Newbtorial: How to Keep the Zip in Your Android

g1_tuneup2UUUhhhhhhh, I am so sick of how slow my phone is!  Kevin, if you can’t fix this I am selling this thing and buying an iPhone!

These are the very words I heard come pouring into my office as a coworker, flushed with frustration, walked through the door.  She not so gently placed a nice shiny MyTouch3G onto my desk as she entreated me, “I’ve had it, please fix this!”

Stop.  Rewind.  I guess I should explain that I work in IT and a portion of what I do is to help those around me set up and utilize mobile devices that are friendly with our particular business.  This ranges from Palms to Blackberries, iPhones, and even those dreaded Windows Mobile phones.  Where I work, I have made a big push (a sales pitch some might say) to get more users onto Android and off the alternatives, but I digress.  This isn’t the first time a newer user of Android has walked into my office red in the face and spat out the words, “It used to be really fast and now it takes forever, what’s wrong?”

So, I pick up her phone, unlock it and scroll through her home screens.  I spend a few minutes with it and hand it back to her.  “Should be fine now,” I say.  She immediately begins playing with it and then looks up and says, “That’s amazing! What did you do?”

At this point I make the mistake of launching into a pulpit speech about linux, memory, tasks, background services, intents, and so forth.  Her eyes glaze over and she stops me short and says, “Well at any rate it’s working now, thanks.”

To avoid your eyes glazing over, I am going to cut all the technical and semi-technical stuff and keep it simple.  Below are some good tips and explanations on how to avoid a sluggish droid:

Task killer.  If you don’t have one, get one.  Why?

  • Android is capable (and sometimes over eager) to run applications in the background after you think you have closed them.  In a lot of cases this is generally a good thing, but if you access multiple applications quickly and frequently these background processes stack up and begin consuming your Android’s memory.  Most task killer applications come in a free version and are straight forward to use.  Simply open the app, choose one or more processes to end and click the “kill” button and you’re done, free memory.

Home screen overload.  Don’t do it.  Why?

  • The more things you place onto your home screen the more memory your phone has to use to draw all the icons, picture frames, etc. every time you access the home screen (could be even worse when using home screen replacements, especially if you have more than 3 home screens)

Hey, guess what’s next?  Home screen replacements, be cautious, or at least stay on top of upgrading.  Why?

  • Home screen replacements aren’t bad per se; however, many of them do add in options such as new application trays and rotate features along with extra home screen panes that can slow you down.  Also, if you are applying themes to them, the theme itself may not be optimized to draw icons quickly onto the home screen.  You may also find that home screen replacements may not play well with certain applications and may cause you unnecessary and unwanted force closes.  If you do install a home screen replacement, make sure you keep installing the updates.  Read through the comments when downloading themes for home screen replacements to see if other users have experienced slowness or other problems.

Widget-mania, don’t do it.  Why?

  • Again, this is one more thing your droid has to think about. Widgets are tied to processes that help refresh the widget and thus continually tax your phone’s memory.  Now I’m not saying you can’t have widgets on your home screen, but just don’t cover all three sections in a sea of widgets.  Some widgets have options to adjust the settings of how they operate.  Explore each of your widgets to find out what you can modify in terms of refresh rates, etc.

Animations and Orientation, they look cool, but turn them off.  Why?

  • Your phone needs to use processing power in order to do both.  On top of everything else your droid is thinking about, it can cause slowness.  My recommendation, if you don’t absolutely need it: turn it off.

Caches and Histories

  • “Hey Bro, I love you man”…That’s right, you know all those texts that you get from friends at 3 AM for whatever reason that have been stacking up over the last two months?  Delete them.  It’s a simple matter of house cleaning.  If you simply must keep those embarrassing drunk texts or all the “ZOMGs did you see the shoes Amber wore with that dress!” texts, you can download SMS backup applications on the market that will save them to a web service.
  • Excessive browser history and cache can also add to slowness, I recommend clearing it out on a regular basis.  To do so, go into your browser >> menu >> settings >> clear cache >> clear history >> clear all cookie data.

