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Why I Haven’t Rooted My Motorola Atrix

TL;DR – I haven’t needed to because the Atrix (custom Android skin – MOTOBLUR, generous specs, warts and all) is quite capable for me as a ‘regular’ user. Sys admins, serious tinkerers and people who yearn for a plain vanilla Android experience are probably not the target for this article. If you are in the market for an Android phone, I urge you to do your research and not leap for the cheapest deal.

My first exposure to Android was a rooted T-Mobile G1 I got off Craigslist in July, 2010. The performance on that phone was abysmal and it would be close to 7 months (& an ill-advised foray into Symbian with the Nokia N8 in October 2010) before I found a powerful phone that, for once, I didn’t need to fool around with to work. Not because I’m consciously avoiding or overlooking problems, but because this particular phone is great for my needs.

My two main reasons for not rooting are:

  1. I have found nearly everything (apps) I need via the Android Market. Thanks to the apps on the Android Market, my phone nicely complements for my computer (really, things I use my computer for e.g. heavy browsing, Facebook/Twitter/News, sharing, etc). My bank has an Android app with which I can check my account balance or transfer money between my accounts or send money to another customer. For reading, I’ve got FBReader, Adobe Reader, Aldiko Premium and QuickOffice installed. Document creation is covered thanks to QuickOffice Premium & Google Docs and there are more apps for sharing (photos, text, video, etc) than I can count.

    Amazon has an Appstore which, before the Gingerbread update, was unavailable because Motorola removed the option to install software from unknown sources. Now, that option is available on the Atrix with the Gingerbread update.

  2. Performance on the Atrix has been great. Apps are snappy to use and with Gingerbread, the Atrix is more stable than ever. This point is relevant because many articles proclaiming the advantages of rooting tout the fact that you can install performance management apps or task managers and whatnot. The Atrix ships with a task manager but I can count the number of times that I have used it in the 4 or so months I’ve had the Atrix. In fact, the Atrix *also* ships with a battery manager app. I think my point is: doing your research and betting on a powerful phone is a good way to make sure you won’t need to worry about task managers or performance tweaks. I was able to uninstall many of the ATT pre-installed apps on the Atrix.

In researching online for the top/recommended apps for rooted phones, I’ve found several reasons for rooting phones but none compelling enough to make me up & root. Well, that and I haven’t found a solid unrooting procedure yet for the Atrix. :)

  • Full system backups of your phone e.g. using Titanium Backup. This comes in handy for backing up data from saved games, system files, etc. However, even when I had a rooted phone, I found that I didn’t really use this feature except to upgrade the custom ROM. Thankfully, the loss of this feature on my unrooted Atrix is mitigated by the fact that if you wipe your phone and you’ve elected to back up your data to Google’s servers, you can have your data (contacts, calendar, etc) restored when you reinstall. Right now, I also have Lookout Premium which also backs up photos, call history (Pssst, check your cellphone provider statements for this also) and contact details for me.
  • System tweaks like overclocking, louder volume hacks, battery conservation apps, etc. This is where doing your due diligence like testing the phones in stores, reading online reviews particularly on sites like Amazon and honestly assessing your uses for a smart phone comes in really handy. Again, I strongly recommend *against* picking an Android phone simply because it’s $1 or free with your 2 year contract. <rant>I blame manufacturers for churning out turds and then, I get to read articles about how someone’s mom’s Android phone sucked so she got an iPhone.</rant> :) With my kick-ass phone, the Motorola Atrix, which I have no problem pimping & promoting (sans sponsorship from the folks at Motorola), I have never strongly considered rooting because despite howls of how MOTOBLUR sucks, MOTOBLUR is actually … not bad. Is it because I don’t have an alternative (which admittedly rooting could cure) or because MOTOBLUR actually works? I’d wager that it’s the latter based on my experiences but it’s just a matter of taste. A quick trip to the store should give you a feel for the UI on the Atrix. I mean, ATT’s pre-installed apps can actually be uninstalled! Yes, I’ve kvetched about the Atrix’s somewhat beta feel but I’m greatly heartened by the Gingerbread update which makes the Atrix feel like a brand new device. Battery life on the Atrix is ~ 4 hrs which kinda stinks but I’ve become conditioned to automatically plug my phone into my computer when I’m on the internet or just leave it on the wall charger.
  • System tools like setCPU, root explorer, etc. If you know what these things mean and you need them, root, root, root. :) BUT going back to my key point about honestly assessing one’s smartphone usage, I haven’t graduated the halls of geekdom yet to even begin to appreciate these apps or why I need them.
  • Tethering and Screen Capture (screenshot or video recording): These features are arguably the biggest draws of rooting. For me, I care about hassle-free screen capture but I’ve resigned myself to going the route of installing the Android SDK tools and connecting my phone to my notebook to get a screenshot of my phone. I purchased a “No root” screenshot app from the Android market, but the instructions for getting the app working did not work for my Atrix. However, feel free to check that app out. Then, for recording your Android phone’s screen, there is the Droid VNC server (beta). Regarding tethering, please note that ATT is also cracking down on unauthorized tethering. Besides, where I live, many stores offer free WiFi so unless I happen to be in a developing country with limited internet access, this might be an issue.
  • Custom ROMs: For those yearning for Android’s “true” face, CyanogenMod is the gold standard in custom ROMs for Android. Most manufacturers add their own flavors to the Android User Interface. The best way to find out if you can live with a manufacturer’s spin on a phone you’ve been eyeing is to actually use the phone or watch videos of the device in action. My only experience with CyanogenMod was on the Google G1 and now, I’ve graduated to the Motorola Atrix. It would be unfair to compare the two but so far, I’m not complaining about MOTOBLUR. I do hate that my home screens are fixed in portrait orientation (pour quoi, Motorola?) but it’s not a deal breaker.
  • Apps from non-Market Sources: Stock android has a neat feature which allows you to install apps from “Unknown sources”. which simply means if an app isn’t in the Android market, you can still install it on your phone. Depending on the manufacturer of your Android phone, you may not have this option available. This was true of the Motorola Atrix until the latest Gingerbread update. Please don’t go crazy downloading random apps from the internet.

