Often incorrectly referred to as “jailbreaking your Android”, “rooting” your Android device can offer a wealth of new options and applications that can seriously enhance and enrich the time you spend with the little green robot.
ROOT is a Unix term for the “ultimate privilage user” on an operating system. Windows users can think of ROOT access as logging in as an Administrator level user. You aren’t actually “cracking” anything – you’re simply allowing apps you install “system level” access as a “super user” or simply put – “ROOT”.
The process for “rooting” or enabling root access varies by device. Some devices, like Google’s Nexus line (Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7, etc.) are designed to have root enabled very easily. Some devices are locked down hard by the carriers – making it practically impossible to enable root access. The good news is – nature (and the developers at XDA) will always find a way.
Most people scoff at root access because either they don’t think they can benefit from it – or they think it is something illegal/immoral like so called “jailbreaking” on iOS. Nothing could be further from truth. Is it illegal or immoral to log into Windows as Administrator? Of course not – this is the same thing. Note: It is possible that “rooting” may violate your device warranty. This varies from device to device and country to country.
1. Ad Blocking
(even if ads don’t “bother you”)
“Oh, ads don’t bother me”
When I suggest the concept of blocking ads as a HUGE selling point to “rooting” an Android device, that’s what I get in response.
Some people are opposed to ad blocking for moral reasons; “It’s how websites/developers make money – blocking them isn’t right”.
Of course, there is that subset of people that just can’t see “the ends justifying the means”.
Let’s discuss these issues in detail, and I’ll explain to you in no uncertain terms why you WANT to block ads and SHOULD block ads – and morality has nothing to do with it.
First off, if you’re using an ad blocker on your PC web browser, the morality argument just flew out the Window. I know of VERY FEW people that do NOT use one – so let’s take morality off the table. But more importantly, WHY did/do you choose to block ads on your workstation?
In the old days, people blocked ads for a couple of reasons.
One, ads dragged browser speed down. Flash ads, heavy image ads, etc. actually made browsing a SLOWER process. Sometimes, a page would “hang” while the ad server was contacted, and the content didn’t appear until AFTER the ad loaded. Sometimes you’d be reading an article and a Toyota Tundra would drive out of the page into your field of view, telling you about a sale. Be it speed or annoyance – ads gotta go.
Two, they offered up security risks. Very few websites host their own ads – they use a third party ad server. That adds a lot to the discussion of security. Sometimes, Little Johnny got an accelerated lesson in human anatomy when a porn ad slipped through on Disney.com’s website.
The problem today is quite similar. Ads DO slow down the browser – even MORE SO than your desktop because your Android device typically has far lower specs in CPU and resources than the desktop. Remember ad-laden websites on your old P75? Same idea. Whether you perceive a slow down or not – it is there. Your browsing experience WILL NOTICEABLY IMPROVE when you block ads.
Let’s say you STILL don’t care. I have one word for you. Quota. Gone are the days of “unlimited data” on your mobile devices. Unless you’re lucky enough to be grandfathered in on a plan with unlimited data – ads are costing you money; or at the very least, pulling away from your monthly data allotment. Yes, I thought that would get your attention. You may be fine with “passive advertising”, but are you willing to PAY to be advertised to? Different story altogether. Of course, if you’re never on 3G/4G and live on wifi – this may not be an issue to you.
Finally, ads are maturing on mobile devices. Those nasty pop ups, overlays, animated trucks driving across your browser on the desktop? They are showing up on mobile sites/apps too. It’s only the matter of time before the ads get more aggressive and actively interfere with your device.
Root access along with an app like the free AdAway – this problem is solved.
Note: Developers deserve to be paid for software they create. If you are using an app that has a no-ad paid version – please be sure to pay for it instead of relying on ad blocking. If the developer of your favorite app ONLY offers an ad-laden version, write them and ask for an up front payment option. Developers will usually listen if it makes good business sense for them.
2. USB On The Go
(even if you think you only need read access)
A new technology sneaked up on everyone. It’s called USB OTG (On The Go) … and you want it. Why?
More and more mobile devices are taking away our rights to mass storage; that is – the ability to plop a big, fat microSD card into our phones and tablets. Apple users have had to put up with this for years, but for Android folks, you might as well be taking away the air that they breathe.
The reason, of course, is simple. Money. Allowing users to have mass storage encourages device owners to store, consume and manage their own content; movies, music, et al. Device makers like Apple, Google, Amazon and Barnes & Noble – they don’t want you ripping a DVD you own to your microSD card and consuming it on that device for free – they want you to BUY IT AGAIN from their iTunes/store – where they can control every aspect of the transaction including how long you can consume it and HOW you can consume it.
OTG solves this problem by taking a device’s USB/charging port and turning it into a full blown USB port with a cheap little pigtail cable you plug in. With that USB port, you can plug in your 32GB microSD, a USB keyboard, a USB mouse, Xbox 360 controller – and many more options.
Root access isn’t needed to use a keyboard or mouse – or even read files off a USB device (Note: the version of Android on your device may dictate how useful OTG is). However, root IS required if you want to WRITE to a USB device. With tools like Titanium Backup or even just the concept of sharing a “work” USB flash drive with documents you want to edit on the go – the ability to WRITE content via OTG is almost a requirement. Root will get you this.