General Application overload

  • If you haven’t figured it out by now, there is only so much memory to be passed around in Android.  The more apps you have the more memory is being consumed.  If you are getting down to only having around 10 mb left, there is a good chance your phone has slowed down quite a bit.  To check the amount of memory currently available, from you home screen >> menu >> settings >> SD card and phone storage >> scroll down to internal phone storage >> check available space.  If you are getting down to the wire, you have some options.  Either decide if slowness is worth all your apps, or delete what you can live without.  The other option would be to root your phone and start saving your apps on your SD card–or get an app that bypasses the necessity for root.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t necessarily have to follow all of these in order to keep your phone running fast.  But, if you are experiencing slowness, you should maybe look to see if there is something on this list that you could be doing better on.  This is simply a general list of things that I notice on new users’ phones that really brings them to a stand-still. (Especially when you are guilty of all of them at once!)  I understand that everyone’s experience of their Android phone and what they use it for is different; however, the more you give your droid to think about at once, the less efficiently it thinks.  If you remember this very general rule, you are most likely going to be able to trouble shoot or tweak things on your own to be back in tip-top shape in no time.

  • Huffman

    Great thread for all those new to the Android scene!

  • I don't know if this issue has been fixed in Donut (1.6), but on 1.5 or earlier, this is another tip very helpful tip (it sped up my phone enormously):

    There is an issue with Android’s Localization Services (at least in 1.5 or earlier). These services notify apps of where you are (GPS/Wireless networks), but these notifications are not properly ‘cleaned up’ when they are no longer necessary. This causes an extraordinary amount of notifications that the system needs to handle, slowing down your phone.

    If you find that your UI is getting sluggish, disable your Location services (Settings –> Security & Location). Uncheck both checkboxes in the ‘My Location sources’. Then wait a few secs. By this time the flood of these location service notification should have stopped and your phone should feel much zippier .

    If you want, you can turn your location services on again by checking these check-boxes. (However, over time, the same problem may appear again.)

    • yes, this has been fixed in donut

    • Samuel Leung

      WOW. I knew I turned something off a while back that made my phone seem so much quicker. Then I turned it back on and before long it was back to being a slow pain in the a**. Now I know exactly what it was.. thanks 😉

  • daryl

    My phone was getting a bit sluggish. The donut update helped, but probably the biggest difference was made by taking the Facebook widget off my home screen. Now I'm down to 3 widgets. I've also found that google's listen app uses up a good bit of resources, so I kill that if I've had it open. K9mail can be another culprit, it probably doesn't help that I use it for three e-mail accounts.

  • Chris

    This is some great advice. That said, I wonder what the need for this advice says about the platform and/or implementation? One one had, we users hear "look at how powerful Android is, with its background tasks, notifications, widgets, etc.", and on the other hand, it's "oh yeah – but don't overdo it with the platform's features, or usability will suffer significantly."

    These issues can, of course, be resolved – or at least reduced in impact – over time with faster processors, more device memory, platform tuning and more cleanly-written apps, but it really does present a mixed message. Users of what amounts to an appliance won't put up with the extra "management tasks" they have to perform just to keep their devices useful.

    User-driven performance optimization is one thing (i.e. my device works fine but I want to make it faster), but if the average user is frustrated by a device when s/he is only using "advertised features", it could be a huge problem. Last night my wife came home and tossed her new MyTouch 3G on the couch and said "this thing's getting too slow to use – please fix it!", and she only uses a couple third-party apps and has a few extra app shortcuts on her home screen.

    • Hi Chris,

      I agree with you that it tends to send mixed messages as you say, but it is important to distinguish the OS from the hardware. Android IMO is a great OS that with functionality that greatly exceeds man of the competitors but the OS is currently getting cut off at the knees in some respects by the hardware it is installed in.

      In some ways it makes sense that manufacturers would like to have a proven base before pumping more money into making higher end devices, but I won't be among the first to say that I have been disappointed with the slow roll out of optimized hardware.


  • Bobby

    Using Compcache/ linux-swap and apps2sd can make enormous difference. I really actually would recommend custom ROM from xda-developers. It makes a world of difference from the stock. Make sure you have Class 6 Micro SD card… That is a must also.

  • Barwin

    Great article. Thnx.

  • Miguel

    Funny but everything your article mentions NOT TO DO, is exactly what I see on the MotoBlur interface. There are widgets galore in that interface. I'm wondering if that lil' 528Mhz processor is going to be able to handle the strain.

    The Cliq could end up being a debacle for Motorola if MotoBlur ends up bogging down with average usage by average consumers.

    Given the fact that Android allows so many apps to run in the background, it should have a stock mechanism for the user to kill apps. The average consumer should not have to know that they need to go to the market and download Taskiller in order for their phone to run like it is supposed to.

    • Well you will notice that one thing I mention at the end of the article is to root your phone. (this was in reference to having to many apps taking up memory) However, rooting and using over-clocking, or an over-clocked ROM with help significantly.

      Currently on my MT3G I use cyanogenmod 4.1.11. Over-clocked at 528 and the OS runs very smooth. Even though i recommend against it, i am a widget fiend and yet my phone operates without a hitch.


