Do you want to take control of your Android phone? By "rooting" your device, a process similar to jailbreaking an iPhone, you can install custom ROMs (images), which add stability and speed improvements to Google's mobile operating system, as well as install new features developed by the hacker community themselves. The procedure involves running commands that enable total access to the device. For non-developer types, hacks like these sound scary, but by following the instructions below, you can take control of your Android phone in only a matter of minutes. The end result is a truly open device which you can modify to your heart's content.

Why Hack Android?

So why would you want to hack your Android phone? For those with older handsets, rooting the device lets you install customized ROMs which can deliver major speed improvements and performance increases. For example, the popular CyanogenMod, created by one of Android's most notable hackers, optimizes performance for both the G1 and MyTouch 3G handsets.

Another good reason to root your phone? Multi-touch. One of the surprising omissions from Google's own Nexus One handset, for example, is the ability to use more than one finger at a time to operate the device. Although available on iPhone from the start, the Nexus One excludes this valuable feature from its mobile operating system. Why? No one knows for sure, but it might have something to do with some patents Apple owns. But that's no matter to the hacker community. Thanks again to cyanogen, Nexus One owners can enable the feature by copying some files over to their device. Other Android owners can perform similar procedures to enable multi-touch Web browsing. But before you can get started with any of these hacks, you first have to root the phone.

How to Root Your Android Phone

However, for novice hackers, "rooting" the phone sounds like it may be easier said than done. Although seemingly intimidating, by following a few simple steps anyone can do this with ease.

Before getting started, remember to back up your phone, including your contacts, SMS messages, files and photos.

  1. The first step is to download and install Superboot, a boot image that, when flashed, will root the device the first time you boot up. You can grab a copy of the Superboot zip file from the Modaco forums here.
  2. Once downloaded, extract the files it contains to a directory on your computer, just like any other zip file.
  3. Now put your Android phone in bootloader mode. (Note, owners of a retail N1 should see instructions here).
    • To do so, turn off the phone, remove the battery, and plug in the USB cable. When the battery icon appears onscreen, pop the battery back in. Now tap the Power button while holding down the Camera key.
    • For those whose Android phones have a trackball, you have an even easier method of doing this: Turn off the phone, press and hold the trackball, then turn the phone back on.
  4. Depending on your computer's OS, do one of the following:
    • Windows: Double click "install-superboot-windows.bat"
    • Mac: Open a terminal window to the directory containing the files, and type "chmod +x install-superboot-mac.sh" followed by "./install-superboot-mac.sh"
    • Linux: Open a terminal window to the directory containing the files, and type "chmod +x install-superboot-linux.sh" followed by "./install-superboot-linux.sh"
  5. That's it, your device has been rooted!

If those instructions confused you, check out YouTube for instructional videos instead. Here's one for rooting the myTouch 3G or G1, and here's one for the Motorola Droid. Here's another. There's also an alternative rooting method involving 1 click demoed here. You get the idea.

Now What?

Now that you've rooted your Android phone, you can get busy adding features, functionality and other hacks. This is the fun part! LifeHacker offers five great reasons to root your phone, for those wondering why you would bother to do this.

Our favorite reasons?

1. Multi-Touch

First of all, Nexus One users can enable multi-touch on their devices. RedmondPie has a good how-to on this:

Meanwhile, Droid owners can hack their phones for multi-touch Web browsing:

T-Mobile G1 owners can do this too following the instructions here.

2. Mods for Performance Improvements (and More)

G1 and myTouch 3G owners can follow this tutorial to install the popular CyanogenMod on their devices, which boosts performance and speed, among other things. Here's a video tutorial on this via AndroidandMe.com

If you need more information, visit the Cyanogenmod Wiki for all the details on this custom ROM. And stay tuned to the latest Cyanogen news via this website

3. Extra Apps and Features

For more fun hacks, try these:

Anyone with a rooted handset can set up Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tethering using this app. The ever-popular Apps2SD software lets you migrate your Android apps over to your SD card, freeing up room on your phone. You can also install custom themes, ringtones and alerts.

More?

If you've hacked your Android phone, share your tips and tricks in the comments. Or if you have links to other good hacks, let us know.

Image credit: Rooting android via ryebrye.com