To root or not: that is the question

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To root or not: that is the question
Rooting, or perhaps jailbreaking, two terms most of us come across sooner rather than later if we own Android or iOS devices. There are tech pandits who swear by the powers bestowed by rooting and yet others speak of its dire consequences.

Before examining the benefits, or lack thereof, let’s clear up a few concepts. Though rooting and jailbreaking are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not synonyms. Rooting relates to Android devices, and is defined as gaining root access. Basically, “it allows you to gain privileged control of your device, overcome limitations that carriers and (manufacturers) put on devices... and also allows you to completely remove and replace the entire operating system of the device” (androidpit.com).

Jailbreaking, on the other hand, is a term reserved for iOS and refers to removing the restrictions put in place by Apple. Jailbreaking lets you install apps from outside the App Store, remove carrier locks, and also use themes and extensions Apple does not support. However, unlike iOS, which is a closed environment, tightly controlled by Apple, Android is open source (so people are free to tinker with it and create their own versions). Android users are free to install apps from non-Google stores anyway. Also, with manufacturers tending to customise the operating system in their own ways, there are many different versions of Android. For the purposes of this article, we shall be talking of rooting Android devices.

So, is it a good thing?

Incensed about the fact that your phone’s manufacturer will not be upgrading your model to the latest jellybean version of Android? If you have a rooted device, this question would be moot. Rooting lets you install what is known as ‘custom ROMs’, a customised version of the OS — perfectly legal, since Android is an open source OS. “A custom ROM can range in definition from some custom code modifications to make Android run better on a device, all the way to changing the homescreen, background services, and default software” (androidauthority.com).

Rooting also gives you more features and greater control over apps, such as controlling permissions, unlocking advanced features of apps or in the OS itself, installing unsupported apps, moving your apps to the SD card. Depending on the custom ROM you have, you could improve battery life and your phone’s performance. You’ll also be able to get rid of all the bloatware your device manufacturer has stuffed in, eating up precious storage space. There are plenty of other advantages — too numerous to list here.

Here come the dragons

And yet, it may not necessarily be the bed of roses it sounds. Rooting is a precise and delicate process, and if you miss a step or do something wrong, you could end up ‘bricking’ your device. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like — your phone could end up about as useful as a brick.

Moreover, manufacturers reserve the right to void your warranty on a rooted device. However, rooting can, in some cases, be reversed so that the makers never know you went down that path in the first place. However, it’s not as simple as pressing an ‘undo’ button; and you could still end up with a brick.

Finally, phone makers put in restrictions on the OS for good reasons — and security is one of them. A rooted phone is more prone to malware, especially if unprotected by an antivirus, because the regular security controls put in place have been bypassed. It is easier for an infected app, drive-by download and malicious link to sneak into your system. You could stand to lose personal data, including contacts, emails and messages, passwords, bank and credit card details, and much more.

In short, to root or not — that is a good question. But ‘no’ is the simple answer, sorry. zz

(Payal Dhar is a freelance

technology writer)

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