace my Canon camera. That’s no longer the case. I suggest that the developers either do something about the camera to make it work better, and way more reliable or just take the easy patch to include the old applet. The latter might be however not possible because of compatibility issue between packages. Nevertheless, something has to be done there or the camera is going to be useless in this case. Of course it works, you can take pictures, but the quality is really crappy. That’s the biggest disappointment of the development I’d say. It would be nice if the ROM would someday include settings for the Bricked kernel included. Of course you may reinstall the ROM and pick them in Aroma installer, but it would be a way easier to choose them while you use the device. This requires cooperation between the kernel developer and the team, but nothing is impossible, right? It’s also worth mentioned that the ROM only supports Bricked kernel (because of some WiFi patch enhancements), so maybe this is the way to go.

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Apart from the mentioned issue the ROM is so ahead of the competition and futures a lot of innovative functions seen nowhere else that we cannot rate it otherwise: 5 out of 5 starts, in terms of features.

 

Speed

The ROM has got some sort of lags when you press the home button and sometimes feels sluggish during non-demanding usage. We hope to see this fixed in the next OTA. I don’t know if that’s a kernel issue or something more deep in the system. Time (or logcat) shall reveal us the truth soon when the update is released. According to the developers they already have made some progress. Taking into account promises and the current progress, we give ViperS an average 3 out of 5. It’s worth mentioning that this applies for version 1.0.0 up to 1.0.1 (the one we reviewed) and might be not the case anymore since new updates are pushed out.

 

Install or not

ViperS ROM by Team Venom is really something new and adds fresh air to the development section. It’s available for the HTC Sensation, One X right now. We contacted the developers and versions for HTC One S, EVO3D and Rezound are on their way. The Team also plans to make their ports 100% stable and add, update more content. There is just one thing that doesn’t work at all right now and it’s the HDMI out. We love how the ROM changed habits in development for better and we congratulate the whole Team on their rebranding. The ROM is a keeper for me; even with all the bugs and annoyances preset it’s still outmatching the competition. After it becomes totally stable I would even risk the word perfect to describe how it changed the way my device works.

Pros:

  • Innovative solutions you won’t find anywhere else
  • Extended Quick settings with tabs
  • Advanced Power Management
  • OTA updates
  • Venom HUB
  • Venom Tweaks
  • Support for multiple devices (currently only HTC Sensation and HTC One X)
  • Updates on daily basis
  • Best theming experience

Cons:

  • No HDMI out support
  • Camera quality makes taking pictures worthless
  • Performance problems (for version 1.0.0 and 1.0.1)
  • Bricked kernel non configurable from tweaks

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