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I have been running CyanogenMod version 11 for several months on my Samsung Galaxy S3 and I love it. I have tried a few other ROMs but none of those have ever come close to the quality of CyanogenMod in my opinion. However, I was missing Android Lollipop but there was no official version for the S3, apparently because of hardware compatibility issues. So I pretty much forgot about it and decided to keep KitKat as my main mobile OS. The phone was handlind it extremely well so I wasn’t feeling compelled to upgrade, even though I was curious to try more recent versions of Android.

This continued until some weeks ago when I found out that somebody had developed a Marshmallow-based version of CyanogenMod for the S3. As of now, all releases are still under the nightlies branch, which means that they are not ready for release yet, and that you should definitely expect some bugs along the way. I don’t necessarily care too much as I like tinkering with stuff anyway so I chose to give it a go. Backed up my current ROM, installed CyanogenMod 13 and opengapps (Pico version of course :) ) and I was back up and running in just a few minutes.

Play services issue

Some people have reported some issues with Google Play services after the upgrade. The first time around, I did the mistake of installing CM13 and rebooting into the OS before installing the Google apps, and this made Google Play crash right after launching it. So if you are running into a similar issue, make sure to install the Google apps package right after installing CyanogenMod. You should reboot only after you have installed both.

First impressions

After taking care of this small issue, I restored my most used apps with Titanium Backup and I was ready to try CM13. I’ll be honest, I am extremely surprised by how well it works for being a nightly.

Things are smooth, I have never experienced any freezes, the phone is quick (in certain scenarios, like when opening the app drawer, it’s even faster than CyanogenMod 11), and Android Marshmallow has a much, much nicer UI than KitKat. I think this holds especially true when you enter the Settings:

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The Settings page is very polished and readable, and I like the generous padding around list items

I haven’t noticed any battery issues so far, I seem to be getting the same amount of hours as I was before the upgrade. The standard Samsung S3 battery has never been great for sure, but at least I haven’t noticed a worse trend.

What doesn’t quite work yet

As mentioned before, this is still a nightly and not ready for mass release. I found this to be quite true: even though I generally like all the improvements, there are a few things that are quite annoying:

  • GPS seems to be hit and miss now. I find myself having to restart the device a few times every now and then so that apps can fetch my location. This wasn’t happening on CM11 and, to make sure I didn’t have any issues with my phone hardware, I tried restoring to my previous ROM and GPS started working again immediately. After going back to CM13 once again, GPS was lost once more.
  • I have had a couple of reports of issues with phone reception. Apparently, people tried to call me but my phone didn’t ring and I didn’t even get any missed call notification. This is probably the most annoying thing so far, I will keep an eye on this to see how things work out.
  • While the phone is more responsive in some areas, it is also noticeably slower in other (launching apps and entering the settings are the two most noticeable examples). However, this has to be expected, as even if Marshmallow is supposed to be lighter on resources than KitKat, it still has to run on a few year-old device.
  • Random UI glitches every now and then. Nothing too serious, it’s usually the keyboard that does not automatically hide after going back to the home screen, but nothing that a second tap on the home button won’t fix.
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Sometimes, when going back to the home screen from an app, the keyboard remains on the screen and you have to press the home button again to hide it. To be fair, this could also be an issue with Swiftkey on Marshmallow rather than of CM13.

Conclusions

Overall, I really like CM13. Marshmallow has a much nicer UI than KitKat (Android’s material design has quite a few merits in my opinion and it’s the first Android version that could rival iOS as far as typography and polish is concerned), the system is impressively slick and responsive for an oldish device like the S3 and I have never experienced any serious system crashes.

Some things still need to be ironed out though. Perhaps the most worrying of the bugs I have experiences is the missing calls one. If you use your phone for critical business you might want to run a few tests before committing to CM13.

On the plus side, updates have been flowing in pretty regularly: a new build becomes available for download almost every day and, since every build is a complete system build, you can also skip a few without having to update your phone every date.

I think the developers behind the project have done a truly fantastic job. A phone like the Galaxy S3 which, in smartphone years, is like the grandfather of phones, projects like this show just how awesome this device is.