Unlike iOS, the Android operating system is open sourced and open to many possibilities. With many third party customization offerings, anything can be tweaked to look differently, from the launcher to even the status bar and the interface colours. What can a normal user then do to maximize the usage of their device?
We all know that Android can be rooted, as most Android power-users calls it. Rooting is basically the jailbreak of Android, where the user is given complete access and control to the core Android operating system files. This complete access and control can be manipulated to perform various tasks such as directly modifying framework code without actually modifying the code itself, backing up your apps and games automatically, and of course removing the bloatware that came with that brand new Samsung phone you just got from your carrier. But of course, we all know not everyone can root their devices, and some devices may not even have a proper root method available yet.
You can still maximize the usage of your device without root access. There are many third party customization app offerings available on the Play Store and off the Play Store (be careful, alligators ahead!) in third party app stores or on various websites.
One of the unique features of Android devices is that you can fully customize your home screen. That is, if you use a third party launcher. Launchers such as Nova Launcher can mimic the stock Android look while still allowing you, the user, to customize how the launcher behaves. These customizations range from transition animations to custom icons. There are also launchers like Scout Home that deviate from the default stock look altogether, and bring a completely unique experience.
Most launchers also come with widget support. Widgets are little interactive panels that can be arranged and put on your home screens (or widget panel if used). These widgets can allow you to interact with your apps without launching them, such as in the example of the Google Keep widget, which allows you to read your notes without opening the Google Keep app. However, widgets can drain your battery, so moderate use is recommended.
As if having a home screen isn’t enough, there are even more types of launchers that allow for easier multitasking, such as in the case of Sidebar, which allows you to launch apps from a sidebar that is always running. While it is easier to go to the home screen to launch apps, you may prefer directly launching another app right from the one you’re working on now.
This is a feature which not every OEM has in store. Google Nexus devices, for instance do not have theming support by default, as the operating system are pure Android builds. OEMs like Sony and Samsung have built-in theming engines that will allow you to customize how your device looks and feels. These customizations may include things like custom icons and colours for the interface. Devices running CyanogenMod also have the opportunity to explore a huge number of themes, most of them directly available on the Play Store.
Themes also include icon packs for custom launchers (mentioned above). Some of these icon packs are built with masks too for apps that are not in their databases yet. One such icon pack would be Moonshine, which incorporates Google’s Material design guidelines very well.
3. Custom apps
Android also allows apps to set themselves as your default apps. This means that for instance, instead of the default camera app that was provided with your device, you can grab another camera app and set it as your default camera app. This means that how you operate every Android device is unique, and depends on your app configuration.
Another example would be how custom web browsers are also truly what they seem, unlike iOS which every browser uses the default Safari WebKit engine. Browsers are allowed to have their own rendering engine included to enhance or change the user’s browsing habits – this means that even how you browse the Web can be determined by what web browser you use. Some web browsers even block ads and tracking scripts for you, completely without root access.
4. Manage those files
Android is unique in a way that file management is no hassle. You can simply download your favourite file manager app (FX File Explorer is my favourite) and manage your music, downloads, documents, and so on.
Managing your files does not necessarily mean direct interaction with your files too – you can use an app such as AudioTagger to manage your music and place them in the correct albums or artists (which I know Google Play Music doesn’t do well at all). In addition to managing media, you can also delete unwanted files that uninstalled apps may have put in your internal storage or SD card, but did not remove.
However, if you are in fact rooted and ready to bust some system files, there are many things you can do in addition to what was mentioned previously.
One of the most popular customization apps for the rooted Android device would be the Xposed Framework, or sometimes known as the Xposed Installer. The Xposed Framework uses community-made modules to modify various parts of your system at runtime, such that nothing is actually changed in the system, and you do not have to enter lines of code just to get that cool donut battery icon.
The Xposed Framework can also add additional features to your device, such as the popular module Snapprefs, which allows you to save (yes, literally save) Snapchat photos and videos, write a lot more text, and even change the text colours. There are also various other modules which add features to your device, particularly those usually included in custom ROMs like CyanogenMod.
2. Save those apps
With root, you can fully make a copy of your apps’ data files onto your SD card. The most popular backup app right now is Titanium Backup, which not only allows for backup and restore of your apps, but also has many other extended features. One feature I personally like would be the ability to merge app updates of system apps directly into the ROM itself. This ensures that you’ll always have enough free space to install apps, and that that last pesky Google Play Store update won’t take up your remaining 90MB of free space.
By backing up too, it means that in case of a major catastrophe involving your device, you can always restore your app data from your SD card while on another device. System settings can also be restored if the versions of Android are similar. While Google does sync your installed apps to their servers for restore, it does not sync your app data unless your apps have their own cloud servers that save your data periodically.
3. Manage those files
Yes, you can also manage files with root, but you can actually do more when rooted. While rooted, you have complete access to the filesystem, and you can perform unique file operations that typically cannot be done on a non-rooted device.
For instance, you can use an app like SambaDroid to directly link your device to your PC via the network. You can also use cleaning apps like SD Maid (which is my personal favourite) to automatically schedule clean-ups and thus freeing up more space for more content.
In addition to using third party apps, if you are a power-user, you are also free to modify any system files to your own needs, such as modifying the build.prop file to change the screen DPI, etc. However, do note that modifying system files may cause device updates to fail, and if not careful, you may even brick (basically destroy) your device.
4. Go wild!
While rooted, your device is at its maximum potential. Together with third party offerings on the Play Store, you can do almost everything with root. Automation is possible, you can hide those pesky un-opened apps in the Recents screen, manage your CPU and/or GPU, and essentially anything your OEM doesn’t want you to do. So go wild! Just remember to do a Nandroid backup, will ya? Droid Agency is not responsible for bricked devices.
While not having root is definitely the safer way to go, you can maximize the usage of your device without root, as it is simply put, running Android. While rooted, Android will definitely be even better, as you gain complete control over your device. If you are a normal user who doesn’t want root, or a power-user who wants complete access to /system/app
, you can maximize the usage of your device in many ways possible, thanks to developers who have released many apps that help you use your device in a unique way, and also thanks to Android’s open sourced nature.