  • I agree on your advice. But thinking further, aren't they the current issues in the Android platform?
    Too many background services, too many widgets/apps competing for UI (thread) attention, and just simply too much stuff going on with a pity 528MHz chip. In this regard, Apple did the right thing with iPhone 😉 Don't get me wrong, I have both iPhone and G1 and I develop on both platforms. I'm speaking both from a consumer point of view (why should I find apps in the Market to clean up my phone and make it run smoother?) and a developer point of view (my apps are running sluggishly, not because I have some bad codes, but the resource constraints on my Android phone).

    • Jeroen

      I agree. Some good tips in this article, but a user should not have to need those tips. Don't get me wrong, I love Android but there are some things that need addressing, and they need it fast.
      Android needs faster handsets and optimizations with regards to multitasking.

    • I will agree that hardware is sorely needed to compliment the OS but I don't know if I agree with you about too many background services and widgets.

      People will always push hardware to its limit and then complain about not being able to do more, thats simply the nature of it all. Once snapdragon hits, you just wait and see. I bet it won't be long before people are saying that snapdragon is not enough!

      This isn't to say i disagree with you… it's just that I think there is a certain level of responsibility that needs to be adopted by users to understand what they have and what it is capable of in the context of how they use it.
      Asking too much? … probably.

      It is the appetite that can't be fed.

  • Some really good tips in here.

    But you guys have some serious problems with the server or something like that. I usually get errors either here or in the RSS.

    • Hmmm, I will have someone look into that. We don't want to lose readers for that reason. Thanks for mentioning it.


  • I think it's totally insane to expect more than 0.01% of your user base to execute steps you are describing. If Android kills itself by mismanaging services/apps/widgets then it should die. No, seriously – notifications and widgets and all the visual candy that's what makes this platform appealing to the user – you take this away or require some special apps, or God forbid expect your user to be somehow educated and sophisticated – then you doomed.
    Said that – excellent tips 🙂

    • Well you could be right about that and this could be why Android is lauded more in the tech sector than in any other…

  • Maybe I missed it when going through the manual but wouldn't it be solved by adding an option to quit the running application when long-pressing the back button?

  • Alan S>

    "Task Killer: Simply open the app, choose one or more processes to end and click the “kill” button and you’re done, free memory."

    Ah, but how to know which ones can be safely disposed of? Is it *really* safe to take the 'Kill All' option?

    • Hagner

      Yes it is safe to kill all, It ignores certain crucial apps, and you can set 2 apps for it to ignore on the free version

  • Jason D

    ha ha, I love how silly some people can be.

    Look, all of this is no brainer stuff. Does anyone really have to be told that the more crap you shove in your phone, the more bells and whistles you have running the more it’s going to be slow? Really?

    That’s like saying “But, butter is food, you mean I can’t have a whole stick of butter with every meal every day? Well, then I might as well not have butter at all!!”

    As with just about everything in life, moderation is the key. Water is lethal if you have too much of it, google “Water intoxication”

    Anyone who thinks a phone should be able to handle abuse and over-use should have theirs replaced with a rotary desk phone, because that’s about how much they can handle.

    • Darth

      "Anyone who thinks a phone should be able to handle abuse and over-use should have theirs replaced with a rotary desk phone, because that's about how much they can handle."

      When you afford users (and even encourage them to utilize) the ability to run background apps, widgets, etc., they have no reason to think that doing would yield an unusable product. Unless they know people like you to berate them, of course.

      • Tom

        Agree fully. Most non-tech people think "Google wouldn't have made it to run multiple apps if it couldn't handle it"

        I'm the techie in my family and I remember when I tried getting my wife a smartphone. This was back when the Moto Q was one of the best on the market. She constantly brought the thing to a halt because closing apps didn't really close them. I think Google should have took a lesson from Windows Mobile.

        This is not a rant about Microsoft or Android or Apple or one phone over another. It's an opinion on usability. If Google wants mass market adoption of Android, they need to think less from a "techie" standpoint and more from a "normal user" standpoint.

        I hear alot of non-techies complaining about their android device and I'm betting there is a pretty high return rate for something more user-friendly.

      • the secret

        the point is… as a ‘newbie’ how to back up and dial back what you’ve overdone… for someone who has figured out they have lopped off a half-stick of butter as a rookie is is nice for someone to let them know how to put some of that butter back on the tray…

        the how to is what is valuable here… not your all-knowing experience – which is what a newbie doesn’t have…

    • James

      If a task killer is crucial for Android, shouldn't one be included?

