I’m not dead. I’ve just moved into a new place where there is no internet connection yet, which is the equivalent of dead when you work and live online. Up until now I’ve resisted “rooting” my Android phone because I didn’t want to go down the iPhone jailbreak road. (A major reason I have Android is so I don’t have to jailbreak my device to get it to do something interesting!) But desperate times call for desperate measures. Living somewhere with no computer internet connection is a really good reason to root your Android phone. With a rooted phone, you can tether your Android device to your computer and get some internet love wherever you are. (There are quite a few other good reasons to root Android, too, not the least of which is speed boosts and early Donut access.)
If you’re paying attention and reading the instructions, the rooting process isn’t that difficult. I made the mistake of trying this out without my phone’s USB cable (which was still packed away in some box) and in a loud sports bar during the first Chargers game of the season, with one eye on my screen and the other on my beer. Things didn’t go so well. This morning I was able to finish up the process and get tethering working just fine. Here’s what (and what NOT) to do when you root your Android phone.
Note: You WILL have to wipe your phone of all your data and apps in order to do this. Yes, that is really annoying.
First things first: fully charge your phone. Connect it to your computer and mount the SD card so you can read and write to it in Windows Explorer. Now, you’re going to grab the latest stable version of the custom Android build you’ll install on your device (which includes root access). Go to this listing of stable Cyanogen ROMs on your computer and download the latest one, i.e., the file with the most recent date. (Make sure it’s the .zip file, not the md5sum). It will be named something like
update-cm-4.0.4-signed.zip. Copy that .zip file to the root of your phone’s SD card.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try one of the experimental nightly builds, which might have more Donut in ’em–which might also not work, being experimental and all. There’s also this Android ROM Build Database, which offers more options.
Now you’re ready to “flash” your phone with a boot image that will let you install that file. Do exactly as this guy in this video tells you to do.
Don’t do what I did and download a different version of the Recovery Flasher application. (I tried this one and it works differently than any of the instructions I was referring to, which screwed me up.) Visit http://ryebrye.com/files/flashrec.apk on your phone and download it directly to your phone, then follow the instructions in the video.
Note that this boot recovery image only works once. If you boot into Android proper (i.e., you don’t hold down the Home key on startup), Android will rewrite your recovery image. Trying to get back into Cyanogen’s recovery image will leave you with a big honkin’ error, one that I couldn’t get out of without removing my G1’s battery. If you have to do this, start FlashRec again and reflash the Cyanogen image.
Once you’ve followed the instructions in the video (i.e., backed up your system and flashed the recovery image in FlashRec, shut down, booted into the recovery image menu by holding down the Home key during startup, wiped your system, and applied the .zip update you saved on your SD card), you’re good to go. Your device will restart and prompt you for your Google login credentials.
Once my phone was up and running, immediately I headed straight to the Android Wi-Fi tether app to get internet connectivity in the barren wasteland that is my new home. There are other apps and tweaks available for root users available for exploration, and you can also further speed up, update, and back up your rooted Android device. But that’s a project for tomorrow. (Thanks to Kevin at Lifehacker for being the canary in the Android-rooting coalmine.)