If you're a member of the little green army, chances are you've either rooted your phone or tablet, have thought about rooting it, or have no idea what we're talking about and will not click through to read more. This one goes out to that middle group — take the plunge! — but rooted users will also find some useful nuggets of info for enhancing their Android experience.
In case you're wondering, when you root your Android device, you gain access to the entire file system, with full admin rights. You can customize your own boot image, create a full backup of your phone, or install a full-blown Linux distro. But even if you don't want to get that geeky with it, there are a plethora of everyday reasons to root your Android, and thanks to many smart developers, we have rooting processes that are fairly accessible to the average computer-savvy Joe.
This is not a guide to rooting your phone. Such a thing is hardly possible, since the process varies a bit from device to device. You should know first that there are many risks to rooting, including possible bricking of the device and definite voiding of the warranty. That said, we do want to emphasize that it is usually not that cryptic of a process, and as long as you are careful to follow the instructions exactly, the success rate is high. Also, not all unsuccessful attempts result in damage to the phone.
There are a couple of excellent forums that provide up-to-date information on just about all popular Android devices. Go to Android Forums or the XDA-Developer Forums, find your device, and then drill down for the rooting guides and other resources that will be there for most models. And for a couple of sample guides that should show you that rooting is not that crazy of a thing, see Maximum Tech's How To Root Your Android Phone Without Bricking It.
And now, on to our reasons to root, in no definitive order.
Also known as crapware and some other choice euphemisms, bloatware infects the vast majority of Android phones. You'll recognize Samsung Touchwiz, HTC Sense, and Motorola MotoBlur as the custom UIs and feature packages that those makers throw on top of stock Android. While some of that bloatware is actually useful, most of it offers nothing that you couldn't arrange on your own with other apps, and it can bog down performance or even block features from your device. Worse yet is that much of the time, bloatware apps are blocked from uninstalling, unless of course, you root your phone.
When you root your Android, you gain some control over the hardware components, making overclocking and undervolting possible. It's not uncommon to overclock a 1GHz Android CPU up to 1.6GHz, of course with a greater tendency toward instability. Several root-only apps available in the Android Market handle both overclocking and undervolting, such as SetCPU ($1.99) and Voltage Control (free or $3.36 for the Extreme version).
Besides mere overclocking, rooted users can gain other performance enhancements through kernal tweaks performed by some of the apps we've mentioned here, custom ROMs, or through your own means, if you know what you're doing. Such tweaks in combination with overclocking have been known to increase overall performance on a Nexus S by 250 percent.
Also, as we've previously reported on Maximum Tech, "most Android devices incorporate an EXT3 filesystem with considerable overhead to ensure safe file I/O interaction. Once rooted, however, many of these devices can be upgraded with the faster EXT4 filesystem, resulting in faster load times and overall smoother software performance, while sacrificing a bit of storage stability. Yes, the less stable memory can lead to app crashes and even data loss, but that’s pretty rare."
For whatever reason, Google didn't write native screenshot ability into Android until Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). A few devices include it as an added feature out of the box, but there's no reason for you to wait for a new ICS device or update if you want to take screenshots today. If you root your Android, you can take advantage of screenshots apps such as Screenshot or PicMe at your leisure.
Once you've successfully rooted your Android, you'll be privy to hundreds, if not thousands, of useful apps that the other suckers of the world can't access. Here are 10 reasons to root your 'droid in one. Just a smidgeon of the root-only app selection includes stuff like:
• DroidWall - Android Firewall (free) can show you any app that is using your wireless data, so you can restrict data use that is chewing up capacity on you plan, as well as see if there is any nefarious and unwanted data use happening.
• Dual Mount SD Widget - ($0.99) lets you mount your SD card to both the phone and a PC at the same time.
• Hexamob Recovery Pro - ($1.39) helps you recover files that you accidentally deleted from your internal memory or SD card.
• Keyboard Manager - (free) lets you choose one keyboard for portrait view and another for landscape.
• LEDs Hack - (free) lets you turn off LED notifications.
• Root Call Blocker - ($5.98) lets you block specific numbers at the system level, so the phone never rings when they call.
• Samba Filesharing - (free) makes your Android's files available as a Windows shared folder over Wi-Fi.
• Sixaxis Controller - ($1.62) lets you mount a PS3 controller to your Android.
• With Theft Aware - (£10), an uber-security program, you can remotely track and wipe a lost or stolen phone, call it, and apparently spy on the person on the other end without them knowing it.
• Titanium Backup -root (free version or $6.58 for Pro) provides a powerful backup tool with extensive features, including letting you remove that pesky bloatware.
