Rooting Android smartphones has become second natureChase Bonar - Contributing Editor
Smartphones running Google’s Android operating system are far and wide the most modifiable on the market. Android is an open source, Linux-based operating system that allows complete control of the device with root access. Root access allows the user to modify system settings by gaining complete control of the smartphone’s source code. In other words, with root access almost everything on your Android-powered smartphone can be modified.
Since root access lets Android users gain complete control of all settings, rooted smartphones allow users to determine how they want their device to function. Your smartphone’s functions tend to be limited either by your carrier, or the manufacturer of the device itself. Both situations can be avoided with root access. And if having the latest version of Android running atop your smartphone is your desire, rooting can make that possible, too.
Most recently, I’ve found that gaining root access actually has a purpose in how I operate my smartphone, which contradicts how I used my phone in the past. (I used it as a toy.)
In the past, rooting my smartphone was the sole reason to get new handsets. I’d purchase the device, unlock the bootloader (HTC), and then run a script or terminal command to gain complete control of the smartphone. To be honest, it has become such a routine that I’m rather bored with the idea. I will continue to do it, but not without a reason. There is room for me to learn how to find new root exploits, "theme" ROM's, or create my own ROM's, but that would require more time than I have.
Having said this, there are now a few legitimate reasons why I root my smartphones. I used to spend hours on end organizing system files and creating the perfect ROM setups and making Nandroid backups (complete system backups). All of these actions fall under a category that I refer to as “hacks and mods.” These hacks and mods are my sole reason for preferring Android devices to other smartphones. But I’m still not convinced I need to root my smartphones simply to hack and mod them anymore. Having complete control of what appears on my smartphone’s screen, and knowing that it can be changed is why Android remains the hardest operating system for me to avoid, but I’ve found a few other reasons to root.
So, really, why root an Android smartphone?
The first reason to root your Android smartphone is to get rid of carrier “bloatware.” Bloatware refers to the applications that come preinstalled on your smartphone when you buy it from a carrier. Each of the four major wireless carriers in the U.S. come with carrier bloatware preinstalled whether you use the apps or not. These carrier-installed applications take up space on your device’s ROM (read only memory) which limit how many other apps, pictures, and videos you can save to your device. If you don’t have the latest smartphone, chances are you don’t have much on-board storage, and that storage can fill up quick.
If you prefer not to root your smartphone to get rid of carrier bloatware, you can disable them (if your device has Android 4.0-4.2 installed). Disabling an application simply removes it from your list of apps in the app drawer, but doesn't truly delete the application from your system files. In other words, you can "switch an app off" by disabling it if your device is unrooted, but it will still take up space.
Here's how you disable an app: (1) Open the app drawer, (2) Menu - Manage Apps, (3) On the "all" tab, find the apps you want to disable, (4) Open each app and choose "disable, (5) Any app selected that has the option to "uninstall updates" should be done before disabling.
But if you're not satisfied with disabling an app, you now have a reason to root your device to get a little bit more storage from your smartphone. The on-board storage of a smartphone’s ROM is partitioned (divided) into two sections: the smartphone’s operating system, and device applications (like the phone app, and messaging apps). Combined, these partions take up valuable space on your smartphone and limit how many apps, pictures, and videos you can save locally (onto your smartphone). AT&T let’s consumers delete preinstalled applications, but others do not. Deleting these applications can reduce your reliance on saving files in the cloud, and onto external storage devices (MicroSD cards).
Another reason I root my Android smartphones is to modify the operating system itself. If you’re thinking “Why would I want to do that?” don’t worry, it’s not as superfluous as it sounds. Once you have root access to your smartphone’s operating system, there are endless possibilities for you to make your device unique and improve the way it operates.
A personal preference of mine is to modify the on-screen keys of my Android devices. Whether you have capacitive, or physical buttons, you can add a line of on-screen keys. These can be set as shortcuts to apps or system functions (back, home). By rooting your device with on-screen keys, you can add system applications (messaging, phone, search), or third-party applications (Google+, The Chive, and Twitter) to your “navigation bar.” These apps can be accessed at all times and do not interfere with the content displayed on-screen which is nice. If you're big into social media, these apps can be added as navigation keys (on-screen keys) so that they can be launched in any app at any time. Modifying on-screen keys is just one of the many ways you can tailor your Android smartphone to your needs.
The last reason I root all my Android smartphones builds on the previous arguments. I prefer to manage the frequency and voltage of my smartphone’s processor to increase battery life and standby time. With complete root access to your device’s kernel, your smartphone’s reactions can be controlled. Kernels are not unique to Android, but the source code built for each version of Android’s operating systems (Gingerbread, Jelly Bean, Key Lime Pie) each have a unique kernel. Without getting into too much detail, gaining complete root access to your smartphone can allow users to modify the kernel and thus improve battery life. Undervolting the processor in your smartphone reduces the power it uses and can improve battery life if you spend enough time finding the correct voltages. Underclocking your CPU (i.e. turning down a processor that is clocked at 1.5GHz to 1.2GHz) can also drastically improve the battery life of your smartphone. Both underclocking and undervolting the Linux kernel Android is built atop are reason enough to root my smartphone. I've noticed that doing these two things can increase your standby time (time off the charger without the screen on) by up to 20%.
Having said this, we've come to an era where multi-core processors inside of our devices are more efficient than ever. Some would argue that undervolting your smartphone's processor isn't really necessary anymore. ARM processors with big.LITTLE core architecture and 4-plus-1 architecture have nearly branded undervolting processors a thing of the past. But if you're getting terrible battery life, undervolting with CPU profiles (specifying how much power your CPU uses in certain states like screen off, screen on) can help you get the most from your device. It can't hurt to try it.
If you have an Android smartphone that isn’t rooted, you could be missing out. What reasons do you root your smartphone? If you haven’t ever rooted your Android smartphone before, what would make you consider it? Let me know in the comments below!