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  • http://bobby.com.ng bigbrovar

    The question whether to root a device or not, depends on a number of factors. How good (stable, fast) is the phone’s stock firmware. and if the device comes with a custom OEM firmware. How good is that compared to the stock android experience.  The user of the phone also matters. Some like me are power users who would want to squeeze every single bit of functionality out of their device.

    My first experience with android was the samsung galaxy S which imho is the best (in terms of hardware features) and fastest single core android device out there. However due to lots of samsung bloatware (which can not be removed unless u root your device) and a poor choice of filesystem (samsung used a proprietary filesystem much slower than ext4 which is default for android since gingerbread ) on their implementation android add that to their touchwiz UI which really sucks compared to what you get with default gingerbread. what you end up with is a slow device with lots of lags. The only way to overcome this peoples is to root your device and install a custom rom I used darky rom which is built on top of Samsung’s firmware but adds a custom kernel, allows for the filesystem to be reformatted to ext4, adds supports for using LED light for call notifications and brings so much speed and better battery life to the device.

    The was no way my android experience could have been positive without rooting my device. Even installing apps on market place would have been an issue because there are loads apps which are only available if you live in the US. I had to use market enabler to fake the android market place to think I am a T Mobile USA subscriber allowing me the chance to install Apps not meant for my region.

    Also because Internet bandwidth in my side of the world sucks really bad and is quite limited. Tools like titanium backup helps me keep a cached copy of every app I ever installed on my device, and allows me to reinstall them back (even to another device) without an Internet connection.

    Lastly one of the major benefit of rooting for me has been the poor gps performance of the galaxy S which is a combination of hardware and software issues. I was able to fix the software side of the problem by using a custom gps.conf file which has been tweaked to allow for better gps locks for people who live in Africa, I just replaced the default gps file on /etc/ with my tweaked version which worked wonders for my device. I could not have achieved this without rooting.

    Right now I have the samsung galaxy S2 a beast of a device which even in stock form is way better and does not have all the aforementioned shortcoming of its predecessor. Yet the geek in me still went on to root it. I guess for some of us. its just a matter of control :p

    • http://janetalkstech.com Jane Ullah

      We sort of discussed this topic over at G+ but your response is a solid  explanation for the draws of rooting. I penned my post from the perspective of being in the US (hence, having all the apps available to me which you neutralized by pointing out that certain apps were regionally restricted).

      However, I do need to acknowledge that I’m lucky to have a kickass device that doesn’t suffer from shortcomings like poor GPS locks or uninstallable apps that get in the way or an ill-advised tweaks or a shitty custom skin. Having the right phone goes a long way to reduce the need to root because for newbies (I’m just a hair above being a newbie), things can go horribly wrong. :) What gets my goat is that phone manufacturers churn out these crappy Android phones that, more or less, have to be rooted to be even useful and when those users find the instructions for rooting too daunting, that leaves a negative impression of the Android system.

      For those who consciously understand & still get those crappy phones, more power to ‘em. :) Rooting really does depend on several factors although I suspect that for uncontrollable geeks like you, not rooting is not an option. :)

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