To Root or Not to Root?

If you’ve had an Android device for a while, you’ll have heard of rooting: breaking certain safeguards placed on your device so that you have complete control over the underlying software and operating system. Some Android users swear by it, and tell you that you’re not getting the full Android experience if you don’t root; others are perfectly happy with their phones in the state they bought them, and see no reason to change.

There are advantages and disadvantages to rooting, so in this article I’d like to help you answer the question: should you root?

Reasons Against Rooting

You Will Void Your Warranty

If your device is under warranty, and it starts overheating or repeatedly restarting or suffering any other type of malfunction, you can have it repaired or replaced by the manufacturer. If it’s a phone and you’re having trouble with calls, text messages, or mobile Internet, your network provider should cover you in the same way.

However, if you root your device (or, at least, if you root your device and then install a custom operating system, as most who root do), you’ll void your warranty, and your manufacturer and network provider are both entitled to refuse to fix any problems.

Okay, sure, you can often remove all traces of having rooted, so that no-one would be able to tell that you’d done so. My point is, according the contract that you agreed to by buying the device, if something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

You Might Brick Your Device

If you don’t follow the instructions for rooting your device to the letter, you’ll “brick” it — that is, make it completely unusable, so that it can do no more than an expensive, shiny brick.

Rooting is not a complicated procedure, and can be done in a few minutes with a few clicks. As long as you’re careful, you shouldn’t need to worry. But the potential risk if you do something wrong is huge.

You’ll Lose Your OTA Updates

Every now and then, your device receives over-the-air updates to its version of Android: these might be little bug fixes, or they might be a huge upgrade, like from Eclair to Froyo.

If you’ve rooted your phone, then trying to install any these updates will cause you to lose root — and you will not be able to re-root until someone figures out how to do that for the new version you just upgraded to.

Reasons For Rooting

You’ll Have More Customization Options

Rooting allows you to install a custom ROM — that is, a custom version of the Android operating system. For example, it’s possible to install HTC’s Sense UI ROM on a stock Nexus One.

Some developers have created their own custom ROMs, like CyanogenMod. Others then create new themes for these ROMs, which can totally revamp the way the device looks, acts, and feels. Stock Android already allows for a lot of customization, but this takes it to the next level.

You Can Increase Performance or Battery Life

Different ROMs have different benefits. CyanogenMod focuses on improving the performance, pushing the phone’s hardware to make it run as quickly and smoothly as possible. Oxygen, on the other hand, helps the battery last a lot longer.

Once rooted, you’ll also be able to alter this yourself. For example, an app called SetCPU lets you alter the speed of the CPU under certain circumstances; you might decide to slow the CPU speed down when the device is low on battery, or overnight.

You’ll Have More Features

We’ve covered clearing storage space and taking screenshots on Android.AppStorm before. Each of these involves a tedious, long-winded set of steps, and the methods for clearing space don’t really give a full solution.

Once you’ve rooted your device, you’ll be able to completely move apps to the SD card — including their Dalvik cache files, and apps like Flash Player — leaving you plenty of room on your internal storage. You’ll also be able to install and use apps that let you take screenshots directly on your phone, rather than having to plug it in to a computer and fiddle around with debug software.

The Choice is Yours

You’re fully informed; now you have to make the decision. In the next week, we’ll be posting our first guide to rooting. Will you use it?