To Root, or not to Root?

SuperUserOne of the biggest questions that Android power users must face is whether or not to root their device.  The majority of Android devices have been rooted, and those that haven’t will probably be rooted soon.  Rooting your device can be risky, but there are several benefits to doing so.  These include themes, screenshots, backups, wireless tethering,  overclocking, and custom ROMs.  Read on past the break for more details.

Disclaimer: Rooting your device is risky.  It may void the manufacturer’s warranty, and may ruin your device – even if done properly.  Hijinks, Inc. and myself take no responsibility for any damages that may occur by doing so.

Themes: One of the most popular reasons to root an Android device, themes are the “pretty” side of rooting.  The stock Android theme isn’t very pretty, and the most popular feature of themes is changing the color of the notification bar.  These themes can also change the fonts and icons throughout the system.  You’ll notice my Droid has a black notification bar and semi-transparent pull-down menu (known as Smoked Glass).  There are many themes available, and the range from simple (just changing the notifications) to very complex (re-skinning just about every item on the phone).


Screenshots: Android requires root access in order to take a snapshot of the screen.  It can also be done by hooking up to a computer with the Software Development Kit installed, but rooting makes it easy.  There are several apps on the market (Drocap2 and ShootMe among others) that will take screenshots of your rooted device.  I currently use ShootMe to take photos for my posts.

Backup: This is a big one for me, and one of the main reasons I rooted.  While Android does do a decent job of backing up most items, it can’t backup application data or make an image of the whole device.  With a custom recovery module installed, it’s very easy to make a full backup of your phone.  This is very handy when messing around with themes or custom ROMs.  Also there is an application called Titanium Backup that will not only backup all of your applications (even paid apps); it will backup the settings data that goes with them.

Wireless Tethering: While several of the new Android devices come with tethering, most of the devices on the market today do not come with tethering capability.  There are some apps on the Market that can do USB tethering, but root access is required to support wireless tethering.  Market apps like Barnacle do the rest.

Overclocking: If your phone ever feels sluggish, one of the easiest ways to fix that is to overclock your device.  This is obviously the riskiest feature as it involves messing with hardware settings, but it also has the potential to reap the most benefit.  For example: the Motorola Droid came with a processor designed for 600Mhz, but was underclocked to 550Mhz.  Even that small jump back to the design speed makes a difference.  Of course the coders haven’t stopped there.  Many Droids can handle running at over 1.2Ghz, double the rated speed of the processor.  Overclocking does require a special kernel for the device that is designed for the higher speeds, but they are available for most devices.  The SetCPU app takes overclocking to the next level.  It allows you to set the speed your phone will run at, and also setup profiles that change the speed if your phone is sleeping, the battery is low, or it’s getting too hot.  Underclocking your device when you’re not using it can save precious battery life.

Custom ROMs: Many Android devices have unlocked bootloaders, and thus can have custom ROMs installed on them.  These are unofficial builds of the Android OS that have been customized in just about any way you can imagine.  Just about anyone can build a ROM, whether they build from the Android source, or simply modify a specific phone build and repackage it.  ROMs are essentially the top of the heap for a rooted device.  Most package up several of the features listed above into an easy-to-install package.  For example, I’m currently running the Sapphire ROM for my Droid.  It is a built-from-source version of Android 2.2 with many other customizations.  Once you go ROM, you never go back.

As you can see, rooting your device opens up a whole new world of customization options.  If you want to find out what it takes to root your device, the best way to do that is to do a Google search for “root <device name>.”  You’ll find may forums and sites where people with the same device have gathered to discuss how to root and what features can be unlocked by rooting.  If you’re interested in rooting your device, I strongly encourage you to read up on the procedures and become familiar with the process before undertaking it.  Especially with some devices, there are more risks than others, and you may brick your device and void the warranty.  If you’re still getting familiar with Android, I’d recommend you wait until you’re more comfortable with the features your device already offers before rooting.

Published by

Ryan Minert

is the resident Android nerd. His hobbies include golfing, video games, and tinkering on his Motorola Droid. He is currently a database/project analyst for an education planning and financing corporation.

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