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6 Things You Don’t Have to Root Android to Do Anymore

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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.

Take Screenshots

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Comments (21)

  1. jon_hill987

    When I can remove the bloatware instead of just freezing it I will stop rooting my phone. :P

  2. Johann

    VPN access has been around since 2.3 (maybe 2.2), it just never worked properly (hope it does now).

  3. /-\ |\| O |\| Y |\/| O U $

    I’d like to know what versions of Android these “things” work on/with. Cause it sure doesn’t work on my Android device. Those aren’t even the same menus or options!

    Maybe that’s because I’m not some kind of lemming!!! IOW, I don’t always follow the crowd and buy the latest and greatest devices. (They’re usually not all that great anyway.)

    Maybe you haven’t heard – the economy sucks right now. Maybe the economy hasn’t hit your little isolated part of the world just yet but it’s definitely headed in a spiraling toilet-like motion that now prohibits a lot of other “regular people” – like me – from wasting money buying new Android phones/devices every 5 minutes. So perhaps you could realize this? Perhaps you could cover things like older Android devices or at least tell us what versions of Android articles like this are for?

    Seriously! Cause when I read about 6 reasons I don’t have to root my Android device but then see a bunch of non-menus I just have to wonder if critics of America aren’t right – we are arrogant and probably a little “too rich” to understand other people. And here’s probably one more example where the assumption has clearly been made that everyone has the extra income to updated/upgraded his/her device. Wrong! (Can I get a big buzzer sound here?)

    This “article” gets a big “WTF?” in my book. At the very least, the title is horribly misleading.

    The only thing that really surprises me is that this article was written by an otherwise very knowledgeable author.

  4. james

    @ /-\ |\| O |\| Y |\/| O U $
    The 2nd paragraph states that you may need 4.0 or 4.1 for some of these. The article is just fine as is. Your reading comprehension is the only thing that is WTF here.

  5. Alex

    @james
    The 2nd paragraph also states: “and some were added in earlier releases”
    how much earlier? 3.2? 2.2?
    just make proper titles. lots of people will waste their time reading this article. so did I

  6. Mike_NJ

    I have to agree with /-\ |\| O |\| Y |\/| O U $ and Alex.

    While I appreciate reading new tricks about using my Android, unfortunately none of these work for me.

    *My stock Samsung Galaxy SII/Sprint Epic 4G Touch, running Android 2.3.6, cannot perform screenshots as described above. Google searches instead brought me to a video of a guy displaying that you need to hold the Home button and push Power.
    *I’m not able to “disable/freeze” apps as described. I can’t even uninstall the default apps.
    *There’s no option to disable notifications.
    *There’s no Data option in my system Settings.
    *No option for Data encryption.
    *Oh, hey! there’s VPN settings, but I don’t have a need to play with those.

    So even similar versions of Android may differ across manufacturers.

  7. Chaosadnd

    God forbid they write an article for people that actually know something about their phones!

  8. Kevalin

    “…of course, it’s possible some manufacturers may disable this feature on their devices…”

    And the Understatement of the Week Award goes to… Chris Hoffman!

  9. Mo

    Well, all worked for me except the Disabling apps I only get force close and uninstall updates
    I have a galaxy nexus 4.1 and most of these features I had it in 4.0

    Revoke Notification Permissions —>4.1
    Restrict Cellular Data —> 4.0 and 4.1 – not sure if earlier
    Connect to VPNs —> 4.0 and 4.1 – not sure if earlier
    Take Screenshots —>4.0 and 4.1 and earlier

  10. Citrus Rain

    My Cyanogenmod 7.2 for the Mecha can take screenshots.

    My stepdad’s Kindle Fire with Android 4.1.1 has G+ installed as a system app. He disabled it because he doesn’t use social networks, and therefore G+ is now bloatware since the kindle fire doesn’t do external storage.

    @Anon (I am not typing your name the way you did.)
    Root your device, find an ASOP rom running a newer version of Android than your stock rom, and shut up about money. Your device manufacturer may have one or more of these reasons for you not having Jelly Bean: They don’t want to spend the money on building an updated rom for your device. Your device’s hardware might not be able to handle the newer builds. They don’t think enough people have that device for them to take the time for it.

  11. Googah Chroomah

    it’s funny to learn the fact that, using android as modem with laggy gprs connecshun, howtogeek.com home page seems to be stuck with july 16 entry. i’ve tried emptying everything in chrome, broswing using another browsers, the result is still the same. maybe my isp forgets to delete there howtogeek.com’s cache, or is it there something very important somebody wants me to knoe? i get to this article thru feeds. other sites seem to work normally.

  12. tony

    How about adding backing up your applications to this list. I know it’s not enlightening, but given the things in the list, it’s no more or less obvious than those items.

  13. losl

    I got my Nexus 7 from Google. I cannot make a screenshot by pressing “volume down/power” or “volume up/power” simultaneously, why? thank you !

    Lo

  14. Ehns0mnyak

    Only reason to not root your droid. It’s already rooted.

  15. s3m3n

    What about backing up app data? I can’t still move from one phone to another saving my apps data like game saves, some stats etc. Root is still required in this case :(

  16. interested observer

    @ /-\ |\| O |\| Y |\/| O U $

    Perhaps I am reading too much into your rant, but I hope that you realize that Americans are not the only people on earth, let alone the only people on earth that use Android phones. I have friends in South Africa as well as Europe that use them. And a REAL shocker–they even UPDATE/UPGRADE them!! Imagine THAT!!
    This article states right up front that some of the changes were made in 4.1, some in 4.0, and some may have been available earlier. If you’re using something as old as dirt, I think you can count on these features NOT being available to you.

    As for your buzzer sound…your entire post deserves it!!

  17. Ron

    @ /-\ |\| O |\| Y |\/| O U $
    I agree with Interested Observer. I could underestand some anger if you had paid for this advise, but these articles are a free download. Please takee a happy pill and stfu.

  18. ichido

    How does one Upgrade their Android to 4.0 or 4.1?
    My LG Vortex with Verizon is running 2.2.1.

  19. tisha

    You can take screenshots with android 2.2.

  20. hollowspy

    Great to see the freezing option – was looking for this to cut down on access for casual users (in a school environment). Shame you can’t lock out Google Play to prevent downloads too – seems iOS has a much better suited OS for such use :(

    Love the Nexus 7, with a little tweaking it would rock in schools

  21. katador

    Hey hollowspy… if u don’t want what google play download automatically updates… uncheck automatically update… also in setting of play you can select update over wifi only, notifications about updates… review the settings option!!

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