May 24, 2011, 8:00 AM — "Rooting" your Android phone, or slipping past standard security barriers to gain greater control, doesn't necessarily mean installing a Super-Crazy AwesomeWidget firmware, or wantonly taunting your cell carrier. It can be a modest affair that nets you some simple, helpful tweaks and new features. Here are the best reasons to commit some light software treason.
[ For screenshots of some of the features mentioned in this article, see Image gallery: 5 reasons to root your Android phone ]
Here lies the standard disclaimer: rooting your phone's firmware is probably a violation of your warranty, and using that rooted phone in unauthorized fashion -- like, say, tethering your Android data connection to a laptop -- is almost certainly a breach of contract. You can usually return your phone to factory-like condition, and you don't have to do anything tricky with your device. In any case, though, you're taking the risk of voiding your warranty, and if something happened to go wrong, it's up to you and some clever Google queries to fix it.
But the rooting process on most phones isn't too hard, and it's up to you how far you go with your anything-goes phone after it's unlocked. Get started by checking out Lifehacker's regularly updated guide to rooting nearly every Android device out there, which explains the process for using the SuperOneClick and Unrevoked software tools, as well as a few special phone cases. Alternately, you can search out your device on the CyanogenMod Wiki and follow the rooting instructions there. Some phones will offer more than token resistance -- certain Motorola models actively block new firmwares, for example, and others just happen to require tricky steps. If you're ever unsure of just what you're doing to your device, back away and start over.
With that stern talking-to out of the way, here are 5 good reasons to take a few tentative steps into the Mos Eisley Cantina of the Android world:
Total phone backup and recovery
After unlocking your firmware, the next step most guides will ask you to take is installing a new recovery image -- the low-level space, just after boot-up, where your data and OS can be added or removed. By installing a custom recovery image, like the popular ClockworkMod, you can make comprehensive backups of your entire phone. If you're going to try out a custom Android remix on your phone, this is absolutely crucial, so that mess-ups don't leave you with a non-booting phone.