The best part about using a custom ROM has always been custom themes, at least for me. It doesn’t matter how many features a ROM packs, it is going to get boring beyond a certain point in time. Earlier, the CyanogenMod theme engine used to serve our customizing needs on almost every AOSP or CyanogenMod based custom ROM. Since the death of the CyanogenMod ROM, the theme engine has also been brought to a halt. We do have the Substratum theme engine now though which uses Sony’s Overlay Management System to theme UI elements.
Substratum, for now, has a monopoly when it comes to themes for custom ROMs because there are not alternatives to it. It is both good and a bad thing, which is a topic for another debate. But the good thing is, this means a lot of third-party themes.
The Substratum theme engine is clearly more flexible regarding which elements to the theme. It is still not as easy to find that perfect look for your device with Substratum themes as it was with CM themes though. Just to be clear, this is simply because of the sheer number of third-party themes for the CM theme engine. Therefore, we decided we could help you out a bit, hopefully. Here we list 5 free Substratum themes that we think are the best looking.
1. Pixel UI
For the lovers of stock Android and the Pixel look, Pixel UI brings the simplistic yet elegant Pixel look to your custom ROM. Users have the option to choose between the stock Android or the Pixel navigation bar.
2. Streamlined Night & Day
Streamlined Substratum theme is for those who enjoy a more minimalist look. As you can figure out from the screenshots, it turns all the flat icons into wire-drawn icons. The substratum theme also gives you the option to choose a background color and an accent color which we think should be an option in almost every theme. The background colors, no matter which you choose, are always a lighter shade. The theme clearly derives its name from its theme philosophy.
Must download: 3 Awesome Substratum Themes
Update: Streamlined Lite version is not available anymore.
3. Compact UI
Compact UI too has a wiry-icons look to it but it manages to look substantially different still. It offers both light and dark themes so you can choose according to your taste. It should be noted though that the dark theme is something completely different from the light theme. For one, it ditches the wiry icon look. This theme also themes the most number of apps which include the Google Play Store and other Google apps.
4. AOSP DarkMRL
If you’re looking for a true material dark theme, that’s also free, you might like this one. DarkMRL, which we assume stands for Dark Material, does what its name rather clearly says it would do. The stock teal colored icons on a material dark background kind of say it all as well. So there isn’t really much to say about it. Oh yes, it does theme some Google apps like Google+, apart from the Google Play Store. But that’s about it.
5. DNA Project
If you aren’t satisfied with the not-so-dark aka material dark look of DarkMRL, you can take a look at DNA Project. It is a true dark theme for your Android. In the developer’s own words, DNA Project provides “a beautiful, cool blue and steaming, hot red accent on a nice, dark gray background”. The best part is that it themes a number of stock as well as Google apps and even some third-party apps such as Action Launcher.
The list of options with this one is extensive. From transparent quick settings to the loading animation, DNA Project gives users a lot of control. It even changes the stock transition animations and quite frankly, for the better. Then there’s also an Infected theme that you can choose instead of the default DNA look. Unlike the other dark theme, there is a lot to talk about this dark theme. Definitely, give this one a spin if you’re a fan of dark themes.
Read next: 8 Best Substratum Themes for Samsung Devices