The Ability to Root Your Android Device is Awesome – and Unimportant

Android DeviceI am the proud owner of a rooted Samsung Galaxy Nexus with CyanogenMod installed. I initially decided to root my device not because I needed more flexibility or “control” over my Android experience, but because there was a limitation on the phone’s volume that made it difficult for me to hear the ringtone. Beyond the benefit of a louder speaker, keeping the phone updated and being late to the party for virtually every major OS update has soured the experience a bit.

I pride myself on having at least some advanced knowledge of software design. I’m no programmer, though it’s my job to understand what it is I’m reviewing. In the case of the world of Android rooting, I’ve found grasping the fundamentals a bit difficult.

Understanding the difference between a bootloader and a ROM manager isn’t something the average user is quick to grasp. Neither is the often complex set of instructions that goes into doing something as simple as migrating from Android 4.1 to 4.2. It’s not that this process is always complex, or that understanding rooting is a privilege reserved for an elite group of users. It’s simply a process that is understandably too complex and unnecessary for the average user.

It seems like you can’t pull up an Android comment thread without someone bragging about the fact that they rooted their device. Yes, it’s pretty neat that you’re able to do that, but the reason I keep hearing for the rooting is that it makes it easier to customize the OS to meet the needs of the user. I hear that from non-developers and developers alike, and I can see the appeal. What leaves me (and a lot of users) scratching our heads is the fact that the same things are said about Android as a whole. If Android is really so much more customizable out of the box than iOS, why is rooting considered such a critical process?

Most users couldn’t care less about tweaking the RAM profile of their device. Much like folks who jailbreak iOS devices (a process that can make iOS significantly more customizable), the Android rooting crowd is still a minority.

Just because rooting makes things more interesting for you doesn’t mean it’s a process in which everyone should take part.

Like many Galaxy Nexus users, I’m a fan of receiving the latest updates from Google as soon as they’re available. To my surprise, Android 4.2 was sent as an over-the-air update to the greater community of Galaxy Nexus users today. Sadly, I was unable to make the upgrade myself because the update wasn’t available as a compatible ROM… at least not yet.

I know there’s probably going to be a swarm of comments letting me know just how easy everything is, how misunderstood I am of the whole rooting process, and how absolutely useful the act of rooting your device really is. Let’s be honest here for a moment, though. If you’re one of those people so inclined to point that out, then take a step back and consider what kind of user you really are. I’m speaking on behalf of the average user — the silent majority on the Android forums who have never logged in or even read a single thread. The folks who buy Android devices and call them “Droids” no matter what brand or model they are.

These are the majority of the users out there. For them, the version of the OS that comes with their phone and is updated through regular OTA means is more than sufficient. The Android we keep hearing about being far more advanced than any other mobile OS out there is an excellent choice out of the box. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway.

Being able to root your device is excellent. It’s a splendid way to stretch your legs and take advantage of some of the hidden features of the OS. Keep in mind though, it’s not for everyone.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/Phryyyk Jake Cumberpatch

    I rooted my Galaxy Nexus for the exact same reason, the volume, but remaining on stock ROMs. Since then (around February) I have done nothing really requiring root. I update to 4.2 yesterday from the OTA update, but it was a right pain, namely because of the multiuser SD changes. After I did it, I honestly considered not flashing the superuser .zip I had, just so I could stay up to date the classic way, which on a Nexus is no bother whatsoever, we’re first in line. As it turns out, you can adjust the volume without root these days so it all seems a bit wasted. However, if I had a non Nexus device, such as the One X or S3 I would be more interested and proactive in the ROM department as I don’t have a lot of love for the manufacturer skins, some features yes , but skins no. Ultimately, rooting or jailbreaking is completely pointless if you have no problems with your device that can’t be fixed with an app or basic update. I am a proud Linux user and so am experienced with terminal workflows, but what I went through the past 3 days (some of which was my fault, but mostly conflicting file systems) was too much.

