Should you root your smartphone?

You may, or may not have heard of the term Jailbreaking for iOS. Rooting is much the same, except for the fact that Apple expressly forbids you from tinkering with your iPhone software. The Android robot, being the kind, open-source soul that it is, suffers from no such inconveniences.

You see, when you buy an Android phone, you are the FULL owner of the phone, and you should be able to do whatever you please with it. Yes, that includes feeding it to the crocodiles. (Don’t sue me if you lose an arm in the process!)

“But why should I spend time and effort getting admin access on my phone? Will it automatically make breakfast for me every morning?”

It will do one step better than that. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it will give a new lease of life to your ageing phone. Simple root access will let you remove all bloatware that comes with your phone by default and hogs up precious memory and space.

Don’t listen to FM? No problem, uninstall it.
What’s that pesky news app that came with my phone doing there? Hold on, let me just nuke it.
Ditto for the default file explorer/browser/music player.

We probably are using a third party app for these functions, downloaded from the Play Store, while the “uninstallable” (uh, did that sound correct?) stock app just sits there, gathering dust, and staring melancholically at us.

If you’re feeling adventurous, and want to replace your old OS with a swanky new one, there are custom ROM’s (that’s the term for custom Android OS’es) in all shapes, sizes and colours.

+1’s

  • You can hook up a Xbox controller to your phone and use that to play games via USB On-The-Go, which also lets you plug in an external HDD or a mouse/keyboard.
  • You get the latest Android version, even before your phone manufacturer releases it to the public. Depending on your device and the size of its developer community, you can have several ROM’s to choose from, each with optimizations and/or modifications to improve your phone. You could also choose the vanilla version of Android that ships with the Nexus phones.
  • You could have HTC’s Sense UI on a Sony phone, or Samsung’s Touchwiz on a Nexus.
  • You can fully customize the look and feel of your phone UI, like replacing the standard battery icon with something cool, like a batman logo, which glows according to the charge remaining, or a circle, which gradually shrinks. This is just an example of what you can do.
  • Overclocking. I have overclocked my 1 GHz processor to 1.4 GHz, with options for 1.6, and even 1.8 GHz. This is another common use for rooting, but it can be harmful in the long run. Basically, it depends on how you want to dig your smartphone’s grave. Using a teaspoon or a shovel? This is achieved by giving elevated permissions to certain third party apps to add higher frequencies to the frequency table. [Courtesy Vishnu Mohandas. Look up his answer for details, as well as a few points and clarifications I’ve missed!]
  • It’s possible to use your SD card in such a way that it masquerades as an extension of your phone internal storage, for those apps that are unable to be moved to SD card.
  • Some ROM’s allow you to use a Tablet UI on your phone, which changes the density to mimic a higher resolution display.

-1’s

  • You can brick your phone, if you’re not careful. Make sure you’re familiar with the steps of the guides available on XDA forums before you embark on your quest.
  • You MAY void your warranty. If your manufacturer’s warranty covers only hardware issues, then I don’t see why it should be much of a problem.
  • You should do tons and TONS of research beforehand.

A lot of manufacturers have recognized the huge potential for alternate aftermarket modifications to Android, and have started actively supporting the developer community. Steve Kondik, the creator of CyanogenMod, the most popular custom Android OS (over 3 million downloads), was hired by Samsung. Sony, including others, have a section on their website, which guides you through the steps needed for unlocking your bootloader.

PS: Please read everything you can get your grubby paws on about your device on the XDA forums.Every phone model has a subforum at XDA, which have a plethora of guides for absolute newbies. You’ll thank me when you don’t reduce your phone to a brick or a paperweight.

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