Take Back Your Android UI with Cyanogen Themes

Cyanogen's Theme Showcase

In a post last week about the OnePlus One I made a passing mention of the theming capability built into CyanogenMod 11. After spending a rainy weekend afternoon obsessing over themes, I’m proud to present the fruits of my research.

I continue to be amazed by how infinitely customizable Android seems to be. Up to this point I’ve been content to have my user experience controlled by whatever custom ROM I happen to be using; I’m only now realizing the full extent to which I can control my UX as well. CM’s theming engine isn’t the only way to skin your UI, but in my limited experience it’s proving to be a pretty good one.

If you’re using a OnePlus One you’ll find the Cyanogen Themes Showcase already installed on your device. If you’re running CM11 on some other rooted device you could download the showcase from the Play Store but honestly, I wouldn’t bother. I think Cyanogen’s app is an idea in progress—there are currently no rankings for the available options and choosing a paid theme takes you to the Play Store anyway; you’ll get the same results (if not better) by searching the Play Store for “CM11 Theme“.

In my opinion, a good Cyanogen theme will have at least the following:

  • Custom wallpaper
  • Custom lockscreen wallpaper
  • Custom app icons
  • Custom boot animation

The really good themes will delve deeper into the UI, freshening up the look of your menus, toggles and more. For my Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 I ended up installing a paid theme pack called Veu, from Arz Bhatia. I mention him by name because he’s done some design and UX work on Paranoid Android. Here’s how he’s transformed my Nexus phone and tablet:

Veu - Persian Red

Here’s the “Persian Red” theme, which looks fairly spectacular on my red Nexus 5. Note the Android 5.0-style navigation buttons and the custom app icons—the one on the far right of the dock is the AOSP SMS app.

Veu - Slate Spruce

The understated “Slate Spruce” theme is a good fit for my black Nexus 7. Note the custom icons for the AOSP browser (leftmost on the dock) and Hangouts (second from the right). I should probably point out that my Nexus 7 is running Cyanogen 11M while my Nexus 5 is running Mahdi, which also supports the CM Theme Engine.

Infamous Theme

There are lots of other CM themes to choose from on the Play Store, both free and paid. Here’s one by Infamous running on my OnePlus One. What better way to let your inner l33t h@xx0r shine and get your device confiscated by Homeland Security the next time you pass through an airport?

I’m sure there are many ways to “skin a droid”, but these Cyanogen Themes seem to be really popular. If you’re interested—and are running CM or a ROM that supports its Theme Engine—here are some links to find one that’s right for you: