It’s surprising how much you can customize a non-rooted Android. If you want to unlock the depths of Android and open it up to full-scale modifications, yes you’ll need to root. However, rooting has its dangers so it’s best avoided if you don’t want to risk destroying your device.
That being said, some of the more useful apps on the Play Store are only available for rooted Androids, so it may be worth the effort to properly root your device. For the rest of us, there are plenty of awesome tweaks we can still make without committing to that level of risk.
Note: Are you new to Android? If so, it’s okay to feel a little lost or intimidated. Let us help you get familiarized with the operating system with our frequently asked questions about Android newbie guide.
Tweaking Your Home Screen
The home screen is the most visited screen on any smartphone. If you want to personalize your device, this is where you want to begin. Nothing says “This is my phone!” more than a home screen tailored to your tastes.
Install a brand new launcher. A launcher is an app that handles the layout and launching of apps on your home screen. Different launchers provide different layouts, aesthetics, and functionality. Some are optimized for speed, others are packed with features, while others are minimal and simplistic.
The best advice is to experiment with several different launchers until you find one that you like. Take at least a week per launcher to give it enough time to see how you feel about it. Here are a few launcher recommendations to get you started. If those don’t suit you, here are a few more launchers to try.
Install an icon pack. One way to solidify the thematic feel of your home screen is to replace all of the app icons with a unified icon pack. It’s a small change that can inject a lot of life into your device. Some icon packs cost money but we’ve collected a list of the best free Android icon packs that you should check out.
Install a live wallpaper. No matter how beautiful they are, static wallpapers lose their appeal over time. On the other hand, live wallpapers feel dynamic and interesting. Try these awesome Android live wallpapers to see if it’s something you enjoy.
If you’re worried about battery life, you can relax. Except in rare cases, live wallpapers are relatively light on battery drain. Worse comes to worst, you can uninstall it if it proves problematic.
Install a few widgets. Widgets are interactive elements that reside on the home screen. Some make it convenient to toggle system settings. Others provide quick glance information, such as weather forecasts. Most Android music apps come with widgets that let you control playback from the home screen.
Tweaking Your Lock Screen
The next aspect of Android worth customizing is the lock screen — assuming you even use a lock screen to begin with (which you should). Wouldn’t it be great if you could interact with certain areas of your phone without having to unlock it every time?
That’s where lock screen widgets come into play. These widgets are just like home screen widgets except they reside on the lock screen. Simple enough, right? As it turns out, they’re just as useful.
We’ve rounded up some of the best Android lock screen widgets for your convenience. Check on your RSS feeds, respond to your text messages, or pull up your contacts without needing to punch in your passcode.
Wait a minute. Don’t widgets defeat the purpose of a lock screen? Not necessarily. Widgets allow you to pick which parts of Android should be exposed while keeping everything else safe behind a lock screen’s passcode. As long as you’re smart about which widgets you install, your privacy should remain secure.
Also, feel free to check out these great lockscreen replacement apps. Think of them as launchers, but instead of replacing your homscreen, they replace your lockscreen.
Tweaking Your Battery Life
Battery life is probably one of your main concerns and rightfully so. For non-rooted devices, there’s some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news: starting with Android 4.4 KitKat, most battery-saving apps require root privileges. The good news is that you can still tweak battery life without those apps.
Disable vibrations. While vibrations are less disruptive than loud ringtones, they actually use up more battery life. Depending on how often your device buzzes, you could end up wasting a lot of juice this way — so disable it. That includes haptic feedback when typing, vibrating notifications, etc.
Purge all bloatware. Bloatware describes apps that might be useful if they didn’t take up an exorbitant amount of resources, whether that means RAM, CPU, disk space, etc. Even if you don’t actively use these apps, they can sit in the background and impact performance or waste bandwidth.
At the very least you should disable all bloatware that you can. Ideally you would delete all of that bloatware but that’s not always possible without a rooted device. Want to learn more? Here’s everything you need to know about Android bloatware.
Use Airplane Mode. Airplane Mode disables all forms of network communication, including 2G, 3G, 4G, and WiFi. While disabled, those network components cease to drain battery life.
If you really need to squeeze extra juice out of your device, consider toggling Airplane Mode whenever there’s going to be an extended period of time where you won’t be using the network.
Tweaking Your Security
Smartphone and tablet security should always be a prime concern, especially if you have sensitive data stored within. In this context, sensitive data is anything that you wouldn’t want a stranger to see.
Always use a lock screen. Passwords are always the first line of defense against somebody who gains access to something that doesn’t belong to them. Would you use a debit card that has no PIN? Would you buy a car that has no key lock? If you want to protect your phone, lock it!
Still, there are right and wrong ways to do it. Take heed and check out these security tips for Android lock screens.
Install an antivirus app. Not all antivirus apps are made equal so make sure you install a good one. Malware and viruses are a big problem for all smartphones and Android devices are no exception. Do not neglect this! In case you do fall victim, here’s what to do if your Android is infected.
Consider anti-theft apps, too. Antivirus only gets you so far. What happens if you leave your phone somewhere? Or worse, if somebody picks your phone right out of your pocket? Without an anti-theft app, you may as well consider your phone to be gone for good.
Anti-theft apps help you track your phone in several ways: GPS positioning, security alarms, lockdown, and data erasing features just to name a few. That last feature can come in handy if you have secrets on your phone that nobody should ever see.
Tweaking Your Communication
Lastly, let’s tweak your communication settings to be as productive and pleasant as possible. When you’re browsing the web and sending out text messages all throughout the day, even the smallest improvement can wipe away your frustrations.
Install an SMS app. The stock SMS apps that come preloaded on Android models are usually basic and bland. Upgrade to one of these free alternative SMS apps for a smoother experience that’s complete with more features and customization options. And if you don’t use SMS, how about these free messaging apps instead?
Install a better keyboard. If you spend any time at all typing on your device, it’s worth upgrading to a dedicated keyboard app that replaces the default one. There are a few free ones out there, but this is one area where shelling out a few dollars for a paid app can make a difference.
Need help deciding? Check out our comparison of Android keyboard apps.
Enjoy Your Tweaked Android!
With all of these changes, your device should feel like a brand new product in your hands. If anyone tells you that you need to root Android to start personalizing it, show them your revamped phone and flash a smile.
Let us know how these tweaks work for you! If you have any other bits of advice for non-rooted devices, please share them with us in the comments below.