• Android Without Root

    One thing I didn't mention about my new commodity smartphone is that it's my first Android phone in many years running without root access. Now I'm not going to be one of those apologists with excuses like "I need my device to work all the time", or "I stopped rooting back in 2013"... Nope, the honest truth is that the process of getting and keeping root has gotten to be enough of a hassle that I've lost the fight.

    I've actually been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, thinking how it could possibly be of any value to you, an Android user, who statistically has almost never bothered with root. At best, this will hopefully give you the opportunity to reflect on your personal data; at worst, it will be a grim reminder of what we're all giving up.

    The Good:

    Far and away the best thing about being an Android peasant (sorry, still coming to terms with this) is having a clean boot screen like this. Once upon a time phones with unlocked bootloaders would display a simple and instructive open lock graphic at the bottom of the screen; that has long since been replaced by an over-the-top warning that your device has been compromised and that everybody dies if you proceed.

    Jokes aside, it's not hard to see the importance of a clear warning for someone inheriting a secondhand device from someone they don't necessarily know or trust. But I also think there could have been a better compromise for owners who know what they're doing.

    The Bad:

    Wow, it's like I'm looking into a mirror!

    For me the bad (but not worst) thing about Android without root is the constant barrage of ads. I personally would steer clear of VPN-based solutions like AdGuard or Blokada, simply because your traffic is being routed through points unknown. Instead, here are two easy fixes:

    1. Browser-based ads can go away by replacing Chrome with a different default browser. DuckDuckGo and Firefox with the uBlock Origin plugin are what I use.

    2. For apps and games where ads don't somehow improve the experience (I'm thinking specifically of games where watching an ad gives you an extra life or something) you might actually want to reward the developers for their efforts and, you know, actually pay for the app or game.

    The Ugly:

    And finally, the bitterest pill... Android without root means that I no longer have direct access to the data generated by my installed apps. It might be as trivial as login details for a particular service, or as critical as the database of collected WhatsApp chats and media that I never bothered to back up to Google Drive because I always had access to the local binary blob on my phone.

    Here again, however, it's not all doom and gloom. Through its takeout service Google lets you export virtually all of your data directly associated with its services. Apps like Swift can still back up your call logs and SMS without root, or you can use Google One to do the same. And WhatsApp? You can back that up to Google Drive or, like me, shrug it off with the realization that there's nothing so important on there that I couldn't stand to lose.

    Long story short, Android users don't necessarily need root for access to their personal data. Definitely nicer to have the option, though.

    Andrew Currie has been blogging about mobile phones since 2001, smartphones (depending on how you define them) since 2002 and smartwatches since 2014.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Android Without Root started by acurrie View original post
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. brad4cell's Avatar
      brad4cell -
      The problem is google does not want to provide root access.

      Root access should be provided by google because it is required to do a lot of simple things like remove some apps you don't want.

      So we need more competition to google or I don't know what the solution is.

      It would be nice if you could switch to a linux based phone but then you give up a lot of nice apps on android.
    1. zapjb's Avatar
      zapjb -
      Currently my everyday driver is a Moto G7 Power. The ONLY reason I rooted it was that after updating to 10 it was impossible to permanently delete facebook. And it repulsed me.

      And far as an adblocker there's NetGuard - no-root firewall. The author is a member of XDA & highly respected. The play store version doesn't require root. The github version blocks some ads with an updatable hosts file. The Google play store does not block ads. I don't remember if root is required for the github version.
    1. hwertz's Avatar
      hwertz -
      Good reason! Facebook? Ugh.
      I don't have a choice on my phone... BlackBerry Keyone, the security's never been cracked on it as far as I know. So, no root or aftermarket firmwares. I loved rooting my old phones, but I have not missed it too much on there, I'd miss having a keyboard more.
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Thanks very much for the comments!
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Quote Originally Posted by brad4cell View Post
      It would be nice if you could switch to a linux based phone but then you give up a lot of nice apps on android.
      Yup, and also a decent camera. I only stopped flashing custom ROMS because of proprietary camera APIs.
    1. acurrie's Avatar
      acurrie -
      Quote Originally Posted by zapjb View Post
      And far as an adblocker there's NetGuard - no-root firewall. The author is a member of XDA & highly respected.
      Was not aware of this, will definitely look into it. Some links for anyone else interested:

      XDA Labs | NetGuard
      [APP][6.0+] NetGuard - No-root firewall

      EDIT: Just realized that this is the same dev for FairEmail... very cool!

      XDA Labs | FairEmail