Benefits of Android rooting

Customized lock-screen on Xperia V

I first heard about “rooting” an Android phone about 4 years ago but did not quite understand the benefits of spending hours with the complex procedure that was involved. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “rooting” means getting the possibility of changing the system of an Android phone or tablet in any way, including the ability to remove system files and to find the device dead on the next boot. Rooting is equivalent with becoming the “admin” of your phone. Once rooted, there is no special user name or password. Additional apps, like SuperSU, are used to block unauthorized access to the system.

My own motivation to “root” a phone was mostly anchored in the belief that I could throw away a large number of applications that belong to the “system” and could not be uninstalled. I can confidently say now that I found two major benefits to rooting, apart the risky cleaning up of manufacturer installed apps: extreme customization and extended battery life.

Just a few words about boot loader and root, since the terms are frequently associated. An unlocked boot loader allows the installation of a system that is different from the original Android – a bit like a different Linux distribution. Such a system is found under the form of a custom ROM and Cyanogen Mod is one of the most well known custom ROMs. On Sony Xperia phones, a relatively straightforward procedure allows unlocking the boot loader. However, rooting does not require an unlocked boot loader and an unlocked boot loader does not automatically give root access to the file system of the phone or tablet.

How root opens endless customization options ?

Xposed modules
Xposed modules

The answer lies in a fantastic software that warps and bends Android to the user’s (mostly programmer’s) will. Having “root” access, allows the installation of the Xposed framework, which orchestrates its modules to do “things” to Android user interface (and more). The various modules can be installed from within the “Downloads” section of the Xposed Installer app.

GEM Xperia Xposed – allows many improvements to be added to the stock Android launcher on, you guessed, Xperia phones. Another Xperia specific module is Xperia Flip Settings, that allows the use of the original Android quick settings display instead of the customized one from Sony.

Xposes Preference Injector adds the different modules to the “Parameters” of Android, a very convenient integration of Xposed into the system.

Unicon (read un-icon) – allows customization of the icons used for the interface, without the need to install a custom launcher.

The most impressive module I’ve tried and happily use is GravityBox (JB) – the JellyBean version. It allows an impressive and ever growing number of customization to the interface, from the appearance of the quick settings:

quick_accessto the inclusion of a menu button in the navigation bar (a very convenient way to access menus in the absence of hardware buttons). GravityBox does plenty of other things, like, for example, changing the colors and positioning of status bar icons, making a L-type transparent navigation bar, etc:xperia_launcherAll in all, for people like me, squeezing the pixels to our liking for endless hours, the Xposed framework is a great and ever improving app.

How does rooting save battery life ? Llama and Greenify !

Having custom options for the interface is great, but saving battery from unnecessary electricity draining is much more important. I tried to use the “Stamina” mode of the phone. It stops some services and data connections while the screen is off. However, some services continue to wake the CPU and eat battery alive… Enter Llama and Greenify. Greenify, in its root version, allows the switch of of background applications that one chooses. Greenified apps loose the ability to continuously poke the processor or network sevices. Altogether, when the screen is off, the phone sleeps withoug draining much current.

Another important element in the battery saving battle is Llama (for location aware management of Android, I think). Llama can learn the radio antennas that are closest to my home, and allow some events to be programmen either when I come home or when I get out. My Llama, for example puts off the PIN security lock screen when at home and puts it back on when on the street (just in case the telephone is stollen or lost). Most importantly, Llama can switch off any active WiFi or data connection when the screen is locked. Thus, such connexions are only active when I need them. From 14 hours of battery life for the notoriously bad (for this) Xperia V, Greenify and Llama got me to this type of situation (about 2 days, with light usage):

battery_usageRooting is not without risks but, with the Xposed framework, great tweaks become possible on modern Android systems (Jelly Bean and up). For the Xperia V, the tweaked stock launcher is a very capable one and I don’t feel any need to change for another launcher.


MRC Compose – better handling of recipient addresses by Thunderbird mail

Ever since I began using Thunderbird as my regular mail client, ten years ago, I was annoyed by the way the window to compose a new mail was organized. To add a new recipient, one had, and still has, to click over several lines of text input. It is not practical, does not save screen space and does not allow very simple things like pasting a list of comma-separated e-mail addresses in the “To:” field.

This annoying interface problem is solved by MRC Compose, a fantastic addon for Thunderbird. The compose window looks now like this:

MRC_compose_screenshotThe interface is in French, sorry, but it shows how you can add as many recipients as you like in a single entry field. The cogwheel on the left allows adding other fields (Cc, Bcc, Fw, Reply) to be added. To have some of the fields persistent, the Preferences of the addon allow that.

Altogether, an excellent addon that does one thing really well.

PS The theme used for the screenshot is Silvermel.

PPS. Another great extension, useful if you send Word files from a Mac to people who do not use Thunderbird is no application/applefile.

UPDATE: The MRC Compose and the Conversations add-ons are the ones that I constantly use on Thunderbird. Long live open-source Thunderbird!