Android smartphones are becoming more popular, accounting for about 56.1 percent of smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2012 [source: eWeek]. But not all Droids are the same. Many manufacturers or carriers shape the Android OS to suit their own purposes, often limiting the way you can use the device. With a bit of geek magic, though, you can root your phone and take full control.
Rooting is the process of obtaining root access on your phone. Ultimately, it means you can do whatever you want with your phone instead of being hamstrung by the default OS. It’s basically the same thing as jailbreaking, most often used in reference to Apple products, which are generally tougher to root.
Why go to the effort of rooting? In essence, rooting is a fresh start. Instead of being stuck with lame default permissions, you’ll have privileged, administrator-level access that lets you directly access the flash-memory chip inside your phone. Thus empowered, you can wipe your phone clean and start anew, with the OS you prefer, only the apps that you like, improved backup capabilities and much more.
Instructions for rooting your Android phone are all over the Web, but keep in mind that in doing so, you’ll typically void your phone’s warranty and in some cases violate the terms of service with your service provider. Because Android is now so popular and techniques are so well-established, rooting has become a fairly safe process. With many popular models, you can simply use a one-click app, calledSuperOneClick, to finish the job.
Your rooted phone also allows you to install and use root-only apps of all kinds. To help you make the most of your rooted fun, we’ve picked 10 of our favorite root-only apps.
It's not really an app, but CyanogenMod is one of the most popular tools in a rooter's toolbox. CyanogenMod actually replaces the firmware, or ROM, in your phone's flash memory, providing a new foundation that strips away bloatware (those aggravating, preinstalled apps that you never use and can't remove) and adds all sorts of new functions. In a word, it's a stripped OS with some of the most desirable apps built in.
CyanogenMod offers up a sleek graphical interface that's highly customizable; you can choose from numerous interface themes that give your phone a splashy look. It lets you play back FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) music, which audiophiles prefer to lower-quality MP3 files.
With CyanogenMod, you'll have integrated options for overclocking your CPU, which basically means you can squeeze faster performance out of your device. In addition, it offers built-in, incognito Web browsing, gesture-based screen locking and a graphic sound equalizer.
In short, CyanogenMod provides a solid framework for any rooted Android phone. Then you can add and mix different combinations of apps as you see fit.
Just as with any computer, a CPU is the heart of your Android smartphone. Install SetCPU and you'll be the equivalent of a digital heart doctor, able to tweak the CPU in myriad ways.
SetCPU is one of the most powerful rooted apps you'll find. Using this app, you can actually control your CPU's settings to maximize its efficiency and speed, depending on your current usage. If you're really busy multitasking and you need maximum possible processing speeds, SetCPU helps you overclock the CPU to squeeze every bit of performance from the chip. Or, when your phone is idle, the app drops the CPU power to conserve battery life.
You don't have to fiddle with SetCPU constantly; just set up profiles for various usage patterns and then click to activate them when necessary.
Factory settings lock down a smartphone's file system. Entire folders are totally inaccessible to you, meaning there's no way for you to alter or move all sorts of files. By rooting your phone, you have the access -- now you just need an app to make sense of it all. That's where Root Explorer comes in handy.
With Root Explorer, you have a user-friendly graphical interface with which you'll navigate the nether regions of your phone's file system. You can copy, paste and delete single or multiple files at a whim, or extract and create compressed files when you need to. Root Explorer allows you to send files via e-mail or Bluetooth, search for files, create bookmarks and more. It's everything that you'll need to manage files neatly and quickly.
Titanium Backup might be the single most important app you install on your rooted device. It also provides priceless peace of mind, so that when your phone dies in a tragic, toilet-drowning incident, you can easily restore all of your data to a brand-new device.
In its default mode, the app backs up all of your data to your phone's SD card. But connect it to a Dropbox account, and you'll be able to push all of your data, apps and even system settings into an online lockbox. Then, in the event of a data disaster, your critical system setup and information will be secure and ready for installation to a new phone.
Don't think of this app as optional. It's a necessity, primarily because when you're constantly altering and tweaking a rooted phone, there's an increased chance of causing a snafu that results in data loss. By backing up, you'll add a layer of safety for your data and possibly save your sanity, too.
Ads are the bane of every smartphone aficionado. They clutter your phone's already crammed display, and they make some apps downright infuriating to use. With Adfree installed, however, you'll nix many ads altogether.