The general feeling among the modder community is that carriers make their Android UIs to benefit their businesses, not the user. If you want the best user experience, you have to flash a custom ROM that was actually made for users.
The term custom ROM is somewhat of a misnomer, but basically it is a customized UI for Android, and there are many from which to choose. Some of them focus on giving you the latest version of Android before your carrier releases an official update, while others focus on extra functionality or speed and stability.
There are too many Android mods to cover here, but you'll want to determine your priorities and pick one that's best for you. Or, you could get Boot Manager ($2.99) from the Android Market, which lets you choose between five different installed custom ROMs at startup.
Some of the most popular custom ROMs include CyanogenMod, which focuses on maximizing performance over flashy looks, but does let you choose themes. Based on Gingerbread, it gives you a Touch to Focus feature in the camera, custom gestures, permission management and much more.
MIUI, a Chinese-developed ROM, is also based on Gingerbread and provides a very distinct look. It only supported 16 devices at the time of this writing, but it's updated every Friday and presumably will add more device support as its ICS-based ROM becomes more stable.
Are you incredulous that you still don't have a Gingerbread update for your Froyo phone after more than a year? By the time the carrier gets around to updating it (if it does at all), you may have a perfectly stable ICS update waiting for you if you were to root your phone.
Android custom ROMs allow you to get the latest Android OS before it is ordained from up on high by the company you're paying a monthly bill to. At the time of this writing, there were even a variety of Android 4 ICS ROMs hitting the interwebs, although in general, stability is still a factor with them. It won't be too long before those ICS ROMs are working as smooth as baby food, and it's likely to happen before a whole lot of native ICS devices and sanctioned ICS updates come out.
Many of the custom ROMs available aim to improve battery life through internal efficiency settings, app and network activity management, and the removal of bloatware. There's also an experimental app in beta right now called Superpower, available on the Android market in a free and paid ($4.25) version. There are plenty of other battery-saver apps out there--many not requiring root access--but SuperPower goes to the extreme, aiming to provide automatic management of your data connection and radio bands, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, CPU speed, and more. that management is based on factors such as screen state, Wi-Fi connection state, download speed, foreground application, tethering state, sleep mode, charging state, etc. There's no reward without risk, however; the developer wants you to know that the app is still buggy in beta and that you use it at your own risk.
By now you know what Carrier IQ is, and you may have a rough idea of who's using it. For example, Sprint has since vowed to stop using it. But trying to get a straight answer about how the information Carrier IQ extracts is being used could you take you down a long a frustrating road, ending in a dead end of paranoia. It would be faster and less mind-numbing to just trash it from your handset.
Thanks to Trevor Eckhart, the very man who discovered Carrier IQ on his Android phone, you can do just that. He posted a free .apk called Logging Test App over on the XDA-Developers forums that can show you if a program like Carrier IQ resides on your device. If the test comes up positive, head over to the Android Market and support this modern-day hero by plunking down a measly buck for the Logging Test App Pro Key, which enables you to remove Carrier IQ or other offending software. Of course, none of this is possible unless you root your Android phone first.
Finally, just like building your own PC, there's a subjective sense of satisfaction and independence you get from rooting an Android device. Even beyond that, there's a hint of a more rare intangible attached to it: duty. In some way, it's your duty to flip the bird to the manufacturers and carriers that pay you lip service but not nearly enough real service. It's your duty and your privilege to root, because you can. Google made Android open source, and thousands of good people are working on apps and ROMs for you to enjoy, giving you the opportunity to wield the most powerful smartphones available. Passing up the ability to root is akin to missing that opportunity.
You may not be a car enthusiast, but imagine you're cruising on a German autobahn in a fresh Porsche Boxster with nothing but open road and perfect conditions in front of you. Do you keep it to a conservative 75mph? No, you jack it up into triple digits… because you can. You may not be an incorrigible drunk, but if you're on a long weekend in New Orleans, you pour some booze into a plastic cup and stroll down Bourbon Street… because you can.
You bought an Android phone, which probably means that either 1) you know diddly about smartphones and just got whatever was free on contract or looked cool, or more likely 2) you're somehow attracted to the flexibility and customization freedom of Android that you don't find in other mobile operating systems. So here you are. Live a little. Void that warranty! Root your Android, for all of the above reasons, and also just because you can. It's not that hard to do, it's kind of fun, and just like in a clichéd rom com, you'll discover the value of what was right in front of you all along.
What reasons for rooting did we miss? We'd be honored if you shared your wisdom in the comments below.
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