Vanilla Android is awesome. It is one of those things which most of the Android users don't have any idea about, because they haven't tried a Nexus. But then you don't need a Nexus actually.
You just need a rooted Android device which can run custom ROMs! CyanogenMod is one of the most popular ROMs available for Android and it has reached 10.1 lately.
Now, the whole point of this post is not on how CyanogenMod 10.1 brings Vanilla Android experience to many devices, but rather on how it actually is better than Vanilla Android.
Quick settings was one of the nicest additions to Android 4.2, though Google really screwed up the implementation. This is where CyanogenMod enters the game and makes it lot more usable.
Firstly, in CM 10.1, you can add custom toggles to Quick settings. What this means is that, you can add stuff like GPS, Auto-rotate, Sound, Sync etc. to the Quick settings panel. Next up, these are actual toggles. The ones in 4.2 weren't really toggles, the Wi-Fi switch for example, would take you to Wi-Fi settings screen and then you had to enable it.
Another really cool thing in Quick settings on CM 10.1 is, you can set it to open if you pull down from right of status bar and you would get the notification center if you pull down from left. This is much better than Google's implementation, where you have to pull the status bar with two fingers.
CM 10.1 lets you add custom slider shortcuts. So for example, you could add the Phone app as a shortcut and have it quickly opened. This is how it looks like -
If you use the Lockscreen widgets a lot, you can configure to make them open in expanded state by default. CM 10.1 also has a Clock widget baked into it. It's a different kind of clock widget – showing weather and calendar events along with time.
Performance and Battery life
Jellybean 4.2 was definitely a step back in performance for Android. There was a serious outrage among especially Galaxy Nexus users in Google Code forums. No one knew what happened to all that Project Butter goodness. Battery life on my Galaxy Nexus was pretty good, though.
Now that I'm using CM since 3-4 days, I guess I can comment on both of these. In performance, CM is marginally better, you'll still see frame drops here and there, but definitely better than 4.2. On the other hand, battery life is more or less the same as 4.2.
Customization and attention to detail
Customization is something you'd definitely expect from a custom ROM and CM fulfils the need for me. You can do stuff like tweaking your display for better colours (I actually tweaked mine for better visibility in sunlight).
If you're trying this on a Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4 (both of them have on-screen buttons), you can even add extra buttons to the navigation bar. Another Nexus-specific feature is Expanded Desktop – it's like full screen mode for your phone.
You can set Profiles, one of those features which you'll still find in feature phones but missing in smartphones.
It also fixes many of Android's annoyances cleverly. For example, there's a small 'clear all' button in Recent Apps screen. You can set volumes for Phone, Music and Alarms without digging into settings. You can change brightness by sliding left/right on the status bar. You can have the battery indication in status bar to be a circle.
I always get a thought that Google needs to implement stuff like this directly into Android.
So, is CyanogenMod 10.1 worth a try? It depends. If you're on a non-Nexus phone, definitely worth installing, you'll in all probability love it.
If you're using a Nexus and are okay with 4.2, then CM is probably not that interesting for you. Though, it does bring a lot of enhancements to Android which power users will definitely like.
It's still a nightly, but I haven't seen any bugs so far, and it is very stable. Hit the link below to check out if CM 10.1 is available for your device.
If you're a beginner in rooting and related stuff, check out XDA Developers forum, find forums posts related to your device and follow them. Before you go ahead, remember that rooting will void your warranty and may even brick your phone (though the chances are less).
Link: CyanogenMod 10.1