The Pros and Cons of Rooting Your Android Phone

smartphone and desk
Was this page helpful?

If you like to tinker with your gadgets, rooting your Android phone can open up a whole new world. While the Android OS had always been very customizable, you'll still run into limitations set by your carrier or by the manufacturer of your phone. Rooting, also known as jailbreaking, lets you access all the settings on your phone, most of which are unreachable on a non-rooted phone. It's a complicated process, though, and if done incorrectly, could render your phone unusable.

When done the right way, though, you can unlock functionality and make your Android work just the way you want it to.

The Advantages of Rooting

In short, rooting gives you more control over your phone. When you root your phone, you can replace the Android OS that came pre-installed and replaces it with another one; these various versions of the Android are called ROMs. Custom ROMs come in all shapes and sizes, whether you're looking for stock Android (just the basics), a newer version of Android that hasn't rolled out to your phone yet, or an entirely different experience.

You can also install "incompatible" apps, remove factory-installed apps that you don't want, and enable features like wireless tethering that may be blocked by your carrier. Verizon blocks tethering from subscribers with unlimited data plans, for example. Tethering means you can use your phone as a wireless hotspot, supplying Internet access to your computer or tablet when you're out of Wi-Fi range.

You can also download apps that may be blocked by your carrier for a variety of reasons.

Have you ever tried to remove a pre-installed app from your phone? These apps, referred to as bloatware, are impossible to remove from a phone that is not rooted. For example, my Samsung Galaxy smartphone came with a few sports-related apps that I have no interest in, but can't remove unless I root it.

On the other side of the coin, there are also many apps made just for rooted phones that let you treat your phone like the computer it is, accessing deep settings so you can tweak your phone's graphics, CPU, and other performance-affecting settings. You can also download an in-depth backup, ad-blocking, and security apps. There are apps that prevent the apps that you're not using from running in the background, which will help make your phone faster. Other apps help you extend battery life. The possibilities are endless.

The Pitfalls

There are also some downsides to rooting, though the benefits are much greater. In most cases, rooting will void your warranty, so it's a better choice if you're past the warranty period or are willing to pay out of pocket for any damage that might otherwise be covered.

In rare cases, you could "brick" your phone, rendering it useless. This is unlikely to happen if you follow rooting instructions closely, but still something to consider. In any case, it's important to backup your phone's data before attempting to root it.

Finally, your phone could be prone to security issues, though you can download robust security apps designed for rooted phones. On the other hand, you'll be unable to download apps in which the developer has blocked access by rooted phones, typically for security or DRM (digital rights management) concerns.

Whatever you decide, it's important to do your research, seek out your options and have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. You may even want to practice on an older phone to ensure you know what you're doing. If you don't need the advanced functionalities outlined here, it may not be worthwhile to take the risks. Like I said, rooting is complicated.