If you've been reading about Android smartphones and tablets, you might have heard of someone "rooting" a device. Basically, rooting lets you get around the security features of the device so that you can customize it as you like.
While you should proceed with caution when getting this "root access" to a device, you might find it quite worthwhile if you want to block ads, stop apps from seeing your phone number, uninstall apps preinstalled by your wireless carrier, or do any of tons of other things that you couldn't otherwise accomplish.
In this roundup, we'll take a look at six great Android apps designed to take advantage of rooting.
Why Root, and Why Not
In addition to allowing apps to run "privileged commands" that might otherwise be unavailable to them, such as commands to modify or delete system files, rooting can let you install a new edition of Android on a device, put in a new ROM with a tethering option, or backup up your system on to an SD card, for example. Instructions on how to root a device are widely available online.
Rooting is not for everyone. Less experienced or tech-savvy users should be careful about trying it. Attempting to root a device can sometimes cause software errors or even damage the device, and even if successful it will almost certainly void the manufacturer's warranty. But if you're interested in going ahead, take a look at the following apps for rooted devices and what these apps can do.
These apps will run on Android tablets as well. But be aware, it is illegal to root any tablet bought after Jan. 26, 2013. This restriction does not apply to smartphones.
Frequent, intrusive advertising is a problem on any platform, but doubly so on the limited screen space of a mobile device. AdFree uses root access to block a long list of the most common sources of online advertising, tracking cookies, and even some forms of malware, both in web pages and within Android apps.
While AdFree doesn't block all types of ads, it does cover most, including such common ones as AdMob, Google, and DoubleClick.
Although AdFree has some advanced options for extra-techie users, it's easy enough to handle that someone with very little knowledge of its finer points can easily run the app, block ads, and even set up automatic updates for the app without ever having to touch it again.
Best of all, AdFree is completely free to use, with no "Pro" version or paid features.
In these days of increasingly limited data plans, everyone is looking for ways to make sure that they don't go over their limits. With most Android devices, your only option for stopping background data use is to turn off mobile data entirely, disconnecting even apps that you might want to use on the go.
What DroidWall does instead is to let you control exactly what apps can connect to the internet, and how. For instance, you can set the rules so that your email app and web browser can go online any time, but that other apps like YouTube or Google Play can only connect via WiFi, thereby saving all your heavy data use for home or work.
You can even block certain apps from connecting to the internet at all, if there's some app that you want to use but that doesn't really need to access the internet, even though it wants to go there.
DroidWall offers a relatively straightforward interface, allowing you to choose exactly what to let through and what to block in a fairly easy manner. Use "whitelist" mode to choose to selectively approve only the apps to be let through, or "blacklist" mode to choose only which apps to block. Alternatively, go through and set individual settings for every app you own.
Where conventional backup apps allow you to backup your other apps, Titanium Backup Root also lets you back up app data that other backup solutions can't touch. If you use Titanium, you don't lose anything if and when you need to wipe your device. Even better, Titanium Backup also allows you to manage your apps, even the preinstalled ones that come with your device.
Tired of seeing a bunch of apps you never use that were shoveled on there by the carrier? Just uninstall them, reclaiming sometimes hundreds of megs worth of space on your device. You can even back up these apps to your memory card (just in case you think you might want them some day) while you save internal memory for more important things. Moreover, you can "freeze" apps, leaving them installed but unable to run until you "defrost" them.
Titanium Backup's interface can be a bit daunting for the new user, and the app does have one notable risk. If you uninstall a component that Android needs, you could run into serious problems, so it's best only to uninstall preloaded apps you know you won't miss. But for the convenience of saving space and controlling exactly what's on your device, it's hard to beat Titanium Backup's combination of power and fine detailed control.
If you've ever looked at the "permissions" page for various Android apps, you've probably wondered why some apps demand to be able to do things that they don't need to do. Does that weather app really need to be able to see your phone number and who you've called? Does a cloud storage app need to be able to look through your device's cameras? Sure, these permissions might be harmless, but maybe you'd prefer not to worry.
If you do want to block permissions. Permissions Denied is the answer. It allows you to actively look at the permissions for each app on your device, and to turn off ones that you don't want the app to have. This may cause some apps to crash if you turn off permissions they actually do need, but many functions -- such as using the camera -- can be disabled safely with the app still working fine for other things.
Permissions Denied can be especially useful for simple apps that ask for many more permissions than they require.
Although it used to come in both free and Pro versions, Permissions Denied is now available only in the $4.99 version with the Pro feature set. This feature set gives you the ability to view all applications which use a specific permission (such as accessing the camera, or reading system logs).
Maybe you own more than one Android device. If so, maybe you'd like to do most of the same things on both a smartphone and a tablet, for instance. Unfortunately, while some apps permit you to sync your data between devices, many don't. That's where DataSync comes in.
DataSync is a free app that allows you to do exactly what it says on the tin: synchronize application data between two or more Android devices, in essence "copying" your settings and apps between the devices.
So when you go from your phone to your tablet, or vice versa, you're not just dealing with the same apps, but literally with the same data.
That spreadsheet you started on your tablet? It'll be on your phone when you pick it up. Been reading an ebook? Both devices will open up to the very same place where you left off. Playing a game? Play it on both devices without having to replay the same parts.
DataSync allows you to connect your devices either via WiFi or online through Dropbox or Box.com for syncing directly over the internet.
The app also serves as a remote backup in case one of your devices gets lost or wiped. You can just redownload all of your stored data. You can pick and choose what apps to duplicate, limiting the amount of data to sync and covering only the apps you want.
Stoffers also offers DataSync+, which -- for $2.69 -- unlocks additional features like scheduled sync, real time sync, and syncing over Bluetooth or NFC.
ES File Explorer is a little bit different from most of the other apps here, because it doesn't actually need root access to run. If your device is not rooted, the app still functions as a file explorer just as fully featured as any other available for Android. But if you do have root access, too, ES File Explorer lets you look through and modify the entire file structure of the Android OS.
On the other hand, out of all of the apps here, this is definitely the one that requires the most technical expertise to use correctly. It also has the highest potential to screw things up if misused.
But armed with this app and the right knowledge, you can apply a lot of different tweaks, ranging from disabling unwanted over-the-air updates to changing system cache settings in order to alter performance.
So if you're willing to take the risks, rooting an Android phone or tablet can give you much more control over your device. Just be careful not to turn your device into a paperweight.
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