You know what’s boring? File managers. Seriously, file managers are dead-boring – they are almost never exciting pieces of software. But here’s the thing – they’re not supposed to be exciting. A good file manager is there when you need it, can do whatever it is you need it to do, and works reliably.
More than half a million downloads and over 18,000 reviews with a staggering 4.8-star average say that $4 utility Root Explorer is all of those things, and more. So no, it’s not the next Angry Birds, and it won’t keep you entertained for hours (I hope). But when you need a good file manager, this is one app you’ll be grateful to have on your phone or tablet.
That said, it does cost money, and there are excellent free alternatives available (mentioned at the end of the post). So, why should you spend those $4?
Why Not Manage My Files Through My Computer?
I’m glad you asked! It’s true – many Android devices mount as local USB storage devices when you plug them into a PC. This means you can usually manage files on their SD cards and “user-facing” (i.e, data) folders easily using your computer. This is convenient, because you can use a full-fledged desktop file manager to move things around. The downside is that you’re limited to whatever your device makes accessible via USB.
Worse still, many Android ROMs only let you mount the phone as an MTP device, which is tech-talk for “media player”. They convince your computer that the phone is a Sansa-like media player, so you can still move files onto it, but it’s not nearly as easy.
Finally, you might want to do something with your phone’s files when you’re away from a computer. I don’t think messing with your phone’s system files when you’re not near a computer is a great idea, but Root Explorer makes that possible.
Basic Functionality: It’s In The Name
When you first launch Root Explorer, it’s going to ask for… root access! That’s right. As you might expect from the name, Root Explorer is aimed at users who have rooted their phones. Rooting your phone isn’t difficult. Here’s a tutorial Ryan wrote about rooting your phone with SuperOneClick, for example. For the rest of this article, I’ll assume you’ve rooted your phone.
This brings us to the other part of the name, the one that says “Explorer“. That bit looks like this:
It’s a file browser, and it starts off at the very root of your file system – note the /dev and /etc folders, for example. This isn’t your SD card or data directory (which is /data above) – this is the very root of your phone’s file system, and you probably shouldn’t be messing with it too much. That’s why Root Explorer wisely mounts it as read-only (“Mounted as r/o” in the screenshot above). If you’re absolutely sure you want to mess around with your root directory, gaining write access is just a button tap away – Mount R/W.
When you tap and hold a file or folder, you get a very complete menu:
This is the meat of the app, really. The first few functions are obvious, but when you scroll down, things get more interesting:
For example, you can zip or tar the folder right from within Root Explorer, which is nice for manually backing up things. And once you’ve made the folder into a single file, you can proceed to share (i.e, email) it from within Root Explorer. Of course, this should not be your backup strategy (I warmly recommend Titanium Backup if you care about your data even a little bit), but it’s nice when you want to reach into your phone’s innards.
Above you can see an XML file within Root Explorer; this is one of Titanium Backup’s configuration files, and Root Explorer let me peer into it with just a long-tap and “View as Text“.
If you do a lot of archiving, you may appreciate the Zip/Tap preferences:
These let you specify a default folder where you want Zip files placed. In combination with a tool like Dropsync, you could easily create a system where you can just zip a folder and have it show up on your Dropbox moment later. Very handy.
One last essential feature I’d like to share:
Search! Again, it won’t blow you away, but it’s a crucial feature in a file manager. This is actually one of the few areas in which I find Root Explorer somewhat lacking: Search is always recursive, always assumes you’re searching for partial strings (so you don’t need wildcards), and only lets you search by filename – there’s no way to search for files modified in the last three days, for example.
Root Explorer is far from the only file manager on Android, and it faces formidable competition from excellent free managers ES File Explorer and Total Commander. It’s solid, lean, and gets the job done – but my honest advice to you would be to try those two free alternatives first. If you really feel neither is delivering the goods, shell out $4 and take Root Explorer for a spin.