To Root or Not?

A question I get asked often is why should I root my phone? Typically if you have to ask this question, that is a great reason why you should not. The risks involved are not for the common user who wants to sound cool by saying their phone is rooted. In my experience if someone goes around boasting about their device being rooted, they are one of the suckers who paid someone to do it. Furthermore, they have no clue what their device can actually do that sets it apart from the stock OEM setup. Look I have a SuperUser icon! The benefits of rooting / bypassing the security on your Android device are nearly endless for the right person.

I just wanted to take a few minutes and share my thoughts on what I believe are the powerful benefits of rooting Android devices. This will not be a how to root, flash custom software, or unlock bootloaders. There are plenty of forums and websites dedicated to that.

First off let me start with discussing the risks associated with rooting, flashing, and unlocking bootloaders on these devices.

1. The Android Paperweight: This is a term normally used for a Hard Bricked device. What is hard brick? When your device will not power or show any signs of life. If you pull the battery (not possible on all phones anymore) and after replacing it your phone shows no signs of life whatsoever you may very well have yourself a brand new few hundred dollar paperweight. Most of the time unless you really screw something up it, is hard to truly hard brick your device. If your leds light up, you notice screen initialization, or other signs of your device booting up, you are more often than not in a category called Soft Brick. Soft bricks are caused by a number of issues but normally easy to fix.

2. Your warranty is now void: All manufacturers will void your warranty if they know that your device was rooted. Sometimes it is possible to unroot your phone or tablet before sending it in for warranty work. If done properly the manufacturer will never know it was rooted and your warranty work or replacement will be covered. Some Samsung devices are shipped with a Flash Counter. This will count how many times your device has flashed a custom kernel, or ROM. There is also speculation that simply rooting your phone will increase this counter as well. What does this mean? If you take your phone in for warranty they can tell even if you have unrooted. I personally have not had to deal with this yet. There are posts around the www that claim to have discovered ways to flash without triggering the counter, or claim the ability to reset the counter.

3. You have the power to screw your Android device up now: Once you are rooted you can modify the software however you want. This also means you can delete important files and brick your device. Lets say you choose to root your phone to remove bloatware, if you delete these files completely and your carrier pushes and OTA (over the air) update your phone will most likely not boot once the installation was initiated. The ota will verify the currently installed software and if it notices a missing file you will typically end up on a blue screen with angry Andy in the middle of it. There are ways around this. Do some research before you dive into the world of a rooted device.

There are other risks associated with taking control of your phone or tablet, but I feel those are the three most important.

The advantages of rooting, like I mentioned above are endless. You gain total control of what is on your device, and how the kernel operates. I’ll cover a some of my favorite benefits.

1. Bye Bye Bloatware: Unless you buy a pure google phone the carrier will always add garbage to the OEM software. Blockbuster, NFL mobile, and so many other apps come preinstalled it drives me nuts. If I want the app I will gladly download and install it. The fact that it is impossible to remove these preinstalled applications without rooting is what makes this so annoying. Once rooted you have the ability to remove these apps. Like I mentioned earlier if you plan on remaining on OEM software and simply gaining root access it is important not to completely remove these apps. It is good practice to use an app like Titanium Backup and first freeze the app. By freezing the applications you remove them from the system data. Once they are frozen you can ensure that they will not cause your system to become unstable. After you have used your device for awhile and confirmed that it will still operate as intended you can safely make a backup off the app and then delete it. When you know there is an OTA available for your device all you need to do is restore the applications you have removed and then let the upgrade install. Loading a custom ROM is another way to avoid bloat and experience the true capability of your phone.

2. Free wireless tethering: When I first started rooting devices this was a major benefit. There are some apps available now that can achieve this without actually rooting. The fact that carriers want to charge for a feature that is part of Android is absurd.

3. Faster, Stronger, Meaner: Custom ROMs give you the option to change the look and feel of your phone. There are numerous developers that can take your phone to the next level. The tweaks and performance you gain make it totally worth checking into custom software. If your stuck waiting on an update to ICS or JellyBean there is a good chance there is already a custom ROM build out there if your device can handle it. With custom kernels you also gain the ability to overclock the processor. Of course this is a risky process just like in full size computers. Unlike your fullsize computer though, your phone does not have any active cooling. They can get HOT. Play around with different frequencies and make sure the phone will remain stable. Do not load the settings at boot until you are completely sure your 100% stable. Locking these settings at boot will cause bootloops if you set the frequency to high. Most of the time the performance gains are significant.

4. Backing up your device: It is wonderful to have the option of completely backing up apps and settings. Apps that store data on the SD card are handy, but what about progress in a game or if your SD card dies? With apps like Titanium Backup, or My Backup you have the ability to back up everything you want and send those backups to the cloud. If your phone gets lost, broken, or stolen you can now restore your information when you get your new device. If you end up flashing multiple custom ROMs these backup utilities make setting your phone back up significantly faster. With batch restore options you can simply initiate a batch install and the apps that you backed up on your Sdcard will be installed with one click. No more waiting for downloads and searching for the apps you want.

5. Squeeze a couple more hours out of your battery: Very few phones are good at battery management. Custom ROM developers have to take the time to make sure that their software is not going to decrease battery life. If they do not the community will give them a severe tongue lashing. Removing unnecessary apps and software will stop some of the random data connections and wasting battery power. Many of the ROMs out there come with various settings and tweaks that help increase battery life. Overclocking under load, underclocking while the phone is asleep and undervolting give a nice speed boost with less battery consumed.

By now it is obvious that I am for rooting and unlocking bootloaders. With lots of research and patience most people should be able to do most of this on their own. Paying to have someone root your device teaches your nothing. Nor will you have any idea what was done and what to do if you screw something up. Hopefully this has helped some of you gain insight into what the advantages and disadvantages of rooting are.

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