These are my views and experiences with rooting based on my Motorola Droid (OG) and my shiny new Galaxy Nexus (GNex). I’m not going to define every term, as there are plenty of articles out there for the uninitiated. I’m just going to cover my perspective.
Installing a custom ROM
I went to a build of CyanogenMod over a year ago and never looked back. Tried a couple others, but always missed some of the features from CM. Ice Cream Sandwich is glorious, and so far I only have one or two features I’d like to change. I’m sure I’ll be looking in to other ROMs once there are ICS-based builds, but I’m not in any hurry.
Moving app installs to the SD card
This was critical on my OG, since the internal memory was so tiny. I constantly struggled with storage limits until I rooted and was able to Apps2SD a lot of stuff. Downside: apps on the SD took a little time to load after boot. The GNex only has one storage location and it’s much larger, so this is moot.
The OG didn’t come with much installed on it that I recall. Either way, I didn’t have any bloatware once I started using custom ROMs. On the GNex, ICS gives the ability to easily disable individual apps so I’m not bothered by the 2-3 things Verizon gifted me with.
I was able to get a little more oomph out of my OG Droid by cranking up the cycles. I didn’t do this until I was overdue for an upgrade and nearly went crazy waiting for the right phone. The Nexus is much faster, so I haven’t thought about trying to slap nitros or flame decals on it yet.
Once you’re rooted, the biggest way to upset your carrier is tethering. They want to charge you $20-40 extra per month to check a box and let your device run software that’s already on it. Since you’re already paying for the data, this seems a little extreme. Yes, connecting other devices can increase your bandwidth consumption, but that’s why they stopped offering unlimited bandwidth plans. Anyway…
3G isn’t exactly broadband, but it works when there aren’t any other options. I had a few times where tethering participated in a personal bacon-saving operation, but mostly I didn’t use it. With 4G… I’m actually quite interested in bonding larger screens to the broadband-comparable speed of Verizon’s LTE. I haven’t actually tried yet, but this is one of the projects on my list.
More control over data
From the age of 10 (when I was asked if I preferred my beige 386 or my Powerbook 100), I’ve always preferred controlling my own devices. The primary way I mastered my phone’s data was system level backups, most of which are only necessary because I was doing other rooty things. I’ve also gone rummaging around in the Linux-y underbelly of things, just because I enjoy reading config files.
Until a particular phone has a SuperOneClick method for rooting, the process involves installing drivers, arcane console commands, and sideloading update zips. If you aren’t already an expert and you don’t find a good guide, it can feel like trying to navigate with only a US landmarks placemat for a map.
If you do it wrong, or neglect to take proper precautions, you can cause problems. Contrary to popular belief, it’s at least slightly difficult to render your phone completely unusable. In general, expect the rooting process to factory reset your phone, and don’t be afraid to do a manual factory reset to get to a known starting state instead of fiddling with things until they maybe work. If you’re not comfortable with the process, read a lot of threads where people are resolving problems with rooting your model of phone. Familiarity with the issues helps a lot.
Rooting your phone typically voids ALL the warranties. For some reason, phones are apparently much more susceptible to physical damage from software than your typical Dell. /s
I’ve never had to get a phone replaced, so this seems like a minimal risk to me. I’m sure someone out there has a horror story about how they unlocked their phone and it exploded not 5 minutes later costing them $699 in out-of-warranty replacement plus medical expenses.
Most other issues are side-effects of whatever you do with superuser access. Overclocking can cause overheating, leading to loss of battery life or even CPU burnout. Installing banned apps or excessive use of tethered data can lead to angry carriers. As with any computer, fiddling with things you don’t understand can easily cause instability, slowdowns, or non-trivial incidents involving fire.
It’s not a conclusion because I find taking control of a device I own to be justified, satisfying, and generally helpful. I learned plenty about Android in the process, and much prefer the thrill of working with a safety net that I set up personally over the comfort of a padded room.