To Root or Not to Root an Android Phone

Here are the pros and cons of rooting your Android device

If you've done any internet research on the topic of Android phones, you most likely ran across either forums or articles discussing rooting your device. But what is rooting, exactly, and should you do it? This is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of rooting an Android phone.

The information in this article should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

What Is Rooting?

The Android phone runs an operating system designed for commercial and private use. Like most operating systems, several features are disabled. Phone manufacturers lock their devices to prevent you from unintentionally damaging the phone or exposing the phone to security risks. They also lock devices to prevent you from removing apps they installed, or from switching carriers. Rooting removes all limitations and grants full access to the operating system.

Rooting an HTC Hero Android device
Andrew Mason/CC by 2.0/Flickr

Once your Android device is rooted, you have more control over the settings, features, and performance of the phone. You're not limited to what the phone manufacturer says you can do with the device. Instead, you can do anything the device's hardware allows. Basically, rooting grants administrative (or root in Linux and Android terms) privileges in the operating system and the ability to make global changes.

Disadvantages of Rooting Your Android Phone

These are the primary disadvantages of rooting your Android phone:

  • Voids the phone warranty. After a phone is rooted, it cannot be serviced under the warranty. 

Learn about your right to repair electronics.

  • Risk of "bricking" a phone. A bricked phone is completely unusable.
  • Breaks the phone contract. This depends on how you purchased the phone. If you lease the device or make payments, you're definitely breaking your contract with your carrier by rooting it. 
  • Poor performance. The intention of rooting a phone is to improve your phone's performance. However, some users who root their phones to speed it up or add additional features find their devices lose both performance speed and features. 
  • Viruses. Even phones get viruses. A common practice with rooted phones is to flash ROMs with custom programs. When you install an app or ROM from an unreputable source, you risk installing malicious programs.

Advantages of Rooting Your Android Phone

Rooting your Android phone offers benefits that include:

  • Running special apps. Rooting allows the phone to run apps that it cannot run otherwise. Many of these apps give greater control over the phone, like more customization and battery management options.
  • Removing pre-installed apps. When you root a phone, you're able to remove unwanted pre-installed apps from it.
  • Freeing up memory. When you install an app on your phone, it's stored in the device's memory. Rooting lets you move installed applications to an SD card to free up system memory for additional files or apps.
  • Custom ROMs. This is the most powerful feature of rooted phones. There are hundreds of custom ROMs that increase a phone's processing speed and change the look and feel.
  • Extended Phone Life. Rooting a phone allows you to install custom ROMs and remove bloatware. It also lets you install certain apps that require root, many of which manage phone resources. Because the Android ROM community develops new releases for Android long after manufacturers stop supporting a device, you can keep getting updates.
Rooted HTC Magic
brownpau/CC by 2.0/Flickr

Rooting vs. Unlocking

It should be noted that rooting an Android phone is not the same as unlocking it. Unlocking a phone allows it to be used on other carriers. For a time, it was illegal to unlock a phone—even if it was no longer under contract with a carrier. That changed in 2014 when the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was signed into law. This law permits any cellphone or smartphone owner to unlock their phone and move to another carrier if the phone contract's requirements are satisfied.