  • allen

    I have never rooted my phone, mostly because of the problem with OTA updates. I have noticed as I am getting a bit older, I find that these things are great as a thought experiment or as a fun project, but practically speaking offer little real return for a big investment, in time, effort and invonvience, especially for the average user. Im glad there is a huge community around this, but I hate that I get looked down upon, or called an iPhone fan boy in denial. I love the android platform, and I have enough faith in my choice in phone manufacture and carrier that I will get a good experience. Maybe not 100% but 90% there with 0% effort is pretty good in my opinion.

  • Shawn W Dunn

    I’ve rooted and dropped cyanogenmod on every android phone I’ve had, for the simple reason that I hate carrier installed cruft. If they were just getting pure Google Experience Android, I wouldn’t bother with it.

    My Kindle Fire, on the other Hand, is rooted, so I can get to the Play Store, and grab a few apps that Amazon doesn’t allow in their marketplace….. (Stuff like Connectbot, and the ability to install Swype), but that being said, the Kindle Fire is a perfectly usable device without doing so….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nate-W-Thibodeau/100000958644417 Nate W Thibodeau

    There is a difference you failed to distinguish. The is a big difference in simply rooting a device and flashing a custom rom. Rooting is not having to flash a custom rom. You can simply root the stock software, remove or freeze what you want and still use apps that need root access. I have found this the most stable and reliable on my SGS3. The stock software is so much better than the stock rom that came on my old phone, so I see no need to flash custom software.

    The only thing I did beside root is flash a app called DSP Manger, which is essential for my very picky ears for listening to music. Along with with PlayerPro(from the market) SGS3 stock plays music just as good quality as with custom software, which is what I really wanted. Sure, I don’t have all the super customization options that I would with a custom rom like Cyanogen or MIUI…but I know the software is reliable and will work….minimal issues and bugs…

    My old Samsung Fascinate, which never got an update beyond 2.3…I had custom roms flashed to it, but I had to deal with odd bugs and behavior, and eventually the os slowed way down and became unusable after a time…but that was a 2yr or so old phone…the hardware isn’t quite meant to handle the newer software.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Ryan Matthew Pierson

      Failed is a very harsh word. Once you get over the hump of rooting the device (something that requires a little know-how) flashing a ROM is a negligible practice. I wanted to call out the heart of the matter. People brag, very openly and quickly, that they root their Android device. It’s almost like the Starbucks status symbol cup when overpriced coffee first became popularized. I’m simply pointing out that it’s cool to be able to do, but it really isn’t an important ability in the grand scheme of things. Android is popular because it’s inherently customizable. That’s what matters. You can jailbreak an iPhone and customize it pretty easily, too.

      • OneOfOne

        when you root an android phone it stays rooted because google doesnt care. when you jailbreak an iphone it WILL become unjailbroken as soon as apple send you a software update because apple actively attacks the jailbreak and always has. cyanogen mod is better than just about any android carrier supported version and I would be willing to bet that the aosp/kp version of android is better too. better because there is no carrier or hw manufacturer overlay on top of android. and that means freedom to enjoy android in its best form. there is no valid argument against freedom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1430310093 Wolfee Darkfang

    I’ve been wanting to do this to my LG Optimus Q which uses android 2.3.4 for a while, but out of fear I would lose my phone number, service, or my apps, I haven’t so far. I don’t even know what I would be dealing with.

  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    I’ve had a similar problem with rooted and modded Android phone. In my case, there’s not update of Android from the Gingerbread operating system it’s running, but there are some things that have me thinking I might want to return to the original, unrooted version of Android that originally came with the phone, bloatware and all. Plus, by rooting the phone I won’t be able to return it to the brick and mortar store I purchased it from, as I’m having problems with the device. (Well, there are ways to get back to the original unrooted state, but I’m not certain my conscious can handle it. I may’ve messed up the phone myself during the rooting process.)