For years, Android enthusiasts have been rooting their devices to do things that Android doesn’t allow by default. But Google has added many features to Android that once required root, eliminating the need for many people.
And with every major release of Android, the list of reasons to root a device is getting shorter and shorter—what used to be a requisite reasons for rooting is often an included feature at this point. Here are some of the top examples.
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. It seems like this was an eternity ago, and if you’re not a lifelong Android user, you may not even be aware there was a time when screenshots required a rooted device. Crazy, right?
But now, it’s simple: press volume down and power at the same time to take a screenshots (or the home button and power on Galaxy devices with physical buttons). And poof—a screencap ready to share with the world. I honestly still can’t believe this was ever not a native function.
Disable Preinstalled Apps
Look, no one likes bloatware. But once upon a time, your personal feelings on the crap your manufacturer or carrier wanted you to have on your phone didn’t matter. You were stuck with it, unless you rooted your handset.
Now, however, you can easily disable preinstalled applications right from Android’s settings. This is particularly useful for the aforementioned bloatware situation, though it’s possible some manufacturers may disable this feature on their devices. That’s an unfortunate downside of such an open operating system. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be common practice for most major Android OEMs at this point.
To disable a preinstalled application, open Android’s Settings screen, select Apps, and flick over to the All category (this is the default view on Oreo handsets). 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 (though we wouldn’t).
This is one area where Android has made very large strides over the last several versions. Once upon a time, you had no control over what apps were allowed to do on your phone and with your information. Since then, it’s evolved to have a bit more broad control, and now incredibly granular control.
Because controlling permissions is so granular now, it’s a little more in depth than just a “click here, then here, then here.” Instead, I’ll direct you to our full guide on how to take control of all your permissions.
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 the Settings menu and select Data usage (on Oreo, you’ll find Data Usage in the Networks & Internet menu). In addition to setting data limits, viewing charts, and disabling mobile data entirely, you can tap a specific app and uncheck the “Background Data” option 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.
You can also tell Android to treat specific Wi-Fi networks like they’re cellular networks. To do this, tap the “Network restrictions” option under the Wi-Fi subsection in the Data Usage menu, then set the Wi-Fi network as “Metered.” This essentially tells Android to restrict data on this network in the same way it does on cellular networks. Super granular control!
For a more in depth look at how to control your mobile data, check out our guide.
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. It’s worth noting that this process will take a while to complete and once it’s done, it’s done. You won’t be able to undo the encryption without a factory reset.
If you’re interested in learning more about encryption, why you may want do it, and a detailed look at how to do it, check out our primer on the subject. It’s a good read.
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 like you once did. Hooray for innovation!
Some VPNs may have their own standalone apps, but ifyours doesn’t, you can go into the Settings menu, tap More under Wireless & Networks, and tap VPN. You’ll be able to add and edit multiple VPN profiles. On Oreo, you’ll find the VPN option in the Network & Internet menu.
For a more detailed look at all the ways you can connect to a VPN on Android, I recommend taking a look at our Android VPN guide. It covers everything from the simplest options to a full manual setup.
Restart Your Phone With One Tap
Once upon a time, you had to either turn your phone off and back on again manually, or you had to root to restart it with one tap. Honestly, it’s a stupid thing, but man what a difference it makes—I can’t tell you how many times I turned my phone off to restart it and forgot to turn it back on before this feature became commonplace.
I’m sure you already know how to do this: long-press the power button to bring up the menu, then tap restart. It’s easy.
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.