To Root or Not to Root Android

Should You Root Your Android Phone?

Nexus phone
Nexus Phones. Courtesy Google

If you've done any Internet searching on the topic of Android, you've most likely run across either forums or articles discussing "rooting" your Android phone. While this article is not intended to show you how to root your phone nor to convince you to or not to root, it is intended to provide an impartial summary of the advantages and disadvantages of rooting an android phone. 

What is "Rooting?"

The Android phone that you have learned to love and enjoy is running an operating system that was designed for commercial and private use.

Like most any operating system, several features have been disabled, either for future use or to prevent the casual user from causing permanent damage to the operating system. "Rooting" is the process in which the limitations are removed and full access is allowed. Once rooted, the Android phone owner will have more control over many settings, features and performance of their phone. Basically, "rooting" means to get to the root of the operating system and to have the ability to make global changes.

Disadvantages

There are two main disadvantages to rooting and Android phone;

  1. Rooting immediately voids your phone's warranty- Once rooted, most phones cannot be serviced under warranty. 
  2. Rooting involves the risk of "bricking" your phone- In essence, a "bricked" phone is no better than carrying around a brick in your pocket. The phone is dead when it has been "bricked." Combine that with the first disadvantage, and you have a now-useless phone that will not be repaired under warranty. 

    Other potential disadvantages, though less severe, are still worthy of consideration;

    1. Poor performance-Though the intention of "rooting" a phone is to give the phone more performance, several users have found that, in their attempts to speed up the phone or add additional features, their phones lost both performance speed and features. Remember that when you "root" your Android phone, you are making changes to the stock operating system.
    1. Viruses-Yes, even phones can get viruses. A common practice that people do with "rooted" phones is to flash their ROM's with custom programs. Whenever you make changes to the code of a software, you run the risk of introducing a virus.

    Advantages

    "Rooting" your Android phone has some benefits, including;

    1. Running special apps - Superuser is an app that can only be run on a rooted Android phone. This allows you to control which apps have access to the "root" system. Rooting also used to be popular for those who wanted to tether their phone before phone carriers allowed access. 
    2. Freeing up memory-When you install an app on your phone, it is stored on the phone's memory. "Rooting" allows you to move installed applications to your SD card, thus freeing up system memory for additional files or apps.
    3. Custom ROM's-This is the most powerful feature of "rooted" phones. There are hundreds of custom ROM's that can do anything from speeding up the processing speed of your phone to changing the entire look and feel of your phone.

    Summary

    The decision to root your Android phone is one that should not be rushed into. Though the allure of having an unlocked phone is powerful, having a bricked phone is, trust us, not very much fun.

    Since this article was originally published, some phones are now released in "developer editions" that allow for easier rooting - and no warranty. 

    Portions of this article were updated by Marziah Karch.