Android is by far the most popular mobile operating system in the world, featuring some of the finest phone hardware available (as we explored in our guide to the Best Android Phones of 2015). But the chances are the majority of users don’t have access to its full capabilities. This is because the various layers that manufacturers place over the core system can lock out certain features. The answer to overcoming these restrictions is to Root your phone, which gives you total access to all elements of the operating system. It’s not for everybody, of course, so we’ll explain the advantages on offer if you want to take complete control of your device.
Why Root Android? The cons
Rooting your phone may well be easy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it without hesitation; there are, after all, a few downsides to the process. The first is that it will certainly void your warranty.
If your device is older than a year or two, then this isn’t really an issue as your warranty has most likely expired. For a brand new spanking Samsung Galaxy S6, Sony Z3+, or LG G4 you might want to hold off for a while. The other main consideration is that you could open yourself up to security threats, which are more easily loaded onto your system when you have it rooted. In all honesty if you’re happy with the way your phone works, then it’s probably best to leave well alone. That being said, if you’re careful and confident of finding your way around the innards of Android then there's plenty of joy to be found on the rooted side.
Why Root Android? More apps and battery life
Looking around on the Google Play Store you’ll find many apps that sound incredibly useful - from fixing elements of your phone’s performance, to adding new features - but when you examine the system requirements you’ll see the legend ‘Requires Root Access’ or some such similar condition. Obviously when you root your device these practical tools instantly become available. Mostly the restriction is due to the app being able to change the deeper system settings.
A quick look at the typical Samsung settings menu might leave you thinking you don’t want any more options, but in root you can find tools such as Tasker which allows you to automate many functions. For example you can quickly set up instructions so that when your phone connects to your home Wi-Fi it disables the lock screen. Or if it’s plugged in and turned upside down, then Silent Mode is engaged (to stop it waking you as you sleep). This higher level of control, not to mention the ability to actually kill apps and stop them starting again immediately, can do wonders for battery life, as power hungry apps are held at bay.
Why Root Android? Customise everything
Apps like Tasker are excellent for controlling aspects of your phone’s behaviour, but you can personalise a rooted device in much more tangible ways. When compared to strict platforms like Windows Phone and iOS, Android is already streets ahead in terms of customisation, but this can work against it sometimes. Try three different phones, by three different manufacturers, and you’ll often be left wondering if they really are all Android. Skins are the layers that manufacturers put on top of the core Android system to create a desired look and feel. Samsung uses Touchwiz, HTC has Sense, and every other device comes with a variant of its own.
But what if you love the phone, but hate the skin? On standard Android you can load a new launcher, which will paper over the cracks, but still reveal the skin when you go into menus. To really make the device your own you’ll want to investigate custom ROMs. These are complete replacements for the manufacturer skins, with the added benefit of having high levels of control over the system. Popular offerings include Cyanogenmod, Paranoid Android, and OmniROM, but there are a wealth of others around. Not every ROM works on every device, so be sure to investigate compatibility before you plan your project.
Why Root Android? Get rid of annoying ads
Even on the often vast screen sizes of Android, pop up ads and flashing banners can be an annoying distraction. Buying an ad free version is fine, but in many cases the option simply isn’t available as the app will make more money with ads included. On a rooted phone you can overcome this spoiler of worlds by using the likes of AdBlock Plus, which gives you control over what capitalistic missives make it to your display. There’s a chance that this will actually extend you battery life as well, as research has suggested that ad filled apps calling home to the server can be a big drain on power.
Why Root Android? Load apps onto your SD card
Now, it’s fair to say that this feature isn’t as critical as it once was, mainly due to the fact that many newer handsets are phasing out SD card capabilities. If you have one that does allow expandable storage though, then being able to move apps onto the SD and save space on the inbuilt storage could well make it worth Rooting the device.
Why Root Android? Make complete backups of your data
It’s true that cloud services are making it easier than ever to backup data from mobile phones. Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive will give you plenty of space for your photos, documents, or music, while specialist apps such as Evernote can keep all of your thoughts and notes safely online. Making a complete backup of your device though is always a good idea, just in case something goes wrong.
You don’t want to assume you’ve got that vital bit of information to hand, only to realise too late that it was actually only ever on your handset. Titanium Backup is a great tool for creating an entire record of your system, which can then be stored off of the device. It’s a small thing, but in the end it could make a big difference.