Rooting your phone? A few things to think about – Android customization

by: Darcy LaCouveeDecember 17, 2015
1K

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie

Our Android customization series has, sometimes painstakingly, dedicated itself to non-root tools, tips and tricks to get the most out of your Android device. Today that changes. Last week we showed you how to replace a worn out USB port or headphone jack on a Nexus 7 tablet. That same tablet has now been rooted and we are ready to explore with you this new world of customization.

We will simply be working with a rooted device, we have not installed a custom ROM. We do not actually plan to change the installed OS at all, at least not for now.

Nexus 7 Fastboot bootloader unlocked grouper

Before we go too far, as far as the world of rooting your Android device goes, this is an article for beginner’s. Just a few tips and tricks to help you with the rooting process.

Heralding in a new age for Android customization, join us for a quick overview of root, and a few first things you might like to do once you’ve rooted.

Before we begin

The ability to obtain root access is different for most devices, and sometimes not even available, please check that your device has a known and stable root method before you proceed here today. You will be required to download and install an app on your device, a program on a connected PC or both.

We will be working with a Nexus device for our root projects moving forward, our 2012 Nexus 7 that we fixed last week. We rooted it using the Nexus Root Toolkit by WugFresh. This is an application that installs on a PC, then we simply connect our Nexus device via USB cable and follow the provided instructions. From there, we installed TWRP Recovery so that we could flash Xposed.

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie

Today is all about sharing our experience with the root process, a few tips and tricks to help you get through it as best possible.

Disclaimer: Root is an advanced method within Android that gives you permissions to perform actions on your device that are not otherwise possible. These abilities allow you and your installed apps to perform actions on your device that can prove detrimental to your device. Please proceed with caution and understand that you are doing so at your own risk, we will not be held responsible if your device encounters issues. It is possible that you may brick your device, rendering it completely unusable, please be careful.

Also, unless your carrier/manufacturer states otherwise, rooting your device invalidates your warranty. You’ve been warned.

To learn how to root your device, check out some of our tutorials from days past, they are a little older, but the info remains true today:

Should I root my Android device?
How to root your Android device
13 best root apps for Android

Tips when rooting your device

If you’ve made it this far expecting to learn how to root your device, please hit those links above. We do not want to get caught up on the root process in this customization series, we just want to get on with using root to get the most out of our devices.

As I literally just rooted this Nexus 7, a few of the hiccups are fresh in my mind, just little things that I’m hoping will help you as you get started.

Bootloader, Root, Recovery, ROMs and more

banner-galaxy-s3-sch-i535-unlock-bootloader-120828

OK, let’s start with some basic vocabulary. Please forgive me for this, I am about to explain some really advanced stuff in a really simple way, I may be technically inaccurate in these explanations, but only in the hopes of making it easier to understand.

Bootloader. In an attempt to keep this really simple, let’s call the Bootloader the BIOS of your Android device. If your Bootloader is locked, you will not be able to make any base level changes to your device. You’ll need to unlock your Bootloader before you can root your device, for example.

Root, as mentioned above, is simply the process of granting yourself elevated privileges on your Android device. If you are looking to delete some of those nasty bloatware apps that came pre-installed on your device, root is the permissions you need to make that happen.

Recovery, for our purposes, is a minimal operating system that can be run in place of your main operating system, for basic software management. Much like the BIOS on your computer, Recovery runs before the operating system boots up, but where the BIOS handles hardware, the Recovery on Android focuses on software. I guess it is more like the Install/Recovery screens you may have seen on your Windows machine when the operating system fails to load. Have I confused you yet? All you really need to know for today is that we used the TWRP Recovery and only for the purpose of creating a backup and flashing Xposed. More on that later.

cyanogenmod-logo

ROMs, for the foreseeable future, we do not plan to handle ROMs in this series. A ROM is basically just another name for a new operating system for your Android device. You may have heard of CyanogenMod, Paranoid Android or the term AOSP. The former are completely different versions of Android, while AOSP is the pure, open source, Android experience that most ROMs are based off of.

These four terms should be enough to work from for now. Everything else we do will relate to working with or managing the above.

Back up

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie TWRP back up

You are going to see these words over and over again, and for good reason. There are several levels of backup that you’ll be able to manage from here on, you can backup your data, including your photos, backup your apps, backup your system and more.

Before you root, your only real options are to backup your user data and your apps. We’ve talked about using apps like Helium to do this, but Nexus Root Toolkit can handle this as well.

Once rooted, you’ll be able to take more in-depth backups, including a full system backup. A popular service for backing up and restoring a full system is called Nandroid.

