Is the allure of being a superuser tempting you? Android rooting opens up a world of possibility, but it can also void your warranty, or even leave you with a bricked device. The important thing is to be careful. Read up about what you are going to do before you begin. Make sure that you backup your data. Follow the instructions to the letter. Manufacturers and carriers have a vested interest in dissuading you from rooting. If you’re careful, the risk is minimal, and the potential benefits are impressive. Let’s take a closer look.
Updated on 12-10-2013 by Simon: Updated preparation section, added unlock bootloader links, added link to rooted apps, and link to video on HTC One rooting process.
What is rooting?
If you’re an Administrator on a Windows machine, you have access to the entire operating system and you can do whatever you like. That’s essentially what happens if you root your Android device. With root access, you can get around any restrictions that your manufacturer or carrier may have applied. You can run more apps; you can customize your device to a greater degree; and you can potentially speed it up in a variety of ways.
The process involves backing up your current software and then flashing (installing) a new custom ROM (modified version of Android).
Why would you root?
One of the most obvious incentives to root your Android device is to rid yourself of the bloatware that’s impossible to uninstall. You’ll be able to set up wireless tethering, even if it has been disabled by default. You can also access your entire file system, install special apps that require a root, and flash custom ROMs, which can add extra features and streamline your phone or tablet’s performance. A lot of people are tempted by the ability to completely customize the look of their phones. You can also manually accept or deny app permissions.
You won’t find a lot of amazing must-have apps when you root, but there are enough to make it worthwhile. For example, some apps allow you to automatically backup all of your apps and all of their data, completely block advertisements, create secure tunnels to the Internet, overclock your processor, or make your device a wireless hotspot. Check out our list of the best apps for rooted Android phones and tablets for some ideas.
Why wouldn’t you root?
There are essentially three potential cons to rooting your Android.
- Voiding your warranty: Some manufacturers or carriers will use rooting as an excuse to void your warranty. It’s worth keeping in mind that you can always unroot. If you need to send the device back for repair, simply flash the original backup ROM you made and no one will ever know that it was rooted.
- Bricking your phone: Whenever you tamper too much, you run at least a small risk of bricking your device. This is the big fear everyone has. The obvious way to avoid it happening is to follow instructions carefully. Make sure that the guide you are following works for your device and that any custom ROM you flash is designed specifically for it. If you do your research and pay attention to feedback from others, bricking should never occur.
- Security risks: Rooting may introduce some security risks. Depending on what services or apps you use on your device, rooting could create a security vulnerability. For example, Google refuses to support the Google Wallet service for rooted devices.
How to root your Android
Before you actually try to root your device, make sure that you do some reading. The best place to find discussions about rooting, guides, and custom ROMs is definitely the XDA Developers Forum. Look for a thread on your specific device and you’re sure to find a method that has worked for other people. It’s worth spending some time researching the right method for your device.
Preparation for root
Back up everything that’s important to you before you start. You should also always back up your current ROM before you flash a new one.
You’ll want to ensure that your device is fully charged before you begin. You’ll also need to turn USB debugging on. On the Galaxy S3 you’ll find it in Menu > Settings > Developer options and then check the box next to USB debugging. You will likely be plugging your device into your computer in order to root it.
Most Android rooting methods require you to install some software on your computer. It’s likely you’ll need to install the Android SDK. You may find other software is required. Make sure you follow the instructions and install all of it before proceeding.
Unlock your bootloader
You will also need to unlock your bootloader before you begin and the process for that is different depending on your device. The bootloader is just what it sounds like; it basically determines how the operating system loads up on your device. As manufacturers have seen a real demand for customization many of them have provided methods to help you unlock the bootloader, though they are generally provided for developers, and they usually require you to sign up or register an account first.
- Here’s the Motorola bootloader unlock program.
- This is the HTC unlock bootloader page at its developer website.
- Here are Sony’s unlocking the boot loader instructions.
Some manufacturers and carriers don’t allow bootloader unlocking, but you can often find a way around that with some searching (try the XDA Developers forum).
One of the easiest methods of rooting, which also supports a long list of devices, is SuperOneClick. You’ll find clear instructions, including a video, on how to use it at this XDA Developers SuperOneClick thread.
You will need to install some software to prepare, but the actual rooting process is one click. It will only take a few minutes to complete and then you’ll need to restart your Android device.
There is software out there that claims to provide one click rooting with no extra installs, but you should not have to pay to root your device and it’s very important to be wary about the method you choose. If in doubt, do more research. The XDA Developers forum is the most trustworthy source for rooting guides.
Your specific device
The reason rooting isn’t more straightforward is that all Android devices are not created equal. There are significant differences between Android smartphones, between manufacturers, and even between carrier specific versions of the same phone model. Make sure that any rooting guide or custom ROM you intend to use does support your specific device or you are asking for trouble.
Once you have found the right guide for your phone or tablet, it’s simply a case of working through the listed steps methodically. It can be a complicated procedure and it can take a while. Here’s an example guide for rooting the Samsung Galaxy S3. It can appear intimidating at first glance, but provided you follow it step-by-step, it should be a pain-free process. You can post questions in the XDA Developers forum if you run into trouble. Here’s a great video guide on how to root the HTC One.
To root or not to root
Gaining full root access to your Android device can be thrilling, especially if you want to tinker with settings and customize your device. How much it changes your experience depends largely on the device you have. If you have a shuttered device, like a Kindle Fire tablet, then it’s a great way to get the full Android experience.
The potential benefits for all Android users include improved battery life, root-only apps, custom ROMs, overclocking, an end to bloatware, improved performance, and the ability to upgrade your phone when you want. If you aren’t excited at the prospect of any of these things, rooting probably isn’t for you.
Have you tried rooting your Android? Did you have a positive experience? Would you recommend rooting to others, or do you think it’s pointless? Post a comment and share your thoughts.
Article originally published on 3-22-2013.