If you belong in the latter crowd, you may be familiar with at least some aspects of the hardware-modding community. But what of the layman who wants to pimp his phone and hasn’t a clue where to begin?
We’ve gathered a handful of the most mod-worthy Android phones, complete with straightforward instructions on how to fully go “Vin Diesel” on your smartphone. That is to say, we show you how to gain root access — or superuser, full-permissions status — to each phone. That allows for customization far beyond what you can accomplish with a stock device. After root is achieved, the sky’s the limit.
Warning: More often than not, rooting or unlocking your phone voids your warranty, which means you’ll get no love from your carrier’s tech-support line if you accidentally screw it up. You also run the risk of “bricking” your phone — essentially rendering it useless — when performing some of these procedures.
So, proceed at your own risk!
HTC Nexus One
Available now only through Google as a “developer phone,” the HTC-manufactured Nexus One was Google’s first “pure Android” experience phone. That means there are no clunky user interfaces slapped on by the phone manufacturers. More importantly, the phone comes with an unlockable bootloader, which allows you to load a custom ROM and overclock the phone’s CPU.
If you want to root your Nexus One, head on over to Lifehacker for a streamlined, step-by-step guide.
HTC Incredible and HTC Evo 4G
Not more than a few months after the Incredible’s debut, the modding team over at Unrevoked released version 3.0 of its eponymous rooting tool. After downloading the Unrevoked3 software, all you have to do is connect your phone to your desktop PC and let the program run. You’ll be given root permissions, and the ClockworkMod program will be installed, which lets you load custom ROMs and apps otherwise blocked by HTC.
The Unrevoked site hosts its rooting program for Mac, Windows and Linux users who want to root their Incredible, Evo 4G or one of a slew of other HTC phones.
Samsung Galaxy S
Samsung’s Galaxy S line has been massively popular with the general public. More than 10 million Galaxy S handsets were sold as of the end of 2010. Each of the big four U.S. carriers has its own branded version of the Galaxy S phone, which makes for lots of developing across a family of similar devices. That means lots of custom ROMs to be had.
If you want to root your Verizon-carried Samsung Fascinate DroidForums provides a comprehensive guide on how to do it. If you’re a T-Mobile Vibrant user, IntoMobile’s rooting tutorial is a breeze. The Epic 4G rooting instructions on the XDA-Developers forum for the Sprint users out there. Finally, AT&T Captivate users can find comprehensive instructions on using a program for an easy one-click root.
Unlike most of its pesky Motorola brethren, the Droid One comes with an unlocked bootloader, which gives you the ability to flash custom kernels as well as ROMs. Essentially, custom-kernel flashing allows for more control over the device’s hardware than would otherwise be possible with a locked bootloader (which Motorola is notorious for including).
For those of you with the first Motorola Droid phone, Lifehacker provides a nicely detailed rooting guide.
Samsung Nexus S
We couldn’t forget the successor to the Nexus One. Like its little brother, the Samsung-made Nexus S offers a “pure Android experience,” debuting with stock version 2.3 (Gingerbread). And just like the One, the S is easily unlocked and rootable. The recently released version 7.0.2 of the highly popular CyanogenMod ROM — a custom interface that improves hardware performance and offers a nifty set of subtle enhancements — is supported on the Nexus S (among 20-plus other devices).
As the site NexusSHacks.com shows in its instructional video and guide, rooting the S is about as simple as rooting its predecessor.
Sony Ericsson Xperia Phones
While these phones aren’t yet released, Sony Ericsson has made headway into making its Xperia line very mod-friendly. Earlier this year, the company released instructions on how to unlock the bootloader on its forthcoming Xperia Arc, Neo, Play and Pro handsets. After launching mod-unfriendly, locked-bootloader phones like the X10, this seems like Sony Ericsson extending an olive branch to the developer community.
While we know the phones aren’t out yet, Sony Ericsson’s unlocking instructions are available for eager developers’ eyes to see on the company’s site.