Rooting and Flashing: Why I Spent A Weekend Conquering My Android Phone

November 15, 2011
ClockworkMod Recovery: an Android user's badge of honor

ClockworkMod Recovery software: an Android user's badge of honor

When I first laid hands on my Samsung Vibrant, it was pretty much the cream of the Android phone crop. It was sleek, lightweight, fast and had solid battery life. Today, nearly a year later, it’s still sleek and lightweight, which is nice — but that’s about all it has going for it.

OK, so I’m being too harsh — it has a great camera (as far as phones go) and lots of other truly impressive features. But after many months of taking photos, downloading apps, removing apps, tweaking settings and doing all sorts of other things you’d consider to be just normal wear and tear, this elegant phone felt more like elegant relic. You know that way your computer behaves before you finally decide, “@#$% it, I’ll just reboot it”? My phone felt like that — slow, unresponsive, flaky, crashy — just about every day. Like it needed an afternoon espresso jolt.

To get more of money’s worth out of this top-of-the-line device, I took drastic action: rooting and flashing. That’s geek-speak for modifying my phone to give me root-level, superuser access to the device (shouldn’t I have that anyway?) and then installing (by way of “flashing” the phone’s memory) a new operating system.

The phone still runs Android, but it now runs a custom version of Android built not by Samsung but by a group of hardcore coders who want to give users (primarily themselves, probably) the utmost control, flexibility and performance their phones have to offer. It’s a 30- to 60-minute process that took me about four or five hours and a mountain of trial and error, but it was so worth it.

Why? Imagine every little thing that’s wrong with your smartphone. Now imagine those problems vanishing. In my case:

  • The phone simply does everything faster now — probably in part because I just completely wiped and rebuilt the operating system from scratch, but if that’s what it takes…
  • The new default email app is better, particularly because it’s faster, actually downloads attachments when I tell it to, and doesn’t give me false alarms about new emails like the stock app used to
  • I now have more control over notification sounds and settings so text messages don’t have the same sound as email messages, which drove me nuts
  • I can take screenshots of what’s displayed on my phone, which for some unfathomable reason is not possible without root access; now it’s simply built into the operating system, a single click away
  • The software that controls the camera is unbelievably fast and flexible when compared with the stupid and slow camera software in the phone’s default operating system

Plus, it was fun. In part, I wanted to do this just because I could. Damn the man and whatnot. And now, it’s like I have a brand new phone. I felt the same excitement yesterday when I completed this re-installation process that I felt when I opened the box when I bought the thing.

It’s sad that I had to spend this time and effort to get a phone to operate at its fullest potential and give me all the options and control I want. On the other hand, it’s encouraging — thrilling, even —  to find a massive community of people (mostly here) devoted to achieving that very goal.

I’m pretty sure I voided my phone’s warranty and annihilated any chance of getting official T-Mobile support for any future software problems. And I don’t care because now I have of which I’m the boss, rather than vice versa.

Damn the man.