The key thing that you need to know for rooting is that unlocking your Bootloader performs a full system reset, wiping all of your apps and data. Back it all up and save those files off of the device for re-install later.

Unlock Bootloader

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie

While Unlocking your Bootloader seems a simple thing, be sure to double check your warranty status before continuing, this is the piece that is against the rules for most manufacturers. From there, prepare for a full device wipe – this is done for security purposes, ensuring that no rogue apps already installed can take advantage of your newly opened security permissions.

Once unlocked, most devices will show you an open padlock icon on the initial Android boot screen. You are now ready to dive in to the good stuff.

Root and Recovery

Unlocking your device can be a scary process, the screen flashes, your device reboots multiple times, funny stuff pops up on the display. Relax, if you’ve chosen a respected rooting tool with confirmation that your device is supported, this process very rarely goes wrong. However, do not mess around, if performed incorrectly, if you unplug the USB cable halfway through, for example, this can brick your device.

Before you root, consider what you are looking to accomplish by unleashing these new permissions. What I mean is, as I learned the hard way, are you rooting to wipe some nasty apps, or are you hoping to install Xposed or even a new ROM? If you would like to install Xposed, as I did, you are going to need to install a custom Recovery first.

nexus root toolkit Nexus 7

There is no harm in rooting and then coming back later to install a custom Recovery, in-fact, your tool may not even offer the option to do both. It simply saves you time and a few device reboots to do this all at the same time. Nexus Root Toolkit can install TWRP, CWM and more.

Storage space

Because Xposed is a fairly advanced framework that goes beyond any normal app functionality, it is now required to flash the framework to the device. Once the framework is installed, you can then install the normal Android app to continue.

Nexus 7 Xposed Installer TWRP

We’ll talk more about Xposed later, it is a very exciting tool for customization, for now, let’s talk about System space.

You may have noticed in the root process, or now here when trying to flash Xposed to your device, that the installs fail. One common reason for this failure is a shortage of storage space. Now, at this stage of the game we are not talking about the storage locations that you have seen in your system Settings or favorite file explorer app, we’re talking about a reserved partition for your actual system files.

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie TWRP install flash

The easiest way to repair the System storage issue is to delete some apps. You’ll need a root file explorer, navigate to the files and kill ’em. If you are not sure what to get rid of, I recommend deleting apps that you can later install from the Google Play Store. For example, Google Sheets and Slides. I rarely use these apps on this device, they are fairly large files and I can always get them back later.

Anything funny going on? You backed up all those apps you deleted, right? Of course you did.

What’s next

I think that about covers the main tips and tricks from my most recent rooting experience. I have not used Xposed on Lollipop or Marshmallow yet, I hope you are ready to explore this great tool and all of the great modules as we go.

Nexus 7 Android Authority hoodie fastboot recovery

Resources:
Nexus Root Toolkit by WugFresh
TWRP (TeamWin) website
ClockWorkMod
Xposed Module Repository

Next week

I hope you found our tips useful today and I hope you are happily rooted and ready to roll. Next week is Christmas Eve, the week after that is New Years Eve. I’m still with you, watch out for some lazy holiday inspired Android customization projects for the next couple weeks. Then, in the new year, we will talk Xposed, maybe walk through the install in more detail, and get started with some cool modules.

What is your top pick for the first Xposed module a new user should install?

  • Pat Miller

    Being geared towards beginners, wouldn’t it be a better idea to show them the correct way to root? It’s a much better idea to show beginners how to get their hands dirty doing it the long way, that way, WHEN something eventually goes wrong sometime down the road, they have the tools to fix, and understand what went wrong.

    • Najeé Morais

      The methods of gaining root access vary for each device…some methods might be very long and some short

      • Pat Miller

        The length of time it takes to root different devices is irrelevant, it’s learning how to do it properly that is more important in the long run.

        • I agree, and thank you Pat. Thing is, I don’t want to get caught up on actually rooting a device here, we’ve covered that in detail for specific phones throughout the years, I just needed to put a few notes together so that we can move forward with root tools in the series.

          So, for anyone looking for exactly how to root a device, please search the site, we’ve covered it before. And please, as Pat and MrFoobar have mentioned, consider taking the time to learn what you are doing, take the long road and understand your device, software and tweaks you are looking at using.

  • MrFoobar

    I apologize in advance for sounding like a “get off my lawn” old man here, but I have some other advice, some of which is unpopular and not often spoken of.

    I have been rooting and flashing my devices since the T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream). I have gathered quite a lot of experience over the years and I thought I would share it here.

