Android Customisation Guide – Basic Information – Part 0

What are the benefits of rooting your phone?

Despite being a fairly “open” mobile operating system, Android phones come with a few limitations. These are largely safety mechanisms used to provide more security and to help noivce users avoid messing up their devices. These safety mechanisms are limitations on how users get to use a device they own.

Rooting allows users to lift these limitations and use the device in anyway they want to and not how the manufacturer wants them to.

Gaining superuser permissions or, as it is more popularly known, rooting your Android smartphone/tablet means obtaining “superuser” rights and permissions to your Android’s software.

With these elevated user privileges, you gain the ability to load custom software (ROM’s), install custom themes, increase performance, increase battery life, and the ability to install software that would otherwise cost extra money (ex: WiFi tethering).

Basically once you root your device, you will be able to use more powerful software than the “non-root” software and in the process have a whole lot more control over your device than you would without rooting.

Advantages

 
Custom Software (ROM’s)
 
A “ROM” basically the phone’s operating system. There are a large number of great custom ROM’s available that can make your Android device look and perform drastically different. For example, if you’re stuck with a device that’s on an older version of Android and isn’t getting any of the newer updated versions of Android you could load a custom ROM that uses the latest version of Android.

Custom ROM’s range from basic performance tweaks on the manufactures standard interface to entirely new UI’s. There are a huge number of ROM’s available each with their own advantages so it can take some research and testing to find the one that best suits your needs.
 
Install programs that need SU access

One of the biggest advantage’s that rooting provides is the ability to install powerful applications that require super user access. Examples of this:

Root Explorer Lets you access and edit system folders on your phone

Market Enabler Allowss access Google Play in other countries, which is really handy for grabbing region specific apps

SetCPU Lets you speed up or slow down your processor for more performance/battery life

ProxyDroid Allows you to connect to Wi-Fi networks which have proxy settings
 
Superior Backup And Restore

Android’s built-in backup and restore functionality isn’t great. When it works its fairly barebones and lot of the time it simply doesnt work. There are a number of third party alternatives that do a much better job and the best of them require root access.

Titanium Backup By far the best backup utility available on Androud. It lets you backup all of your apps and settings locally as well as on the cloud. It also lets you “freeze” various apps and system processes.

ClockworkMod Recovery Lets you make “nandroid” backups which are a complete image of the device. You can restore to one of these images without losing anything.
 
Custom Themes

Themes are basically the graphics that appear on your Android device. Rooting your device allows you the ability to fully customize just about every graphic on your device. You can load custom themes that totally change the look and feel of your device.
 
Kernel, speed, and battery

There are many custom ROM’s and apps available for rooted devices that will allow you to drastically improve the performance (speed) and also extend battery life on your device. A lot of developers tweak the kernels (layer of code that handles communication between the hardware and software) for added performance, battery life, and more.
 
Baseband

Rooting your device grants you the ability to update the Basebands on your smartphone. The Baseband is what controls the radio (frequencies) on your device. By updating to the latest Basebands, you can potentially improve both the signal and quality of your phone calls.
 
In terms of disadvantages, after you root OTA (Over the Air) updates generally dont work and if they do work they reset root status. This shouldnt really be a concern though as you’ll likely be on a Custom ROM (the majority of which are updated far more regularly than manufacturers or google’s ROM’s). There is also a very slim chance of bricking your phone. The risk is fairly small and even if you do fuck up you can usually recover from it. But its something to keep in mind.

There is an increased risk of unknowingly installing malicious software when you root an Android device. Root access circumvents the security restrictions that are put in place by the Android OS. There isn’t really an effective way to tell just what the application intends to do with that “superuser” power. You are putting a lot of trust into the developer’s hands. In most cases, these applications are open source and the community can take a look at the source code to assess the risk. But, nevertheless, the risk is there. Fortunately, malicious software on rooted devices hasn’t really been a problem as of yet (and there are anti virus options available if youre worried about it).

Lastly rooting voids the warranty for most phones. For most phones you can unroot and go back to the manufacturers stock firmware.
 

What are the benefits of a custom ROM?

 
A stock ROM is the version of the phone’s operating system that comes with your phone when you buy it.

A custom ROM is a fully standalone version of the OS, including the kernel (which makes everything run), apps, services, etc – everything you need to operate the device, except it’s customized by someone in some way.

So what does the “customized” part mean? Since Android is open source, developers are free to take stock ROMs, modify them, strip them of garbage, optimize them, add things, and pretty much do whatever their imagination and skills allow.
 

Advantages

 
Remove Operator/Manufacturere branding and bloatware

Get rid of all the usless apps and advertising cruft that the operator or manufacturer bundle with the phone. This frees up memory and system resources (as well as epxunging the foul sight of Vodafone from the phone)
 
Tethering

Custom ROMs usually provide you with the ability to tether without a tethering plan. It is often the only reason people want to install a custom ROM. While this does void your carrier’s terms of service. It is essentially stealing from your carrier and I do not recommend doing it without a tethering plan.
 
Battery life improvements

With root access, you have the ability to calibrate your battery, which usually will fix any issues you’re having with battery life. Some custom ROMs also under clock the CPU to reduce battery usage. If battery life improvement is all you’re interested in, I recommend that you try JuiceDefender. It’s an app that manages your wireless connections and disables them when your phone is locked to save battery life.
 
Apps

Some apps require root access. A good example of this is DroidWall, which lets you keep apps from using data while on 3G. This is great if you’re on a limited data plan and getting close to your limit.
 
Over clocking and under clocking

You can use an app, such as SetCPU, to over clock your phone, giving it better performance, but sacrificing battery life. This may be something you want to do if you’re having trouble running a game you really want to play. Some Custom ROMs are already configured to over clock your phone. You may also be interested in under clocking your phone. Under clocking reduces performance but increases battery life.
 
Newer Android versions
You can install a custom ROM that includes the newest version of Android and use it long before the official update is released.
 

Disadvantages

 
You’ll void your warranty

The manufacturer or third-party warranty company will not be willing to repair a damaged phone that has been rooted or has a custom ROM installed. While the ROM may not be the cause of the issue, your warranty will still be voided.
 
During the process of rooting, something may go wrong

You could brick your phone. There are ways to unbrick it, but you could potentially need a new phone. Without your warranty (you just voided it), you will have to pay full retail price for a replacement.
 
Custom ROMs update frequently

You may end up having to update every few days, sometimes even having to wipe your data and restore it later. This can be a good thing, because bugs are getting fixed, but it can also be annoying to have to update that frequently. You can largely avoid this by just sticking with Stable rather than Nightly builds of Custom ROMS. As well as that the major custom ROM’s now have non-destructive update processes.
 

How to root your phone/How to install a custom ROM

 
Your best bet here is just to simply google how to do it. There are numerous videos and guides out there for nearly every Android device on the market. A good place to start is the XDA Developers forums. Its here that the majority of android development happens and theres forums dedicated to a huge range of android devices and threads for all manner of custom roms, kernels, tweaks, etc. Back in the main article I link to the relevant thread for each Custom ROM, all of which have instructions on how to load that ROM.
 

What’s the best custom ROM?

 
This is almost entirely subjective. It depends on what phone you have, which custom ROM’s are available, what you want out of them, which ones you like, etc. So in short there is no easy answer.

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