Why would you take your phone, a device that cost a few hundred dollars, and void its warranty by rooting it? It's a question that a lot of unrooted people ask and is not an easy all-encompassing answer.
When I got the HTC EVO 4G last year, I got a phone that had HDMI-out and was touted as being capable of wired and wireless tethering. It advertised ~6 hour talk time and a battery capable of holding a 1200mAh charge to supply that. I wanted to watch movies played from my phone on the TV, the ability to use my Unlimited Data plan to connect my laptop for a minute or two, enough juice to not worry about power all the time, and of course make some calls too. The 8GB SD card meant I could install tons of apps. The EVO also came with 4G, a revolutionary high speed wireless network.
I purchased the EVO 4G, but I didn't get what I expected.
The HDMI-out was locked so that only YouTube and the HTC Pictures application could use it, my Unlimited Data Plan limited what sorts of data I could use, and my battery would charge up to ~85% of total capacity while reporting that it was at 100. When I'd unplug I'd be down in the 90s within 15 minutes; I own four chargers. My office is also a Sprint dead zone (not my building mind you, just my office) and there's no option to force roam. The 8GB SD card could be used for some applications, but most at the time were either preinstalled by Sprint and would not let me remove them, or could not be moved to the card; my internal memory filled way too quickly. And 4G coverage is sort of a joke, even in towns with 4G.
In other words, I had half the phone I purchased.
It's not a failing of the HTC EVO 4G. It's the carrier. And it's not just our carrier that's doing it, it's just the one we experience. Sprint did not want to risk lawsuits from the MPAA when someone showed a movie on an EVO on a TV. They did not want to be an ISP and handle complaints when someone moved 600GB of pirated data over 3G via wireless tether in a month. They wanted to make a buck or two more per person by forcing demo software onto the phone. They don't want someone selecting "roam only" and getting good phone service but racking up roaming hours, and honestly the 4G experiment was a failure, or perhaps it was the building blocks of the LTE network; either way it really isn't there when you need it.
I tried all the battery tricks. I did the plug in plug out hokey pokey (bump charging), I tried the task killers, I bought battery management applications, and I probably got 20 more minutes out of all of this (and $5-10 worth of software).
So I rooted my phone.
I wasn't mad at Sprint. I understand the business of dealing with the masses. You can't please everyone, but honestly this wasn't pleasing me at all. I had this great piece of hardware, faster and better designed than anything on the market at the time, and it was junk for my purposes.
From the outside, I viewed the root world as a scary place full of outdated and useless information, a bunch of people who thought they were hot stuff for managing to make a battery icon actually show how much life it had. I thought it was a group of arrogant folks who thought "oh, they don't want us poking around with this? Well there." And I was worried that my warranty would be voided.
The first part of that is true . There is more old, useless, and damaging information out there than you can imagine. For every root method discovered, HTC patches it in the next release. Places do not seem to take great efforts to remove the old information, and even somewhat maintained pages of developers don't advertise that their programs no longer work. There are several sites out there that copy these pages repeatedly and post it as new content to get advertiser revenue. There are several people who refer others based on blind google searches. It's a nightmare of bad information.
The second part is mostly false. There are a couple of people I have run across who fit that bill, but most people see a need and make a solution, or they see a restriction that's hurting people and make a hole. I cannot stress how much interaction I have had with developers in the past year. Most recently I reported an issue with a piece of software, provided the author with most of the information he needed, and when I looked at my email again the program was fixed and a new version was out.
The third part is true. I finally found someone who got tagged by a Sprint repair place for having a rooted phone (obviously the custom font he was using somehow managed to leap up and break his power button). He left, unrooted the phone, and got the warranty repair on the bad switch.
I did the scariest thing I have ever done with my phone at the time. I rooted it with Unrevoked (site still there, root exploit for the most part no longer applicable to EVO line). I installed SuperUser, I purchased Titanium Backup (current, but the support vanished for several months), and I froze bloatware wherever I could. I also used Titanium Backup to force some of the unmovable apps off to the SD card where they ran fine. I had a much faster phone all of the sudden.
I downloaded Sprint Lovers ROM for the HTC EVO 4G, installed a new Netarchy Toastmod kernel (discontinued for the EVO 4G), and purchased SetCPU to experience the battery saving wonders of underclocking. I had battery life 20-40% better than what I had before. I installed an SBC kernel and suddenly I had another two hours of battery life as the thing would actually charge completely.
I was worried a few times that I had bricked my EVO. Back then, nobody had written up anything useful on how to prevent that (or if they did, I couldn't find it amid all the outdated sites and landslide of info).
Competing projects between a couple of different software groups managed to make two excellent HDMI apps for the EVO 4G. I could finally watch my movies and TV shows, or play Angry Birds on a big screen.