Adfree not only puts the brakes on many browser-based advertisements, but it also kills ads that are incorporated directly into apps. Its developers work this magic by continually updating Adfree's database of known ads. Thus informed, Adfree halts irritating ads at a system level, before you ever set annoyed eyes on them.
Smartphone themes are one of the easiest ways to make your smartphone visually unique. And with Metamorph, you're armed with the ability to customize just about every aspect of your phone's graphical interface.
Here's just one example: Say you're tired of your phone's painfully boring battery power level indicator. Download a new Metamorph theme, and you'll be able to install a new battery indicator that better fits your visual aesthetic.
Or, you can install a far-reaching theme that changes an entire swath of visual elements in one stroke. From colors to icons, new, user-created themes are always available for download, so that when you're in an artistic state of mind, you can play fashion designer for your phone.
Wireless Tether for Root Users
Your smartphone has lickety-split data-transfer speeds that let you play with streaming music, video and other data-heavy applications. It's too bad you can't somehow share that data connection with a laptop or other device.
With Wireless Tether for Root Users, you can. This app turns your phone into an ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) wireless hotspot that shares your Internet connection. Then, for example, you can connect your laptop to your phone via Bluetooth or WiFi and start surfing on a big screen instead of your phone.
You can't expect broadband-level performance from this kind of setup, of course. But the flexibility and adaptability of Wireless Tether means Internet access in places that have never before seen a WiFi signal.
CacheMate for Root Users
Just like a full-size laptop or desktop computer, your smartphone's programs generate a lot of temporary files. After days, weeks and months, those temp files really start to pile up, causing inefficiencies that might slow down your phone's performance to an exasperating crawl.
With CacheMate for Root Users, you'll wipe your phone's slate clean of those temporary files. You'll undoubtedly have more storage space as a result, and you may see a significant boost in overall responsiveness and speed, too. Better yet, you don't have to remember to run CacheMate; you can simply schedule it to perform its cleanup tasks automatically.
Sure, WiFi access is just about everywhere. But many times, those WiFi hotspots are anything but private, so connecting your smartphone to them could reveal your information to any hackers that might be lurking. Install SSH Tunnel, though, and you'll be much more secure.
With SSH Tunnel, you'll be able to create an SSH (Secure Shell session) that builds a so-called tunnel as you send and receive data. Although your data itself isn't encrypted, the tunnel it passes through is. That means your e-mail login password is safe from mischievous eyes, and no one will be able to nab the credit card number you used for an online purchase, either.
With great power comes great responsibility. Rooting your phone means taking responsibility for the apps you install and making sure that malicious programs don't have administrator-level access to your phone. To that end, SuperSU will play app watchdog.
Install SuperSU and every time one of your apps makes a request for root-level access to your smartphone's OS, you'll see a pop-up notification. Then you'll be able to allow or deny that app's root access. The permissions-management process is easy. You can save the choices you make so you don't have to repeat your selections each time an app goes to work. The end result is a safer, more secure smartphone.
Now that you've read about 10 of our favorite rooted Android apps, you know that your smartphone has a lot of untapped potential. By rooting your phone, you unlock a world of digital possibilities that begs to be explored. With a little time, you'll find more and more apps that fit into your fully customized, rooted scheme, and you'll have a smartphone that's more powerful and more fun than any factory-configured device could ever be.
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I've been an Android user for several years now, and in spite of my rather geeky background, I've always resisted the call of rooting. Writing this story, however, inspired me to give it a shot.
Thanks to a massive amount of thorough, step-by-step instructions that are available online, I found the rooting process pretty painless. In less than 45 minutes, I was installing root-only apps to a squeaky-clean phone free of frustrating bloatware and other unnecessary and downright stupid software. Not only did my device run faster, but I had more control over which apps I wanted to see, and when.
Considering that I use my phone all day, every day, rooting was definitely a good investment of my time and energy. Plus, I get the satisfaction of knowing that it's set up for my personal tastes and not those of my wireless provider.
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- Purdy, Kevin. "Five Great Reasons to Root Your Android Phone." Lifehacker.com. Aug. 21, 2009. (May 28, 2012) http://lifehacker.com/5342237/five-great-reasons-to-root-your-android-phone
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