Rooting Android and installing a custom ROM – Part 1 – Overview

The quick recommendation: There are some good benefits to installing a custom ROM, but there are dangers as well, only go into it if you are confident in what you are doing.

The longer answer:

I’ve broken this guide up into three parts:
– Part 1: Overview of Rooting (this page)
– Part 2: The process of rooting and installing a custom ROM: https://22point.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/rooting-android-part-2/
– Part 3: My experience of using a device which has been rooted: https://22point.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/rooting-android-part-3/

Android devices come pre-setup with the Android operating system, possibly tweaked by the hardware manufacturers or mobile service provider, with the end user needing only to setup their Google account, download apps and personalise things like wallpapers and ringtones to their own tastes. The Android system has certain security features in place designed to protect both the data on the device (for instance, apps are “sandboxed” which means they run in their own section of memory and cannot tamper with other apps) and the ability of the system to remain functional and stable (for instance, you generally can’t disable or uninstall the phone dealing features on a mobile phone – and you can’t even see or access many of the system files).

“Rooting” an Android device is the process of removing these restrictions. This then gives the user access to basically every file and feature of the device.

 

Advantages:

Some of the key advantages to rooting your device are:
– You can install newer versions of Android than your manufacturer might make available.
– You can overclock your phone to make it run faster, or underclock it which will make the battery last longer between charges.
– You can access more features and do things like backup all your apps (even paid ones) and every file on your phone
– Edit the Hosts file to block ads and malicious web sites.
– Individually tweak the permissions granted to each app.
– More control over things like what pressing the home button does (you can set it so that long pressing the home button starts OK Google for instance which might be comfortable for someone coming from iOS used to using that to bring up Siri).
– More detailed information about your phone and about what processes are doing and using.

From my low vision point of view, I was particularly interested in:
– Being able to adjust the system font size beyond the “huge” size Android offers.
– Adjusting the screen resolution to make everything bigger (such as the status bar).

Other advantages for a low vision user can be:
– Upgrade an earlier model device to receive the accessibility features, eg Explore by touch for Talkback users after Android 4.1, or magnification gestures from version 4.2
– Replace custom manufacturer features which are inaccessible to Talkback – eg the lock screen or dialer components on some handsets.
– Removing ads from web pages can make the screen less cluttered and easier to see (there are plug ins for some of the browsers which enable this without rooting).
– Assign custom actions to physical buttons to make features easier to get to.

 

The dangers of rooting:

 

Obviously, unlocking access to all of the devices features comes with certain risks. The main ones being:
– The possibility of making your device inoperable – either through the install not working correctly or something else going wrong. Rooting may potentially also void your warranty, or at least cause lengthy arguments with your network provider if things do go wrong and you ask them to fix it.
– Rooting is a fairly technical task and there is no easy, one button installation process. It’s not something the majority of users would want to attempt on their own. Ideally it’s best to pay to have it professionally done, or have a tech-savvy friend with you (a pair of good eyes doesn’t hurt in any case), and be willing to be without your device for a few days if you do get really stuck.
– Malicious software. Even if you are careful about only installing well known software from the Google Play store, use security software and block known malicious sites via the hosts file, it’s always possible a trusted web site could be hacked, or you may open a seemingly innocuous E-Mail attachment from someone you know. A malicious app with Super user privileges (even on a rooted phone, apps don’t have access to everything automatically and should prompt you for permission to access super user privileges) could do a lot of damage, even while remaining undetected.
– Any change you make to your device may cause apps not to work, if they don’t anticipate the change. EG when I adjusted the resolution / pixel density I found that it caused problems in a number of apps.
– When you install a custom ROM, EVERY feature is replaced – many things will behave exactly the same, or hopefully have new, improved features, however be prepared that if you really liked the Samsung quick toggle buttons, or the calculator that came on your LG, you will need to find a replacement if the ROM you install works differently.

Coming up in Part 2 – the process of Rooting: https://22point.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/rooting-android-part-2/.

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