- More on USB OTG
- Buy a Cheap USB OTG Cable Monoprice | Amazon (Prime Eligible)
- Device Compatibility and More
3. Titanium Backup
For die hard Android enthusiasts – especially those that use custom ROMs on their device – Titanium Backup is really the Holy Grail of Android apps. You see, this tool allows you to backup and restore pretty much ANYTHING on your device … INCLUDING DATA AND SYSTEM LEVEL FILES. That’s right – with TB, you can effectively backup and restore (almost) ANYTHING on your device.
A lot of people say “Who cares? I can redownload any app I lost anytime – why should I waste time backing it up?” Indeed.
Because, while Google apps store data in the cloud – MOST APPS DO NOT. That means if you drop your device in the pool – crunch the screen in your pocket – or if the device just spontaneously combusts …. what happens to the DATA stored by those apps?
I’ll tell you what happens; it’s gone. A lot of people like Android, but don’t like/trust Google – so they don’t even sync their contacts/email/etc. to the Google cloud. All this data is gone if something tragic befalls your device.
What if it is stolen? Maybe you can remote wipe it – but can you get your DATA back?
Without root, you cannot backup application data. EVERYONE SHOULD MAKE BACKUPS. Not just of your Android device, but your PC at home, your work laptop; backups are usually only thought of by people AFTER a disaster strikes.
By using TB in conjunction with OTG to store your backups off-device, you are offering yourself peace of mind and the potential of saving yourself endless amounts of work and effort recreating data you may lose someday.
Still not convinced? Okay – I have another concept. Sometimes you get an app that works great … today. Tomorrow, the developer pushes out a new version – and you happily install it; excited to see the new features. Unfortunately, the app no longer works on your device. Or they took out your favorite feature. Or it corrupted your data. Or suddenly it’s been “hobbled” and made a pay app after you’ve been using it for free. There is no way for you to go to Google Play and “get yesterday’s version”.
TB can maintain endless versions of app backups – allowing you to “roll back” to an app+data that worked YESTERDAY – but doesn’t work for you today.
4. Control / Bloatware
(even if you’re NOT a control freak)
“I don’t care that Verizon put <insert app here> on my phone. I just don’t use it.”
Ah yes, the ol’ “Bloatware doesn’t hurt me” argument.
Every carrier likes to insert it’s own after-market money-making apps on their phones; oddly enough apps that Google and other providers offer for free – like navigation or visual voice mail. Verizon will happily fleece you another $5-$10 a month for these services; if you opt-in to use them.
So how about we just don’t opt-in and call it a day? Why not just uninstall them if you’re not using them; like deleting AOL from Windows 98 after you installed the OS.
The simple answer is: you can’t. After all, Verizon and Co. want that app in your line of sight for the duration of your phone ownership. You MIGHT get bored and try it. You might get into a jam and NEED it. You might just accidently opt-in for a few months before you check your bill close enough to catch it.
Once you have root access – you can remove this “bloatware”. Which serves several purposes; first it reclaims precious internal memory you might need for other apps, kills apps that run ALL THE TIME (whether you opt-in or not – Like Verizon Backup) which hampers your device’s performance and helps keep your home screens and app drawers just a little more clean and tidy. Using a tool like the above mentioned Titanium Backup will allow you to “freeze” the apps; that is, turn them off and hide them from the system – but still let you “defrost” and restore these apps later (when you get an OTA update that fails because you “tampered” with the bloatware Verizon put on there).
A lot of people don’t realize the control that root can give them – not just in handling bloatware, but adding features and upgrades to your phone BEFORE your carrier and manufacturer (whose interest is in selling you a new device – not supporting your existing one) decide to give it to you (if they ever do).
5. Custom ROMs
(even if you don’t use custom roms)
When people think of Custom ROMs they think of things like Cyanogenmod; things that totally replace your phone’s OS with a highly modified (and potentially unstable one). The ability to flash Custom ROMs on your device (through a tool called Clockwork Mod) isn’t just about totally replacing your Froyo Android OS equipped device with a Jellybean build with over-clocked kernals, modified system apps and an unlocked Google Play store … it is about ‘after-market modifications” that the process allows you to do.
While it is totally true that some five year old device can get Jelly Bean on it – thanks to Cyanogenmod – which fully replaces your devices’s OS. But what if what you REALLY want is to get rid of the Google Search bar on top? What if you just want some toggles on your Notification window shade? What if you JUST want the ability to REBOOT your phone from the Power Off menu? These little “tweaks” or “mods” are possible without completely overwriting your OS – thanks to the PROCESS of custom ROMs.
Naturally, if you have an aged device and can’t afford or refuse to upgrade the device (like because you’ll lose your grandfathered unlimited data plan) … or if your carrier/manufacturer has abandoned you back in Froyo-land and you really want some Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich or even Jelly Bean lovin’ – root + custom ROMs will open those doors to you. Just knowing it’s POSSIBLE to breathe new life into an old device – for essentially NO MONEY – puts a smile on a lot of people’s faces.
There you have it. Five great reasons to root your Android device. Maybe all five don’t appeal to you – but I’m betting at least ONE will appeal to just about everyone.
As with all things “custom” with Android, the best place to start is the XDA Developers forum. Almost every Android device has a dedicated section with regards to “development” (which is where you’ll find instructions how to root, etc.) as well as Q&A areas. While the folks there are knowledgeable and helpful – they have very little tolerance for the new visitor that doesn’t use the forum SEARCH box before asking a question they have already answered a hundred times. Just remember, it isn’t hostile – it’s good time management. 🙂
Once you’re rooted and ready to explore, hop on Google Play’s store and search for ROOT or ROOT ONLY and see some of the new apps available to you now that you have freedom on your Android device.