The web’s massed fanboy armies will debate the relative merits of iOS and Android until the apocalypse, but there’s no denying Google’s OS wins out when it comes to customisation – and, if you’ve taken the plunge and rooted your device, then a whole load more options will become available.
It sounds like a complex procedure but, for virtually all Android handsets, it’s surprisingly easy: our own Technical Editor, Darien Graham-Smith, explained how to do it back in September, and instructions for major handsets – such as the HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 are easy enough to find, although you’ll be taking your phone and, perhaps, your warranty, into your own hands if you proceed.
Still, that’s not to say that you need a rooted handset to take advantages of some of these tweaks – here are ten of our favourite Android hacks and tricks, rooted or not:
Replace your car’s satnav system
This will only work if you’ve got a phone that can connect over a TV-out cable – that’ll restrict you to a mere handful of handsets, including the Samsung Galaxy S, HTC EVO 4G and Droid Incredible, which is used in this video – and a car that’ll display the signal on its screen.
If you tick those boxes, though, you could be in for a money-saving treat. Why invest in a satnav, after all, when you could use Google’s own software? It’s got undoubted pedigree: we put it through real-world road tests in the summer against many of its rivals and found it to be the best satnav option.
Satnav’s only the tip of the iceberg. Connect your phone to access your music collection, read your Twitter feed, check the latest headlines or perform any other function on your dashboard. While Android in cars has been mooted before, no concrete models have appeared, so this is the next best thing.
If you’ve still got an iPhone 2G or 3G gathering dust, it can be hard to know what to do with it – after all, you’ve likely replaced that older model with a snazzy new iPhone 4. If you’d like to experience the unrestricted pastures of Android, though – and perhaps try out apps that Steve Jobs has deemed unacceptable, such as the Wikileaks cables – then follow these steps, which begin with jailbreaking your phone.
You’re not restricted to installing Android on an old iPhone, either. Intrepid developers have busily ensured that a whole range of devices can be hacked to run Google’s OS: from the Windows Mobile-running HTC HD2 to an old netbook.
Overclock your handset
You’ll need to have rooted before trying this trick, but it’s worth it if your phone struggles when multi-tasking or running intensive applications.
Of course, as with a desktop PC, overclocking a phone comes with risks. The processor inside your handset’s been designed to run at a specific speed and, without any active cooling inside its chassis, running the chip at a faster pace will generate additional heat and use more power.
The versatility of these apps does mean that it’s possible to combat these symptoms by underclocking your phone’s processor, saving battery power and potentially prolonging the chip’s life in the process.
Play classic games
One potentially dubious benefit of Android’s open approach is that its market is full of software emulators for classic games consoles: a quick scan on AppBrain reveals software like SNesoid, GameBoid and Ataroid – apps that wear their retro allegiances firmly on their sleeves.
While these tools occupy some particularly murky legal ground, that hasn’t stopped several developers creating apps to download ROMs – the software needed to play classic games. Some have been even more imaginative, with one intrepid Dell Streak owner attaching a NES controller to his device for more realistic retro gaming action.
Why settle for just only open-source OS on your device? We suspect that this particular trick won’t work if you own older and less powerful Android devices such as the HTC Hero, but owners of newer, faster handsets might want to take a gander at this guide.
It’s an impressive trick – just imagine pulling out your Nexus One at a (very, very geeky) party and booting into Ubuntu. As neat as it is, we’re struggling to think of practical uses for this trickery. After all, Ubuntu isn’t designed for touch interfaces and small smartphone screens could be problematic, too.
Change your look
Android is the most versatile mobile OS around. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the sheer number of apps, themes and graphics that are available for customising your phone. Numerous apps are designed to replace Android’s stock front-end or manufacturer-provided software, with tools such as LauncherPro, Home++ and HelixLauncher just three of many in the Market.
That’s just the start. Basic modifications like wallpaper changes can be livened up with animated backgrounds, and new icons can be downloaded if you don’t like the standard ones included with your home screen replacement. Tools such as Beautiful Widgets have their own communities churning out hundreds of stylish skins for its software.
It’s also worth taking a gander at some of the home screens posted on Reddit’s Android forum: with examples such as this, this and this regularly making the rounds, it’s no surprise that Google’s OS is doing so well for itself.
Install root-only apps
Rooting your phone opens it up to a whole new world of options, not least the chance to install apps that aren’t available in the regular Market. Plenty of these allow extra control over the behind-the-scenes operations of your phone: some provide quick booting options, others allow your system to access extra memory, and more permit developers to access and edit the SQL databases used by most standard apps.
Plenty of root apps prove themselves useful in other ways. Screenshot tools will prove invaluable if you’re used to the faff of getting screenshots from a stock Android phone, which involves installing the Android SDK and jumping through several dozen hoops. Backup tools, Wi-Fi tethering and battery-management and conservation utilities are all commonplace, too. Root apps tend to be on the geeky end of the spectrum, but they’re very useful.
Control your media centre
Having a smartphone means that your media collection needn’t be limited to your PC. Install an app like Gmote alongside its PC server software and you’ll see what we mean: by using Wi-Fi streaming it’ll grant access to your entire media collection.
Its slick interface makes navigating your media collection a doddle and a couple of options mean that you can choose to play files on your PC or on your phone. It’s also possible to switch to a touchpad-style interface that allows you to take control of your PC from your touchscreen.
Open your garage door
Yes, seriously. It’s the work of one imaginative Android owner, and it’s brilliant.
Get the latest Android versions, fast
Every Android user is familiar with the seemingly endless waiting that punctuates every OS update: while Google might announce that the latest version is available, handset owners still have to twiddle their thumbs while their manufacturer and phone network tweak the software and add plenty of crapware before releasing it to paying customers.
If you’ve rooted your phone, though, then you don’t have to go through any of that hassle; instead, merely wait for an eager developer to release a ROM of the latest Android build and you’re good to go. It certainly beats waiting months for HTC to release the 2.1 update for the Hero.