Things I learned when I gave up root access

Back in October 2017, my beloved rooted, S-OFF, HTC 10 had a run in with a repair shop. It didn’t survive. Well, actually, it survived but the screen’s never going to work again due to some issue involving Sprint’s version of the HTC 10 needing a different something or other.

Basically it went in for a battery fix and came out days later with a replacement. I decided it was time to try a different flavor of phone as while I’d been enjoying HTC stuff, it was time for a change. I got the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and vowed to not root it until I couldn’t stand it.

Having flashed over 160 ROMs (more actually, but that seemed like a number,) probably every kernel and kernel version back in my HTC days the idea of not being able to back up using Titanium Backup, get wireless tethering working, and disabling bloatware seemed like an annoyance I was not going to be able to put up with.

Also switching to Samsung’s launcher seemed like a step in the wrong direction and Bixby seemed like something straight out of the era of “people like smart voice things, let’s make a voice thing, maybe make it smart as well”.

I’m not walking back that last comment. I completely disabled Bixby first chance I had. The launcher’s not what I like but I can replace it.

While I did have to still have to disable some bloatware with ADB, I was able to. Sprint offered tethering and even though that ended up costing me $50 that it shouldn’t and involved seven hours of fighting with Sprint billing and them modifying the wrong phone account, I had other ways to work around it for a bit.

Oddly at this point I’m fairly happy with not being rooted, flashing ROMs, swapping out kernels, the whole nine yards. Whether through Android’s advancements, or maybe Samsung really built a beast, I don’t worry about battery life any more.

I no longer spend hours setting up the things that Titanium Backup was not able to restore properly, on the flip side I also have to wait a long time to get a software update I’m curious about. It seems the more you want the update the less likely you’re going to be to see it. I do not miss 45 minute ROM flashes.

Being able to use Google Pay with confidence is nice. I lost track of how many times I’d go to use it and find out that Google had figured out how to detect my rooted device. I know Magisk has managed to keep up the fight, but it’s been a fight.

I don’t think I ever got comfortable with my old Android installs. Or if I did they ended up being wiped out in fairly short order and then I had to figure out what fresh level of hell I was in as something inevitably was broken with the next ROM. As a note, that’s not most developer’s faults. Just a cascade effect.

I try to argue with myself from my rooted days that this is not how things should be but I find the arguments a little weaker now. Android does what I want it to, I was never into app piracy that required root (never into Android app piracy as a general rule, knew too many developers, used to be a developer, etc).

A lot of what root meant for me when I started was freedom from oppressive carrier restrictions, CarrierIQ-style dataminers, tracking bloat, ability to load PRLs so I could roam off of America’s crappiest network, fixing whatever Sprint and HTC had managed to mess up in their updates, ability to get Netflix or similar service to work on my phone by emulating ID of another, slowing the kernel to a crawl at certain points to get battery to last an hour longer, etc.

Most of that isn’t the case now. They’ve moved their CIQ style things to the carrier side, most bloat can be removed with ADB if you have to, PRL loading may or may not work depending, and Android development has come to the point where most apps work with most phones out of the box or pretty quickly afterward.

And as for security, hiding yourself, taking control, you still have no idea what’s in your phone’s firmware. Even if you think you’re looking at what your phone’s firmware is doing are you sure?

I know there are cases where root is still required. I hope it never goes away and stays out in the light as an accepted and non-warranty-voidable thing. I fully plan to head back into it at some point as I do miss some of the things.

I miss root for what fun it was in the beginning, but Android’s come so far since I started on the HTC EVO 4G. There feels like there’s increasingly little that it’s needed for, at least on phones that are currently supported.

Anything over three updates old, ROMs are probably the only way you’re going to see an update.

Eh, it’s interesting. Maybe I’m just old and have no time to flash stuff because of kids, but it’s been interesting to take an extended break.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Google+ | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts