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Sunday, July 8, 2012

What is Rooting on Android? The Advantages and Disadvantages

“What is rooting? Why should I root my Android device?” These are common questions that I get asked quite often. Today’s lesson is to talk to you about both the advantages and disadvantages of rooting your Android devices.
But before we get started, a word of caution: rooting or modifying your phone in any way will void your manufacturer’s warranty and possibly “brick” it. What does “bricking” your device mean you ask? Exactly what you think… It means screwing up your phone software so badly that your phone can no longer function properly and is pretty much as useless as a brick. I do not in any way recommend anyone to root their Android device. This article is simply to introduce you to the subject of rooting and present you with both the pro’s and con’s so that you can make an educated decision on your own.

 

What is Rooting?

“Rooting” your device means obtaining “superuser” rights and permissions to your Android’s software. With these elevated user privileges, you gain the ability to load custom software (ROM’s), install custom themes, increase performance, increase battery life, and the ability to install software that would otherwise cost extra money (ex: WiFi tethering). Rooting is essentially “hacking” your Android device. In the iPhone world, this would be the equivalent to “Jailbreaking” your phone.

Why is it called Rooting?

The term “root” comes from the Unix/Linux world and is used to describe a user who has “superuser” rights or permissions to all the files and programs in the software OS (Operating System). The root user, because they have “superuser” privileges, can essentially change or modify any of the software code on the device. You see, your phone manufacturer/carrier only gives you “guest” privileges when you purchase your device. They do this for good reason… they don’t want you getting into certain parts of the software on your phone and screwing it up beyond repair. It makes it much easier for them to manage and update the devices if they lock it all down. This way, all the users are running the same unmodified version of the phone’s software. This makes it much easier for them to support the devices. But, for the tech-savvy crowd, only having “guest” privileges on your device is pretty lame and it locks down a lot of potentially useful features.

What are the Advantages of Rooting?

Custom Software (ROM’s)



You may have heard of people loading custom “ROM’s” on their devices. A “ROM” is the software that runs your device. It is stored in the “Read Only Memory” of your device. There are many great custom ROM’s available that can make your Android device look and perform drastically different. For instance, you might be stuck with an older Android device that is stuck on an older version of the Android OS and it is not getting any of the newer updated versions of Android. With a custom ROM, you could load up the latest and greatest available Android versions and bring that antiquated device up to par with some of the newer ones. There are lots of great ROM’s available for many different phones and it is up to you to find the one that best meets your needs. The best place that I have found to find custom ROM’s for Android devices is the XDA Developers Forums. The XDA community is filled with smartphone enthusiasts and developers for the Android platform. Check them out and see if you find any ROM’s that would meet your needs. [Link Here]

Custom Themes

Themes are basically the graphics that appear on your Android device. Rooting your device allows you the ability to fully customize just about every graphic on your device. You can load custom themes that totally change the look and feel of your device. Here are some examples: http://forum.xda-developers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=527

Kernel, speed, and battery
 
There are many custom ROM’s and apps available for rooted devices that will allow you to drastically improve the performance (speed) and also extend battery life on your device. A lot of developers tweak the kernels (layer of code that handles communication between the hardware and software) for added performance, battery life, and more.


Baseband
Rooting your device grants you the ability to update the Basebands on your smartphone. The Baseband is what controls the radio on your device. By updating to the latest Basebands, you can potentially improve both the signal and quality of your phone calls.

Latest Versions of Android

As mentioned earlier, custom ROM’s can allow you to update to the latest version of the Android OS before they are officially released. This is a great feature for those who are tech-savvy and want to stay on top of the latest and greatest software updates before it hits the mainstream crowd. This is also useful if you have an outdated device that is no longer being updated by the manufacturer.

Backing up your device
The ability to easily backup all of your Apps and Data is one feature that is sorely missed on the stock build of Android devices. But if you root your device, backing up everything on your device (both apps and data) becomes a simple task. Titanium Backup is a must have app for anyone who has rooted their devices and wants to backup and restore their phones. [Market Link]

Unlocking Additional Features
By rooting your Android device you also gain the ability to unlock some features that your carrier may charge for. One example is enabling free WiFi and USB tethering, which many carriers charge money for. Now, I’m not suggesting you do this. But I did want to make you aware of the fact that it is possible to do this. However, your carrier may catch on to the fact that you are using your device as a free WiFi hotspot and figure out a way to charge you for it. So use this feature at your own risk!

What are the Disadvantages of Rooting?

Bricking
The number one reason not to root your device is the potential risk of “bricking” it. As mentioned earlier, “bricking” your device means screwing up your phone software so badly that your phone can no longer function properly and is pretty much as useless as a brick. You would likely need to purchase a new Android device since the manufacturer of your device will void the warranty after any attempts at rooting.

Security


There is an increased risk of unknowingly installing malicious software when you root an Android device. Root access circumvents the security restrictions that are put in place by the Android OS. There isn’t really an effective way to tell just what the application intends to do with that “superuser” power. You are putting a lot of trust into the developer’s hands. In most cases, these applications are open source and the community can take a look at the source code to assess the risk. But, nevertheless, the risk is there. Fortunately, malicious software on rooted devices hasn’t really been a problem as of yet. But I thought it was worth mentioning since this could be a potential risk in the future. I’d recommend installing an Anti-Virus and Security App just to be safe. Lookout Mobile Security seems to be one of the best ones available at the moment. [Link Here]

Can I Unroot my device if I change my mind?

Yes. You would need to do some research for your specific type of device. As mentioned earlier, the XDA Developer Forums is the best place to start. [Link Here]

How do I learn how to root my device?
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to teach someone how to root their Android device. Each device has a unique method to rooting and some research most be done on your part. As I mentioned earlier, the best place to start would be the XDA Developer Forums. [Link Here]  Another option is to simply Google your model phone and the term root (ex. “HTC EVO root”). Have fun and good luck to all of you! I hope you found this lesson on rooting to be helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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