Everywhere we look, there are posts about phones being rooted, the ability to flash alternate ROMs, and more. So why should you root your nice, shiny phone? What are the benefits? Well, that’s what we are here to talk about today. Before we go any further, however – a word of caution: rooting or modifying your phone in any way can cause the device to no longer work, or “brick” it. You are at your own risk, should you choose to root or flash your phone, and we assume no liability for any damages.
What is rooting?
Before we get started, I want to explain what “rooting” is.* When you root your phone, you gain “superuser” privileges to the Android operating system. When you are using a stock device, you have the equivalent of “guest” privileges. If you are familiar with any Linux operating system, you know that the superuser privilege allows you to gain access to administrative rights. This level of access gets you down to the nitty gritty of the OS with no restrictions, lets you make changes to the system, and run scripts that would normally be blocked with a standard user account. As long as they are not encrypted, that is… such as the case of the Droid X, which has an encrypted bootloader. With superuser privileges on an Android phone, you can install programs that need complete access to the OS – such as ROM installers (like ROM Manager), theme modifiers (such as Metamorph), and simple apps like DroCap2, which takes screenshots from the device without having to plug it in to your computer.
While the act of rooting does not do much for an end user, it means the world to a coder or developer. Rooting your phone gives you access to run the applications that developers create that need elevated privileges. Always be careful what you install, though, because the wrong program could take over, or even brick your phone.
So, what are the advantages of rooting your device? Once you have root access and the bootloader is cracked, you can install custom software onto your device. I mentioned ROMs before, and you might be wondering what they are. A “ROM” is the software your phone is running. It is stored in the read-only memory of the device, and is executed after the boot process. Think of a ROM as the OS itself. This is where you can add some features and upgrade others – such as the Froyo (Android 2.2) upgrade. By installing a ROM based off of the Froyo 2.2 software, you gain those features before your device is officially scheduled to receive them. This is great for EOL (End of Life) devices, such as the Droid. While it may still receive a few updates for a short period of time, long term support is not guaranteed. If you look at the T-Mobile G1 , that device is still running strong, thanks to custom ROMs. With ROMs and other add-ons, you can install custom themes as well. The*Ultimate Droid mod is big on using dark themes for their ROMs. I, personally, am running Bugless Beast V0.4 on my Droid, which is a Froyo build. This allowed me to have the new version of Android before it was officially released, or even supported. There are tools, such as ROM Manager, that help make the process of flashing your phone much easier.
As I mentioned above with the Ultimate Droid mod you can install full themes or change just about any graphic you want. There are two ways to do this and that is installing theme packages using installers such as Metamorph or by using the ABD shell in the SDK kit to push the images to the file system. Below are two examples. The first one shows the whole theme applies with the installation of Ultimate Droid. Notice the black notification bar and the different dock icons on the bottom. The second picture was taken on a vanilla install of Bugless Beast V0.4. In this example I used Metamorph to install a few custom icons. The Bluetooth, WiFi, and Signal icons I made and created an installer for them. The battery icon I found on another forums and installed using the same method.
Kernel & Speed
In addition to the visual aspects of rooting your device, you can also update and change other aspects as well. Two main features that are widely changed are the kernel and the baseband. The kernel of a Unix device (such as an Android-powered phone) is the heart of the software. The kernel is the layer of code that handles communication between the hardware and the applications. A lot of developers tweak the kernels for added performance, battery life, and more. Take the original Droid, for instance. The Droid uses the Arm Cortex A8 processor, which is clocked at 550 MHz under standard conditions. Developers, such as the well known ChevyNo1, have made custom kernels which allow you to run your Droid at higher speeds… some at over 1 GHz. Other kernels, however, have been tweaked to conserve battery life by running at slower than stock speeds. It’s all a matter of preference, which is really the entire basis of rooting your device in the first place.
The Baseband, mentioned above as the other major change in mind when rooting, controls the radio for your phone. It is, essentially, what controls the phone’s ability to make and receive calls and data. By changing to updated or fixed basebands, you can try to improve both signal and call performance. If you noticed in the pic above, I am running baseband 43.01P for my Droid.
With everything that’s good, there have to be downsides as well, right? The answer:*absolutely. Due to recovery software for Android, such as Nandroid, there isn’t much that you can’t recover from, should something go wrong. With that being said, there is always the chance that you could “brick” your phone by altering it. This is especially true during the initial rooting process, as well as while flashing the bootloader.
Other than bricking your device, there isn’t much more that is seen in the way of disadvantages. I suppose one other would be that it is not available on every device. It is up to the communities of developers out there to find a way to root the phone and crack the bootloader. As we recently discovered with the Droid X (which has an encrypted bootloader), it’s like the old saying goes… where there’s a will, there’s a way. A developer named ‘Birdman‘, along with other developers, recently found a way to root the Droid X, which is just the beginning. With time, the device will (hopefully) be unlocked and flashable so we can have all the custom goodness.
As you see, there are a number of reasons to root your phone. Each phone is different, so be sure to read over any provided documentation carefully. I was once the type that said “I would never root my Droid!” I though it was pointless, but I can tell you now that I would never go back to stock.
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