      Either the UI needs fixing or the task handling software does.

      • veggiedude

        Any consumer device that needs a task killer, is going to fail at being a great consumer device. It will be great for geeks though.

  • Katmandu42

    Yes, you can safely "kill all" tasks with no fear, persistent apps will come back.

  • Victoria

    There's one other simple fix that no one has mentioned. My myTouch was getting super-sluggish and prone to crashing — no matter how many tasks I killed. Then it dawned on me that I hadn't restarted it since I'd bought the thing. It seems like the occasional restart, particularly after I update a bunch of apps, makes a HUGE difference in speed.

  • Tim

    Unfortunately, issues that you mention will lead to Android's downfall. It will prevent mass adoption as new users bring handsets back in droves and exchange them for dumber phones that consistently run smoothly. Google should have learned lessons from Microsoft and Windows Mobile. These types of crippling issues have plagued Windows Mobile for years. Now where is WinMo? In deep you-know-what. I love Android but it's a geeks love affair. Not ready for prime time at all.

  • Rich

    My HTC Hero comments!!!!!!

    One thing users might be overlooking is that in nearly every application including Browser, When you press the menu key….there is a pop-up menu, with forward and back arrows and other options including bookmarks.

    Hit Menu in nearly every app and “voila”….more options…fast and just what you need….like a genie in a cell phone.

    Too many reviews with too many fly by night people that seem to only know half of what the device can do.

    I have spent over a week 8 hours a day loading apps, trying fixes for improving battery life, (thanks to countless posts on Sprint discussion forums and others) including getting rid of any Advanced Task managers because the phone manages apps fine and app conflicts with the Droid functions.

    Switching to Handcent or Chomp and killing Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and mobile data….not only save battery life but after doing a reset (i.e. turning the phone off with the end call button and then turning it back on will reset the awake tine……so you can monitor IF the phone is actually turning off……I am getting 9-20% awake time depending on usage now.

    Go to Menu, Settings, scroll to About Phone, tap, taps on Status, scroll to bottom and compare Up Time to Awake Time to monitor your battery drain. Note: you can hit end call after noting the “awake time” and check it in a few minutes..and if it doesn’t change….then your Hero is sleeping like it should.

    Also, adding too many apps at any one time WILL overload the memory temporarily and eventually KILL the phone function and begin a series of force close tabs….You will not get the phone back without deleting apps…and may not be able to access a forced reset.

    Get X-Uninstaller and delete the last 5-6 apps you downloaded…and the phone comes back….give it a rest for a day and then slowly add a few apps at a time.

    So far, I have over 75-100 apps and my Hero flies… widgets except “Quick Settings’…an “all in one management” app – with all the widgets in one – that need to be turned off when not necessary to save battery life…….

    I also have Handcent, Fast Call, Voicemail, and a screen dimmer APP called Brightness Level on my main page and that’s it.

    Also, My Backup Pro is pretty powerful for saving data and apps to the SD card and restores after resets if they are absolutely necessary.

    Flexillis Mobile Security is an extremely good app to keep your device safe. It has anti virus scanning/protection plus a firewall. Its backup function will backup your contacts, photos, call log, mms, sms’s and pretty much anything else you want it to their online site. And there is a phone locater also as part of this app.

    Continued Below

  • Rich

    Power Manager is great for battery monitoring.

    There’s so much this phone can do and it seems that way too many novices flying by the seat of their pants are in a rush to get on you-tube with their video reviews, in addition the bloggers and so called tech journalists offering VERY limited knowledge of EVERYTHING the HERO does.

    And comparing it to the IPhone. The IPhone is great, but droid just may challenge Apple to reinvent themselves. And we benefit from the tech wars. Something new has come along and bashers and defenders are slinging their opinions and more. Why not just do comparisons, take the high road and lay off the slams. You don’t and I DO! Tech is as diverse as people, We are all different. What a concept. Diversity!

    Verizon’s Motorola Droid will have a bigger screen and 2.0 firmware, but will not be that much faster. The Moment will please some desiring a real keyboard. And then the differences get into personal preference.

    As more people start adding apps and crashing due to what I have already mentioned, they will either give up or exchange for a simpler phone……or stick with it and “get it”! Play with it for a few weeks and then read the MANUAL. And then start researching on Google. There’s a ton of droid info. Opps, did I say GOOGLE? Yes my HTC Hero says that on the back, made in mid September. Rev A.

    Have fun. It took me 3 phone lockups and hard resets to “get it’ and then two more phone lockups….BUT this time I started deleting the last 5 or 6 apps I installed and now I am back up in 10 minutes instead of days…..ALL that to get to where I am now. Cruzin’ with a killer phone and sticking with HTC and Sprint.

