September 23, 2010

Unrevoked Roots Many Android Phones - And It's Easy

As we rely on our smartphones to perform more of the tasks we once trusted only to our PCs, we expect them to be fully capable - and are impatient when we run into limits that get in the way of us trying to accomplish something that should be simple. But limits are often in place, by hardware manufacturers, carriers and operating system developers, regardless of your preferred platform, that can slow you down. Luckily, smart coders are often ready with solutions that get around pesky manufacturer suggestions and vanilla installs to bring our smartphones to their full potential. This movement, most famously spurred on by iPhone jailbreakers on the Apple platform lives on in Android, helping technology n00bs like me give my phone root access without having to learn new computer languages.

While I very publicly switched away from iPhone to Android earlier this summer, the platform occasionally has its annoyances. They all do. One of the most glaring is how Android (even with 2.2) approaches screenshots. While on the iPhone, screenshots are simple, and two thumbpresses away, Android requires third party software, and the third party software requires the device to be rooted. In theory, it's all in the name of security, but it's a royal pain for a blogger who likes to show what apps I am actually using in articles that cover Android.

Root is also required for more advanced edits of the phone's default actions, such as getting out of the bloated HTC Sense UI and to stock Android.

I had previously solved this shortly after getting my HTC EVO at Google I/O, but a subsequent over the air (OTA) update from HTC wiped out my root access, and left me with Sense again (and no screenshots)... for months. Phooey.

But a team led by Matt Mastracci of DotSpots (@mmastrac) has released a simple tool called Unrevoked, which works for Mac, Linux and Windows, and makes rooting your device - forever - a snap. Just go to, choose your Android phone model, download the software, and follow the simple instructions.

Unrevoked, as the team reminds us on their site on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), says they want to "make it legally possible for people like us to reverse engineer and run code on products that we own". That's been a big sore spot for those jailbreaking the iPhone, and rings true again for those who hear about the openness of Android, only to find similar limits in place.

My EVO, on 2.2, is Rooted via Unrevoked

As you can expect, the Unrevoked team is in something of a tug of war, looking to stay ahead of the device makers and their future OTA updates. But if you watch their Twitter account (@unrevoked) you can see guidance on how to keep the upgrades from the carrier and handset developers, but maintain the opportunity to keep the phone fully rooted and fully capable. Even if you don't have a CS degree (and I don't), you can run Unrevoked. Find it at