Disclaimer 1: Rooting can have a difference connotation down here in Australia and I’m not sure if it means the same thing in other countries. This article has nothing to do with the Aussie colloquial term :)
I literally fell into being an Android fanboi. After a raft of Sharp data organisers, Palm devices and then Windows Mobile PDA and phones, I quickly needed to get a new phone. I don’t turn my phones over quickly, I’m not a “must have the latest” kinda person as long as the device is still doing the job (can I really call myself a Gadgeteer? :)). My intention was a new Winmob phone ( V6.5 at the time) but all the Winmob phones offered by my carrier were too big (4.3″ screen) and because of that I ended up with an Android based Froyo HTC Desire (3.7″ screen) not because of the Android but because of the size. Like all good Gadgeteers from there my research began as Android was new to me at the time (does this redeem me?). Well you can’t research Android without coming across rooting your device so I thought I’d put this quick article together about what exactly is rooting and why would you do it ?
Disclaimer 2: Rooting will generally void any manufacturer warranty and can potentially brick your device. If you are not comfortable with the procedure and not willing to take the risk then please do not attempt.
The term rooting comes from the old Unix days where the Super User account (SU) had root access to all the files, i.e. access to the files from the root directory up, so basically administrator rights in Windows terms. On a standard Android device you’ll only have access to some files, which limits your control over a number of variables and functions. The procedure for rooting an Android device can be as easy as downloading and running an app on your device or may be be a multi-stepped process. For all those Apple folks out there this is the equivalent of Jailbreaking your Apple device (or at least as close as a comparison as you can get when you talk Apple v Android :)).
This article is not intended as a how-to tutorial but as a list of some of the advantages you can get from rooting your Android device.
Remove OEM Bloatware:
Many manufacturers and carriers will have customised ROMs on their devices. These often include applications that THEY think would be useful to you or are useful to them by say pushing traffic through them. These applications may take up valuable storage space, or stay active in memory using up valuable resources. The apps are normally written into the protected areas and can’t be uninstalled as they are system apps. To the left is a picture of the typical bloatware found on an Australian Telstra Android phone ( in this case they’re actually only shortcuts ). Rooting gives you the ability to remove or freeze these.
Backup and Restore your Entire System:
Backup programs for non-rooted devices only have access to user accessible areas of apps and data. Having root access will give you access to all areas on your device and allow you to make “bare metal” rebuild images. Where is this useful ? Let’s say a manufacturer ships out an Over The Air (OTA) system update to you that makes your device unusable. If you have a “bare metal” image then you can just go back to your last working version and not apply the system update until it’s stable.
Run Custom Roms:
Since the release of the Nexus G1, the Android ROM community has grown and grown and there’s a plethora of “cooks” out there baking custom ROMs for almost all Android Devices. Alternate ROMs can be anything from hacked OEM ROMs to ROMs built from the ground up. These ROMs will typically incorporate things that will speed up your device and add functionality not found in the OEM ROMs. Of course the ability to backup and restore your entire system means that you can easily try different ROMs and easily go back to the one you like the best or even go back to the OEM one if that’s the one you prefer. Cyanogen is probably one of the popular alternate ROMs out there, in fact the founder of Cyanogen was employed by Samsung based on this project. The most active alternative ROM site is XDA-Developers where you can find multiple ROM options for the more commonly available devices.
More screen real estate:
With smaller-screen devices you are constrained to the standard screen estate given to you by the manufacturer. Especially on the 7″ tablets (which kind of straddles the phone/tablet size), the icons are normally too big which leads to excessive scrolling to find that app you want. By changing the LCD density, you can get more real estate on the screen. Conversely as you get a bit older you might want to make those icons bigger
Speed and Battery:
Many developers will tweak the kernel to dramatically improve performance . Processors can be overclocked or underclocked and unnecessary processes can be eliminated. These changes result in better performance and better battery life.
Keep up to date with versions:
Most manufacturers are notorious for developing a product, releasing it and then dropping all support after the next model’s released. By using customised ROMs you can update to the latest version of Android OS before they are officially released (if it ever is) . Especially useful if you have an older device that isn’t supported by the manufacturer but is by the development community.
Root will allow you to move and manipulate the partitions where system and data resides. Manufacturers will set the partition limits to best suit them at time of manufacture. You can push some functions and applications to the external card storage of your device. Older phones were notorious for running out of memory after you’d installed a number of apps. While later versions of Android did this automatically, root gives you complete control. Rooting will also allow you to freeze unnecessary processes.
Take screen shots:
Everyone likes to show off their artistic abilities by showing off their home screens or show off their high score in Angry Birds :). While some manufacturers do give you the ability to take screen shots, most don’t. Want to post an error on your screen or similar ? Screen shots can be useful.
Change boot screens:
Because you can !!!! :
Let’s face it, I’ve bought devices and had them rooted and loaded with alternative ROMs before I’ve even looked at the OEM ROM. Why….because I can !
The above is by no means a complete list of all the benefits but just a quick list of some of the major ones that come to mind. Rooting your device doesn’t mean that you have to muck around with alternative ROMs either. Obtaining root even on the OEM image gives you a number of benefits and a level of control that you just don’t get with a locked phone. Be warned though as mentioned in the opening paragraphs that this will void your warranty, and you do have the potential of ending up with a very expensive paperweight. In addition there is a level of trust going on here with the developers. You don’t know what they’re baking into their ROM that may have the potential of compromising your security. Then again you have to have the same level of trust with manufacturers and app developers as well.
I still have my HTC Desire; it’s almost 2 years old now (old in terms of technology :)) and it’s had a number of different ROMs on it, both Froyo and Gingerbread. I don’t believe that a Gingerbread ROM was ever released by my carrier and truth is I don’t really care as I’ve been able to make use of the better speed, memory management and battery life of Gingerbread since it was first released. In fact, there’s now even a beta ROM based on Ice Cream Sandwich out there for the Desire. I might just wait till it’s a bit more stable before I give it a go though
It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re happy to give it a go and aware of the risks, it can be well worth the effort.