    A slightly bigger screen and faster processor would be nice in a Gen 2 phone, but I can wait. So much to do with this amazing piece of technology, it will take months to exhaust the possibilities” and push it and the addition apps to the max.

    By the way, I am one torqued off Palm Treo 650 user who was abandoned when they went stupid and lost the PDA/Smartphone race several years ago. The Pre is promising but too small a screen for my 59 year old eyes. I wish them well, but are they listening to what the market wants? NOT!

    I was so close to an IPhone, researched everything for weeks and then researched the Hero and android operating system. WinMo lost. They’re dead and need a new mission statement and goal.

    Just a few thoughts from someone who’s lived with the Hero and decided to stick with Sprint like I have for the past 7 years.

    And I am not a paid reviewer, endorser or even work in the tech industry. I just played with, crashed and kept on looking for answers till I feel like I am the master of my HERO, and NOT the other way around!

    Best of luck to all the “Droid” pioneers. Droid DOES!!!!

    • Kelly

      Good for you for researching and sticking with it. Most of folks reading here would. Unfortunately, most people coming from Blackberry or iPhone wouldn't research. Most buying their first smartphone wouldn't research. The learning curve needs to be stupidly simple for mass market adoption. I absolutely love Android but I think it's going to remain the geek's phone. HTC and Sony have the best chance of getting it to the masses with their skinned UI's that make the device more "fun" and less like a computer.

  • nice one.. thanks i need this so much..

  • the secret

    my two cents…

    i agree with Rich about research and learning what your phone can really do…

    I also was a geeked-out Treo 650 user – custom rom etc… I spent many hours to ‘own it’ and I could really be more productive in my day-to-day activities cuz there were many apps to help and just knowing all the tricks, shortcuts etc…

    I moved from the US to the UK and the quad-band sim based was awesome – i could pop in my T-Mobile sim card for the UK and then when i visited the US pop in my ‘home sim’ card… and when i went to Hawaii for a business trip I saved money with a sim card based for Hawaii…

    then my phone got stolen…. had to splash out about $500 (back then) to get back up and running with all the bells and whistles… no worries… until the battery compartment contact board (the spring loaded metal prongs the battery makes contact with) just came out…

    something that small and seemed like it should be able to be replaced bricked my phone! repair guy said it wasn’t worth repairing…

    i was not about to pay another $500… so i dug out the Nokia 6010 candybar smithsonian edition phone and have been using it from ’06 to present… (now, even tho my t-mobile account is terminated I still use that phone for an alarm clock ;>) I have been the butt of many jokes for using that phone…

    I resisted replacing it with a smart phone cuz I just could not bear the thought of going through the learning curve to get back up to speed… I could see the i-phone was sexy but i still thought you could do most of the business app stuff on a treo… so i wasn’t charmed with the multi-media hook that most people buy a smartphone for…

    finally i got fed up of missing appointments cuz i didn’t have a calander… duuuh…

    after doing the research and hearing lots of buzz about the droid I asked a phone geek at verizon who has owned most every smartphone out there and he convinced me the HTC Inc was one of the (if not the) best thing going on the smartphone market…

    man! how tech has advanced in 4 years… yeah, some of the shock is from going from a phone that belongs in a musuem but the advancement of gps location apps and integrated info from the web is no contest for a magnitude of at least 2 -3 times better than the Treo 650… too bad palm got stuck in their own way…

    now i am doing it again… even though i would have been the guy to go to when you got your treo to learn all the cool apps, tricks, mods, and even custom roms… I feel like i’m learning a foreign language… so when you start out with ‘what is Android’ – this totally resonates with me as when I looked at the manual – lots of stuff is taken for granted the user already knows how it works… not

    so, i am happily dumb and willing to ask dumb questions about the very basics of how to use the Dinc… and I am getting better everyday…

    although i don’t really relish hanging out on forums and reading endless pages of a thread to figure out the best way to ‘root’ my phone, or why some programs work great for some but cause endless problems for others – there is great satisfaction when you fix a problem, learn a better way to do something and know that within, say, 90 days this phone will be your ‘bi-otch’

    and i’m like Rich, a bit younger at 49… but not a tech reviewer, or work in a tech field… just an avid user who appreciates getting it right…

    so, thanks for your willingness to take some arrows (from advanced users who can’t step back from their own ego to allow newcomers to be “un-knowing”) and willing to teach new folks how to bend the learning curve down a bit… cheers,

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