Before we get too far, what is “rooting”? Rooting refers to gaining access to the “root” user on the phone. Telcos may impose limitations to prevent using the handset in a manner that might challenge their voice plans or put strain on their data network. Root user access also allows for other low-level tasks to be run. Rooting an Android phone is similar to “jail breaking” an iPhone or “unlocking” a Windows Mobile phone.
Some common reasons to root an Android phone include:
The ability to add more home screens (say 5, from the default 3 in Android 1.5 and 1.6);
“Tethering” your 3G internet connection to their laptop computer via USB cable, WiFi, or Bluetooth (using the phone as a modem);
Installing a 3rd party ROM (or “Mod”), including a more recent version of the OS than your telco has provided for the phone;
Backing up all the data and apps on the device;
Being able to apply custom themes;
The ability to install any application (including those “blocked” by your telco), apps that have been “banned” from the Market, and even alternatives to the Market itself;
FLAC lossless audio;
The ability to overclock the processor; and
Enabling enhanced sdcard capabilities such as caching and allowing you to install and run apps on the sdcard (freeing up your internal memory).
There are two primary draw-backs to rooting your Android:
If the rooting process fails you may permanently “brick” your phone, rendering it unusable for anything other than, well, a brick;
Rooting your phone typically voids the manufacturer and telco warranties.
Other drawbacks are more specific to what is done after the device is rooted (burning out the CPU due to overclocking, wearing out the sdcard prematurely due to caching and running apps directly from it, etc.). Additionally, the potential monetary costs that your telco might apply when they see you’ve downloaded several gig of data to your laptop using their 3G or EDGE network might run into thousands of dollars, especially if roaming.
Is Rooting for You?
If you’re a Windows Mobile user that has unlocked their phone in the past, you’ve more than familiar with the risks and should have the technical ability to root your Android. The process on Android is typically much simpler than Windows Mobile phones.
If you have a brand-new Nexus One, Droid, or any other relatively expensive device, you may want to wait until your warranty is nearing its end before you take the plunge. If you have a G1 or similar “first-generation” Android, you may as well take the leap!