Rooting a smartphone sounds like it might involve a plant pot, and it does have one or two horticultural similarities.
A device will expand after being rooted, with offshoots potentially extending in unexpected directions.
However, rooting or jailbreaking a smartphone doesn’t require green fingers.
Instead, it demands bravery – because a rooted device will never be the same again…
Root and branch reform
Jailbreaking or rooting a smartphone bypasses the Android and iOS operating system walled gardens.
It’s possible to access apps which haven’t been officially sanctioned, modifying a phone’s functionality in exciting ways and making it truly unique.
Inevitably, this comes at a cost.
Below, we consider whether the benefits of rooting your smartphone are worthwhile – or if it’s safer to follow recommended best practice.
- Greater customisation. Remember when phones were so homogenous that downloadable ringtones felt liberating?
A rooted phone is to a normal handset what those downloadable-ringtone phones were to the previous generation of one-size-fits-all devices.
You can alter a rooted phone’s screen resolution, change the actions performed by function buttons like the Volume keys, edit all the graphics and even install bespoke fonts.
- No bloatware. Another thing manufacturers are keen to prevent is the deletion of proprietary software, layered on top of the core Android and iOS operating system.
These apps tend to involve lifestyle applications like fitness trackers and accessory stores, and they could deliver more benefits to manufacturers than end users.
Disabling them won’t prevent them consuming system resources and silently reporting user activity – rooting represents the only way to delete these unwanted programs and apps.
- Greater performance. Smartphones run at a speed determined by the manufacturer as representing an optimal balance between performance and battery life.
However, that doesn’t always suit individual users – long-distance travellers might prefer to squeeze every last ounce of battery life from a device by underclocking the CPU.
Conversely, hardcore gamers may wish to increase the processor chip’s clock speed for greater performance and smoother reproduction of high-resolution graphics.
- Unusual software. Don’t assume the apps in the official Android Play and Apple App stores are the only ones in existence.
A smorgasbord of unapproved apps lurk beyond those walled gardens, rejected subjectively (and occasionally dubiously) on grounds of taste, plagiarism, stability or required resources.
Rejected apps frequently deliver worthy benefits – boosting speaker volumes, obliterating pop-up adverts, hibernating apps that would otherwise run all the time, and so forth.
- Programming potential. Apps are normally sealed units, but jailbreaking a phone gives people with sufficient technical knowledge scope to play around with program code.
With the right knowledge, it’s possible to change an app’s homepage graphic, make games harder to play, or edit applications so they perform additional functions.
Naturally, this requires fairly serious coding skills.
- Complexity. Rooting or jailbreaking (these terms are generally applied to Android and iOS devices respectively) a smartphone is no easy feat.
There are three types of rooting: the hardwired tethered and semi-tethered options, or the more practical untethered method for daily use. And they’re all tricky to accomplish.
An untethered jailbreak for an iPhone involves a full data backup, installing a program on a computer, transferring it to the phone, changing settings and then testing the installation.
- Safety. Even if you choose a trusted jailbreaking tool like Cydia Impactor, the unregulated app world is full of malware and spyware masquerading as useful utilities.
Without the scrutiny and supervision provided by Google and Apple, installing programs from beyond an official app store could compromise the device or render it unusable.
Even if the phone is ruined, don’t expect a sympathetic response from the manufacturer or retailer…
- Reduced protection. Jailbreaking or rooting your smartphone immediately invalidates any warranty attached to it.
That remains the case even if the process is rolled back, which can only ever be achieved up to a point.
If the phone is damaged, corrupted, compromised or broken, it’ll have to be binned – few companies will purchase rooted devices, and network operators won’t want to know.
Rooting your smartphone can be transformative, but the loss of manufacturer support and increased malware risks make it inadvisable for devices under contract or warranty.
Rooting is also only recommended for tech-savvy users frustrated with the limitations imposed by their device’s OS.