by Christopher Tippins for the Software Synergy Group
If you own an Android Operating system based tablet such as the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, you have probably run across the topic of “rooting” your tablet. Before I get into that discussion and the processes involved, a few caveats about this article:
The processes described here are not mine and I take no credit for them (or any responsibility for their failures). They were developed by others, primarily the good people at the xda developer’s site. Credit goes entirely to them for this wonderful work.
Take care to read all the warnings outlined below and understand that the processes described below are specific to the Eee Pad Transformer TF101 revision B70 with firmware .21 and will not work for other models and revisions of the Transformer (such as the newer Prime) and other Android tablets (although similar procedures for other types of Android tablets are well documented on the ‘net).
What exactly is rooting?
Rooting an Android device refers to a process where one obtains “Superuser” or “root” access to the device and file system. The term “root”, by the way, originated from the Unix (and later Xenix) operating system and is also used in its more modern variant Linux. The use of the word root in this context derives from the fact that this directory is at the very top of the directory tree diagram (which resembles an inverted tree). In short, these accounts are the equivalent of the more generally titled administrator accounts in the Windows world.
There are many references and web sites devoted to this process of rooting – you can click here for starters if you’d like to learn more, but basically it involves using a flaw or exploit to gain access to this privileged (and possibly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing) account.
Be aware: while rooting your device typically won’t fry or destroy it, there is the certain possibility that this can occur rendering it useless (“bricked”) or damaged beyond repair. Rooting will also void your warranty.
You alone must make the choice as to whether it is worth the risks and take full responsibility for that choice.
Make sure you read any and all documentation for the particular process you’re embarking on for your device before you start. Download all the tools first and familiarize yourself with the entire process before you begin. Also make sure that you find sound resources for your upgrade process. There are quite a few web sites offering not only incomplete information but out and out bad information on what you need to do. Try to find your source documentation at the developer forums like the xda site mentioned above. This is where you’ll find the guys who live, breath and eat this stuff.
Why root an Android device?
Given the risks (and time and effort) that may go into this process, why root?
Simple: it gives you greater control of what you can and cannot do with the device. Additionally, one of the primary reasons people root their devices is to install particular applications that require root access in order for them to function.
I’ll talk about some of these applications later in this article, but for now let’s just focus on the process:
To root an Android Eee Pad Transformer ranges from a simple 5 minute procedure to a much more arduous one depending on what revision of the firmware you are on. In my case, running a B70 rev .21 firmware, I had to take a somewhat long route to first restore my device back to the .19 revision and then install a root tool called Razorclaw. Click here for the particular thread for the entire process to downgrade your firmware from .21 to .19 – this is a prerequisite to attempting to load Razorclaw.
I looked at various ways to accomplish getting Razorclaw installed and there are other ways to skin this cat, so to speak, but they involve loading Google’s SDK (development kit) and using what’s called Nachoroot and adb, but I’ll forego any more detail on this process – suffice to say you can click here if you want to explore this alternative. I chose the option to fall back to an earlier firmware and go from there.
Once I was able to get to a .19 revision of the firmware loaded on my machine, I loaded Razorclaw and from there, it’s a one click operation to root:
Razorclaw also installs an app called Superuser which allows, well, Superuser or root access to your device:
Normally you don’t have to touch Superuser as it function in the background, but you can check the logs from time to time to make sure nothing that isn’t supposed to have root access does.
Once you’ve completed rooting the device, you can get down to the business of why you rooted your device in the first place: to install applications that need these privileges.
Full system as well as data and application backups are essential if you’re going to be doing anything short of using email or browsing the web. While there are applications out there that can accomplish this without root level access, I found they aren’t all that great. This isn’t too surprising as the same thing would be true in any environment where you don’t have administrator privileges on a computer.
The crème de la crème of Android backup applications is one called Titanium Backup. I purchased the Pro version (cost: about $7.00 dollars) as it provides additional features such as the ability to do incremental backups. Here is a screenshot of what it looks like running:
Hands down, it’s probably the best application out there for making sure you can backup all application and user data from your Android device to an external SD card. While it has many features you can get in it and literally be running a backup in minutes. It’s that easy to use even if you’re not that familiar with backup processes to begin with.
This application alone is worth rooting your device for.
You can also make a copy of that backup to another device – in my case my primary Windows 7 computer where I store these files for safe keeping:
It’s hard to ask for more than that, but in fact, I’ll talk about image backups a bit later on as you’re going to want these, too.
I also wanted to install an application called Voodoo Control Plus(also requires root access) to be able to boost volume for my headphones when using that to watch films or listen to music:
While this is a fairly simple and inexpensive app ($3.50 dollars), it’s actually quite astonishing how much it improves the sound quality emanating from your microphone jack.
Another application that’s helpful to have is “Root Explorer”:
Root Explorer, as you might imagine, gives you root file level access to your entire operating system. Without an application like this it’s practically impossible to get to areas of the file system that are normally protected by the OS.
Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like accessing the app folder on the Transformer:
These are just a few of the many root level applications that will provide you with advanced functionality.
I want to digress for a moment and talk about a nifty little feature of the Google Market Place. You can be browsing apps on your PC, select the option to purchase them and they are immediately downloaded and installed to your Android device:
Any apps you purchase on your PC are automatically downloaded to your Android device provided you are logged in and using the same Google account on both your PC and Android device. This certainly makes things easy if you’re like me and like to do most of your research from your primary PC.
OK, so you’ve rooted your device and installed a few important apps. One of the other tools you want to install is an application called Recovery Installer with ClockworkMod. This is a recovery application that allows you to install new ROM’s and backup your existing ROM.
What’s a ROM?
A ROM is a modified version of the stock OS (operating system) that includes more functionally and is typically faster and more stable. Before you’d embark on installing a new ROM you want to make sure you’ve got a good copy of your existing ROM. That’s one of the features ClockworkMod allows for. Note that this is separate and apart from the backups we did with Titanium earlier – you should have both, especially if you’re preparing to load an alternate ROM.
To set it up, follow the procedures from the link in blue bold above to put Recovery Installer on your device. Once you’ve completed those steps you can load the application and this is what you’ll see:
After this install process, the system reboots and you can enter the application by holding down the down volume key and the power button.
That will boot you into ClockworkMod where you can perform a backup (this screenshot shows the completed backup process):
Once the backup is complete, you can copy the files created from it to a folder of your choosing for safekeeping:
So between the image backup performed by ClockworkMod (actually it’s Nandroid that is really performing the backup) and the backup done by Titanium, you’ve got a good backup of your system and data. While this may seem like a lot to go through, these steps, depending on what kind of data you’re storing on your device, are essential if you don’t want to recover it all from scratch if your Transformer get’s lost or stolen or gets hosed during a ROM install.
I’m going to stop at this point.
I’ll focus on choosing and installing ROM’s in an upcoming article, but if you’ve followed the steps above you should be at the point where you are ready to begin that process.
Christopher Tippins for the Software Synergy Group