For years, Android enthusiasts have been rooting their devices to do things that Android doesn’t allow by default. Google has added many features that once required root to Android, eliminating many of the reasons for rooting.
Some of these features were added in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, some were added in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and some were added in earlier releases. You can still root the Nexus 7 and other devices, of course – but it doesn’t feel quite as essential these days.
You could always take screenshots by connecting your Android smartphone or tablet to your computer, but taking screenshots on your device was once a privilege reserved only for root users.
To take a screenshot, press the Volume Down and Power keys at the same time. This works on the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus – however, some manufacturers may change the default screenshot key combination on their devices. On Jelly Bean, you can view and share the screenshot from your notifications drawer.
Disable Preinstalled Apps
You can now “freeze” (or disable) preinstalled applications on your Android. This is particularly useful for bloatware that carriers or manufacturers may include – of course, it’s possible some manufacturers may disable this feature on their devices.
To disable a preinstalled application, open Android’s Settings screen, select Apps, and flick over to the All category. Tap the app you want to disable in the list.
If you can’t uninstall the app, you’ll see a Disable button where the Uninstall button would be. Tap the button to disable the app. The Disable button may not be available for some essential packages that are part of the Android OS, but you can disable default apps like the Calendar, Gallery, and Clock. You can even disable Android’s built-in keyboard.
Revoke Notification Permissions
While Android still doesn’t allow fine-grained control of all the permissions an app requests without root access, you can revoke the notification permission from an app. This is ideal for apps that abuse notifications by showing ads or apps that just show too many permissions.
Go into the Settings screen, select Apps, and tap the app you want to disable notifications for. Uncheck the Show notifications box and the app won’t be able to display notifications anymore.
Restrict Cellular Data
With Android’s built-in tools, you can restrict specific apps from using the cellular data connection in the background. It’s not quite a firewall that blocks network access for specific apps, but it’s still useful.
To take advantage of this feature, go into your Settings screen and select Data usage. In addition to setting data limits, viewing charts, and disabling mobile data entirely, you can tap a specific app and check the Restrict mobile data check box to prevent the app from using mobile data in the background. The app can still use data if you open it, and can still use data on Wi-Fi networks – but it won’t be able to use the cellular data connection in the background.
If you’re using a Wi-Fi network that’s actually a mobile hotspot, you can tap the menu button, select Mobile hotspots, and tell Android whether a specific Wi-Fi network should be treated as a mobile network. Android will treat the selected networks as mobile data networks instead of Wi-Fi networks.
Encrypt Device Storage
Android includes built-in encryption support, allowing you to encrypt your smartphone or tablet’s entire storage. When you power it on, you’ll have to enter its encryption password – if you forget this password, you’ll have to perform a factory reset and lose all your data. If your device is stolen, the thief will need your credentials to decrypt it and access your data (assuming it’s powered off).
To encrypt your Android smartphone or tablet, go into it Settings screen, tap Security, and tap Encrypt tablet or Encrypt phone. The process will take some time.
Connect to VPNs
If you want to connect your Android to a virtual private network – say, your work VPN – you don’t need to root it and install a VPN client anymore.
To connect your Android to a VPN, go into its Settings screen, tap More under Wireless & Networks, and tap VPN. You’ll be able to add and edit multiple VPN profiles.
While there are still some things you can only do by rooting your Android, Google’s doing a good job of adding features to the Android OS where they make sense.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 08/1/12