Android: To root or not to root

03 Jul 2011
Posted by Kiran

I have been asked many times by many people: "What is root and what is the advantage of having it on my phone?". I could reply by the standard answer that we so often come across on Android forums, that if you don't know what root is you probably don't need it. However, I personally find that response a bit offending — how is anyone supposed to learn new things if everyone who knows is unwilling to clearly explain?

Though I don't claim to be an expert, but my experiences in the past year with Android has taught me enough to understand what the pros and cons are with rooting an Android device.

Here, I explain the few points that you may want to consider before you decide to root your Android phone.

Advantages of Rooting


1. A2SD+

With Smartphones you can do a lot more than just making phone calls. The Android ecosystem offers numerous applications that can be used to carry out various activites: from playing a game to managing your bank account. However to install all those applications you need space on your phone. And that is what most Smartphones are short of.

Fortunately, almost all Smartphones allow expansion of available memory using a SD Card. However, the way Android handles applications installed on the SD Card leaves a lot to be desired. It is here that A2SD+ comes to our rescue. With A2SD+ users can effectively extend the available memory for Application installation.

You will need to root your phone if you want to take advantage of A2SD+.

2. Titanium Backup

Titanium Backup is perhaps one really good reason to have root access on your phone. It allows you to backup and restore the applications and data on phone and allows you to quickly restore your phone to its original state after a factory-reset.

This application has many powerful features that allow you to manage the applications installed on your device. It allows you to schedule backups and even provides the capability to install/uninstall applications from your phone.

Thanks to this application, I have been able to perform a factory-reset and then have my phone back up and running within a few minutes!

3. Getting Rid of Bloatware

Depending on where you obtained your phone from it would have a number of applications pre-installed. If you got your phone from a Network carrier, they may have loaded the phone with numerous other applications, which they would claim helped you improve your overall experience. However, most of the time people find these additional applications just of nuisance value. These are called bloatware — applications that have been loaded on the phone but serve little or no purpose; and you can't get rid of them either.

Having root access on your phone allows you to strip away such unwanted software from your phone. Stripping away bloatware will save space on the phone as well as reduce battery consumption.

4. Custom ROMs

Root access allows you to load Custom ROMs on your phone. A ROM is the core software that makes the device work; it is the operating system for the phone. Every phone comes pre-loaded with its own ROM; this is called the "Stock ROM".

However, the main advantage of the Android platform is that it is, at its core, an open source project. This allows many very creative developers to create different kinds of ROMs that provide various functionalities; often functionalities that aren't available on the phone out-of-box.

CyanogenMod and the MoDaCo Custom ROM are two such Custom ROMs that I have personally tried and found to be extremely useful. They allow you to load features and functions onto your phone that the original device manufacturers themselves did not think of.

5. Getting up-to-date

The Android project has evolved to a great extent since it first came on stage. As Android evolves and newer features get incorporated into the platform, phone users typically find themselves waiting for the device manufacturers or their carriers to release updates that will upgrade their phones to the newest versions.

What I have found is that the Android developer community is far quicker in making these software updates available via their Custom ROMs. By having root access, you will have many more options to get the latest upgrade to your phones without having to endlessly wait till your device manufacturer or carrier decides to release an update.

Disadvantages of Rooting


1. It will void your warranty

Rooting your phone will almost definitely void your device warranty. This means that in case you discover a defect in your device after you root, you will not be able to send it back to your device manufacturer and claim warranty — they will most probably insist on charging you for any kind of repairs.

Hence, rooting is a one-way street. Once you have gone through it, there is no going back — you are then on your own. Yes, there is a whole community of Android developers available to help you. However, you are very much on your own. Nobody is going to repair your device for you; they will probably guide you on what to do, but you will still have to do the repair yourself.

2. If done wrong, it can cause permanent damage to your phone

Rooting can be tricky business. Though there are some fairly simple and easy methods, such as unrevoked, rooting can still be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated. Also there is a very real risk that if you miss one step or don't perform something exactly as per the instructions, you can damage your phone irreparably. You can end up with a very nice looking brick.

You also have to realize that the Android community is an unregulated one. This means that you have to be careful whom you trust and shouldn't blindly follow instructions from anyone and everyone you find on the Internet. There are some reputed forums such as XDA Developers, MoDaCo, CyanogenMod, etc. where you can find reliable information.

3. You need to be tech-savvy

Rooting will mean that you are tinkering around with the core system's firmware. As you explore ways and means to achieve root, you will come across a lot of tech-speak and jargon and will need to learn and understand most of it. There are also possibilities that the first Custom ROM you load does not do all that you'd hoped it would. You will potentially have issues and problems that will require time and effort to resolve.

The Android forums can be quite cryptic; you will need a lot of patience and perseverance to read through all the information available online, do the research required and find the solutions to your specific problems.

You will have to realize that nobody in the community actually gets paid to support you. Hence, they will support you to the best that they can but it will be up to you to find the solution that fits you. This seeming lack of support can be frustrating. Hence if you are a person who does not have the time and patience to read, learn and try new technical tweaks, you had best stay away from rooting your phone.

If you need help changing your phone's ringtone or getting it to connect to a local WiFi, rooting is definitely not for you.

While Rooting your phone can truly unlock its power, it can also be a lot of hassle. It is a personal choice that each device owner must make based on their own capabilities. If you rely on others to manage the basics on your phone then I would strongly suggest that you forget about rooting and enjoy your phone in the way its manufacturers meant it to be.

However, if you are the person who relishes a technical challenge and isn't afraid of tinkering around with scripts; who has the patience to read and learn new things; what are you waiting for? Go ahead and check out the various ways that you can achieve root on that powerful new device of yours.