    Firstly, READ EVERYTHING! Reading everything you need to do in advance will help you educate yourself and it will provide you a good idea what you need to do. If you don’t know what something means, Google is often your friend.

    Secondly, I often advise against using tool kits, especially if you’re new to this whole process. Tool kits do everything for you, which sounds great, but if something goes wrong, new people often have no idea what to do. If you still take the easy road and something goes wrong, I suggest you go on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) before doing anything else and go to the relevant IRC channel. You can often find the correct channel on XDA and if not #cyanogenmod is full of helpful people (at least it used to be). Just be polite and maybe they will not bite too hard. However depending on what happens you may not be able to get out of your situation.

    Lastly, the unpopular opinion… Xposed framework seems great, it tweaks your current ROM to how you like it. These seemingly amazing tweaks come at a price. Besides the possible instability a module could bring to your current ROM ( If something is broken after using xposed, please do not complain to your ROM developer(s)), xposed can be a security hole. There are people that know way more about this than me, but xposed is implemented in less than an ideal way (I won’t get into that), but if you use a module that has some shady code in it, then it could seriously screw you. The correct way to go about adding features is to add it to the source and build it. Most of the community ignores these things and acts like xposed is the best thing since sliced bread, but remember, xposed comes at a cost.

    Sorry for the long writing, but I hope there is some helpful information in there for people that are new to rooting and flashing ROMs.

    • Great points, thank you so much MrFoobar for speaking up. Yes, please, everyone, take the time to learn the ins and outs of what you are doing here. Root and related is fun, but can be problematic.

      I am taking the risk and continuing with the project, for those of you also interested, Xposed will be a major player as we move forward. That said, my device for playing is not may daily driver, I might suggest the same for everyone else.

    • Beauregard Stauffer

      Couldnt have said the tool kit thing better myself.

    • Armaan Modi

      But isn’t is ok if we know how to revive our phone out of every situation?

      • MrFoobar

        Is what okay? To give a general answer I would say you can do anything you’d like with your device, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s your device.

        • Armaan Modi

          I mean rooting and installing ROMs isn’t a problem for me because I know how to unbrick it.

    • Lawstorant

      Well said. I despise toolkits and Xposed

      • Oliver Cervera ✔ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        +1

    • Oliver Cervera ✔ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Great post buddy!

  • Najeé Morais

    Xposed will mosty fail due to different roms (stock and custom) and the android version… Prior to android lollipop xposed was relatively easy to install.

    • It still is. Even on my LG G4 which I cannot unlock the bootloader for yet, was a simple flash with Flashfire to install.

    • TJ

      It’s been updated for mm. But yeah, it usually takes a while before Rovio finds a workaround for new OS updates.

  • Steve Brain

    This is under Apps? That’s weird.

  • Check out the Xposed framework. I have been rooting Microsoft before the G1 ever came out but just found out about Xposed while chatting with an in law at Thanksgiving. Infinite skips on Pandora, pick any song on Spotify, no commercials on Youtube! It is fantastic.

    Note: You have to flash to install so backup (as you always should)

  • I’m using xposed in MM ROM and i love it.

  • JohnA

    Great to see this type of article on here. First phone I rooted was the HTC Desire hd, and I’ve been rooting and roming most of my phones and tablets ever since. It’s a time consuming process, frustrating at times, but dang, it is a very rewarding and fun process. Rooted my latest phone Galaxy S6 only recently and flashed a debloated and stripped down rom on it. And what a difference it has made. I was getting no more than 10 hours battery life before root. I’m now getting up to 14 hours. That’s a 40% increase. And, the phone is faster than ever. Happy days.

    • Armaan Modi

      Which ROM are you using?

      • JohnA

        I’m using XtreStoLite. He also has an Aroma ad on where one can install any of the stripped out apps and a few extra tweeks too. It’s one of the best roms that I’ve ever used. Highly recommended.

        • Armaan Modi

          ok..

  • Paul

    Worth remembering root will kill certain features like deep sleep as standard. Will need a new kernel for example note 5. Personally I’m not bothering as package disabler and plenty of good workarounds now mean root is largely unnecessary for the average experienced user.

    • disqus_5sXmCMm3LY

      on my rooted shield tablet the “deep sleep” function is working as before, maybe you’re using a wrong kernel or un-finished/un-polished ROM?

    • Lawstorant

      Well root is not a jailbreak. It doesn’t work this way.

  • TJ

    Should also add the adb commands as well. Sometimes NRT doesn’t flash the latest images and root methods correctly without being updated. Also, the new system less root option should be explained more in depth as it is the future of Android root.

  • Rooting my android phone is the first thing i do after buying a new android phone.It gives users the permission to use android to it’s full power.