Cyanogen OS 12.1 Review: We’ve tested out this ‘Android evolved’ operating system on the Wileyfox Swift smartphone, which boasts impressive customisation and loads of genuinely useful tweaks. Here’s our full review of the very best features and how to get the most from Cyanogen.
Same, but different
The Wileyfox Swift is the first phone we’ve fondled to rock Cyanogen OS 12.1, and if that means nothing to you, don’t worry: Cyanogen is basically a new, re-jiggered version of Android with more awesome features packed in, including the ability to personalise almost every aspect of the OS.
At first glance, you’d be more than forgiven for thinking that Cyanogen 12.1 is just a basic Android re-skin. For a start, the setup process is very similar, with only one stand-out step: the ability to create or sign into a Cyanogen account, which is used to save your personal preferences.
And when you hit the main desktop, there’s once again very little to make it stand out from Android. You still have a Google search bar lodged at the top of the screen, along with plenty of Google apps sat in a big, fat folder right there on your home page. Which, sadly, you still can’t individually uninstall.
Then there’s your favourite shortcuts row at the bottom of the screen, right above the virtual back, home and recent apps buttons. And if you drag a finger down from the top of the screen, up pops the notifications bar, complete with shortcuts to toggle various settings on and off.
Dive under the surface, however, and you’ll find some seriously cool features tucked into Cyanogen OS that elevate it to the next level.
Pretty much every area of Cyanogen’s UI can be customised to just the way you like it, with some seriously smart additions. So for instance, dive into the settings menu and you can adjust the status bar to show battery percentage either inside or beside the funky battery icon and display an exact notification count. You can even set it up so the screen’s brightness is raised and lowered by sliding your finger right and left across the bar. Nice.
You can also completely personalise the notifications bar, setting up precisely which shortcuts appear – so anything that you never use, such as the flashlight feature, can be thankfully removed to clear up the clutter.
And with the nifty Themes app, you can dramatically alter how the Swift looks. There are themes that emulate desktops from other phones such as the LG G4, and you can even take your favourite parts from different themes and quickly splice them together into an all-new creation; icons from one, wallpaper from another and loading screen from a third, for example. Sadly a lot of the themes do come with a small charge, but there’s a separate ‘free’ section for cheapskates like me to browse.
The sheer number of settings is quite overwhelming at first and it took us a few hours to go through all of them, checking out what each one does. But while the level of customisation is impressive, it’s Cyanogen OS’ security features that really caught our eye.
Keep me secure
Security is a clear consideration in Cyanogen, which is all the more important in these privacy-focused days.
One of the best additions is the ability to manually tweak an app’s permissions in Privacy Guard. So for instance, you can disable Facebook’s access to your current location, or an app’s ability to start itself up. And the Privacy Guard tool also gives you a detailed break-down of exactly which apps have access to certain sensitive features, including your messages.
We also like the scrambled PIN pad, which randomises the position of each number when you log into your phone. This makes it much harder for thieves to casually check out your PIN code over your shoulder when you’re rammed onto public transport, as they tend to memorise the pattern your finger traces over the pad.
Good news if you lose your phone too, because you can simply log onto Cyanogen’s website with your account and locate or remotely wipe the device. Of course, this only really works if your phone is outside and in clear GPS signal at the time – we simply got a fail message if the handset was sat snug in our office.
So far we’ve seen next to no issues with Cyanogen OS 12.1, although we’ve only been using it for a short time. The only ‘funny’ we’ve witnessed is disappearing file download notifications, which then pop up again a moment later. If we spot any more unusual activity we’ll be sure to add it here, but for now Cyanogen looks very stable.