There's also a force-roam mod out there (I'm not going to link to it as it could get you terminated from Sprint). I went a different route and got GrooveIP for when I'm at my office. While I don't think GrooveIP is a root app, it is how I had to overcome my office being cell-shielded. More recently I went Google Voice and have my work phone ring when I'm at the office.
I was still dealing a bit with the limitations of Android program storage, so I slapped in Darktremor's A2SD and suddenly had a gig more program space.
For work, I installed WiFi Tether for root. I think I've used it a total of two times in a year: once so I could send an email using a keyboard (and not trying to Swype out a 500-word essay), and once to provide my Little Brother with WiFi for his laptop while we drove to a Big Brother outing. While I would love to get on my high horse and point out that the EVO 4G specs and manual said tethering is included as part of the OS, that Sprint is advertising Unlimited Data and no definition of "unlimited" means "limited," this is not a moral fight I feel like espousing while I'm writing this. Short of it is there might have come a time when I needed WiFi tethering; had I purchased Sprint's WiFi hotspot access, I'd be in the hole $400 now for about an hour of use.
Along the way, I discovered things I didn't even know were benefits of rooting when I started. You know that sleek OS that other phone has? Chances are it will be ported over to your phone in a week or two. Did you know you can play old video games using emulator roms and a wiimote? (You can play the games unrooted, but root was generally required for wiimote.)
So there's that. That's why I rooted, and I got the phone I was sold and then some. There was really no reason to upgrade for me, but I jumped at the HTC EVO 3D the instant my favorite ROM's author released a ROM for it. I stayed stock for 2 or 3 days and then rooted/unlocked the 3D and moved back into the root world.
How support works for unrooted phones
So, you're having a problem with your phone. You've got a certain set of steps that reproduce a problem. What do you do? Maybe dial Sprint up, talk to a support tech, or take it into the store and see if they can figure it out. Accept the solution they offer you to hard wipe the thing and come home with a phone that is probably just waiting to pull that same stuff again. If you can reproduce the problem, Sprint will probably take it seriously and contact the developers of that particular part of the phone. After enough tickets and the development company finding the issue, they may fix it if they have a support contract still, or you know, maybe not. But let's assume they will fix it.
If a particular program author/department fixes the problem, the corrected code can get into the build pool for the phone's ROM fairly quickly. But then it sits there waiting to go out in an OTA. These OTAs generally come out once every couple of months, and they roll out in waves. Your friends may have the update weeks before you manage to get it.
But finally, your problem is fixed. Turnaround time of a few weeks.
How support works for rooted phone
While not always the case, it's gone like this for me except when someone's been on vacation or having a baby.
You have problem that you can reproduce. You go to the program/ROM author's forum or website, post the issue, and perhaps answer a few questions. Others users will be there for you, and usually the author will chime in if they users don't get it solved. Done.
The longest issue I had with a rooted application lasted four days. The fastest fix to a program I and one other person was having an issue with was five hours. Your mileage, of course, will vary.
How security issues are solved: Unrooted vs. rooted
If you've not been keeping up with the Carrier IQ fiasco, here's a quick recap. In early August, a developer informs HTC of a problem with Carrier IQ logging everything. On September 1st, we reported more issues and the first custom ROMs and kernels were already out that disabled CIQ. A few days later, HTC responds to issues saying there's nothing to see here and that nothing can happen. By September 5th, most of the major Sense-based ROMs have CIQ removed.
At this point, a developer contacted HTC and told them about even more problems. They didn't respond. After weeks of waiting, on October 3rd a proof of concept app was made public that showed any app whatsoever without any special permissions could get enough any information to screw you over. On October 26th, 2011, 65 days after the issue was reported and a huge stink was raised by the root community, fixes for Carrier IQ are starting to roll out.
In the root world, there have been fixes since about 5 days after and nearly a year if you count AOSP ROMs.
Do you know what it's like to talk to the author of your favorite ROM, to have a fix in hours to a problem, and to have a bunch of people who just want our phones to work, be safe, and be really neat? If you're rooted, chances are you do.
Rooting can be frustrating. Being unrooted can be frustrating. It's a balancing act. A friend of mine needed a feature that the next big phone had, so I asked if he wanted to purchase that or violate his warranty. He went with violating his warranty and was happy. His camera broke (rooting process caused someone to drop it, shattering the lens), he took his rooted phone in, and go it replaced with no questions asked.
Whatever you decide is right for your EVO, most people who are rooted are not looking down on you for not rooting. They just want you to join the fun, and perhaps to stay the hell away from iOS or something.
Also, don't root to abuse your carrier; that doesn't work. They'll terminate your contract if you try hard enough.
When I got the EVO 3D, I told the store I wrote for G&E and that I was going to violate my warranty in a week. He said he looked forward to reading it. I was wrong: it was four days (and if you're reading this, you promised you'd email me the receipt for the phone).