We all wish our phones were just a little faster, right? Whether you’re chugging along with a device from three years ago or rocking a brand new Pixel, it’s the same — more speed is better.
Here’s what to try, and what to avoid.
What Works: The Basics
The default apps and settings on Android aren’t always the best if speed is your priority. Making a few changes and keeping your phone free from clutter can give you a quick performance boost.
Clean Up Your Home Screen
If your phone has a slower processor or is light on RAM, then maintaining a lean home screen can help speed it up. Live wallpapers and widgets use resources, and the latter can even continue updating in the background.
Where you’re most likely to see their impact is through something called “home screen redraw”. When you switch away from a RAM-heavy app like Chrome you’ll see a completely blank home screen and have to wait a couple of seconds while your icons, widgets, and wallpaper all reload. Keep your home screens tidy to avoid this.
Use a Different Launcher
The default app launcher on your phone is usually designed to showcase your device’s best features. As a result it isn’t always the fastest or most efficient.
There’s a huge number of third party launchers in the Play Store, and many are optimized for speed. Our favorite is Nova Launcher, but it’s worth experimenting with a few to find the one that’s right for you.
The default web browser on Android is Chrome, and it’s a pretty resource-heavy app. There are a few things you can do to improve it, but a better solution might be to switch to a whole new browser.
Some benchmark tests have shown Puffin to be the fastest Android browser, or if you prefer something more similar to Chrome, then take a look at Opera. Its data compression feature can help pages load much more quickly.
Uninstall Bad Apps
Bad apps are often to blame for slowing down your phone. It’s not always obscure apps, either — some of the industry’s biggest names are the culprits. Snapchat is notoriously laggy on Android, while uninstalling Facebook could make your phone as much as 15% faster. Try switching to a third party Facebook app instead. If you’re a Snapchat user, you’re stuck with the official app.
Remove Antivirus Software
Antivirus software offers peace of mind to Android users, but it’s unnecessary, and it slows down your phone. As long as you only install apps from official sources like the Play Store or the Amazon Appstore, then you’re extremely unlikely to encounter malware.
Stop Apps Auto-Syncing
Social, news, weather, and many other classes of app are set to auto-sync with a remote server. By default, they go online as often as every 15 minutes. Get too many of these apps installed and your phone will soon be creaking under their weight.
Check the sync schedules for all your apps and set a longer schedule of every few hours, every day, or just turn off syncing and update them manually instead.
Last up, rebooting your phone helps to keep it running smoothly.
You don’t have to do it every day, but an occasional reboot will work wonders, especially if your phone gets particularly slow or starts running hotter than normal. If you try all of these tips and find that nothing works, a factory reset may be in order — just make sure you backup your data first.
What Works: The Geekier Stuff
Want something a bit more advanced? If you like delving into hidden settings, or if your device is rooted, then you have even more opportunities to speed up Android.
Speed Up Animations
Android is packed with animations and transitions that give the operating system a slick look and make it fun to use. A hidden setting enables you to control the speed of these animations. In turn, that improves the speed — or at least the perceived speed — of your phone.
To access it go to Settings > Developer options and set Window animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale to .5x. This cuts the length of the animations by half (you can turn them off entirely, if you want). If you can’t see the Developer options, you’ll need to enable it first. Go to Settings > About phone and tap on Build number seven times to make the option appear.
Try a Different ROM
A custom ROM contains a complete build of the Android operating system, and it replaces all the software that came pre-installed on your phone. ROMs may have a different look or extra features, or they may be optimized for performance.
Installing a custom ROM is a good idea if the stock software on your phone isn’t great. Many manufacturers pack their devices with extra apps and features that makes them bloated, buggy, and slow. Replacing it with a bloat-free ROM like CyanogenMod can give you an instant speed boost.
Flash a Custom Kernel
The kernel manages every interaction between your phone’s software and hardware. There are many good reasons to use custom kernel, and the ability to speed up your phone is among the best. Custom kernels enable you to tweak how the hardware functions. You can change how quickly the processor ramps up to top speed, or how busy it needs to be before it activates extra cores.
Some even offer per-app settings so you can have the device running on maximum power when playing a particular game and dropping back to normal as soon as you exit it. Many custom kernels also allow you to overclock the CPU and make it run faster. However, this is a contentious topic, and many believe that any perceived benefits are purely placebo.
Control Background Apps With Greenify
Task killers don’t speed up your phone, as we’ll see shortly. The app Greenify sounds like a task killer — it prevents apps from running in the background — but there’s a subtle difference.
Greenify runs at the system level to not only close apps, but also prevent them from running at all until you need them. This means it also has the effect of stopping apps from auto-syncing, as well as preventing them from loading when you boot your phone. Greenify is primarily intended for battery saving, but it offers real performance boosts too.
What Doesn’t Work
As well as the tips that do work, there are a few accepted speed-boosting techniques that don’t. Be wary of any app that makes grand claims about how much they can speed up your phone.
Task Killers are among the most popular utilities on the Play Store, yet they are completely worthless. In fact, they can make your phone slower. A task killer closes background apps to free up RAM. The idea is that free RAM improves performance, but this isn’t true.
Android is designed to keep apps in RAM so they can be restored quickly and will intelligently close apps when it needs to free up extra resources. More importantly, some processes relating to some apps will start up again as soon as they are killed because they need to be running in the background. This constant stopping and starting will slow your phone down far more than if you just leave Android to do the job it was built to do.
For the same reason, there’s no need to be fastidious about manually closing apps. Again, Android manages this automatically.
If Android needs to free up resources, it will close whichever app you haven’t used in a while. If not, there’s no harm leaving them alone, where they will have little or no effect on either performance or battery life.
Using Any Speed Boosters
While we try to avoid generalizations, it’s safe to say you should avoid any non-root app that promises to improve the performance of your phone. This includes RAM boosters, SD card speeder-uppers, and defragmenters. They rarely work, can actually slow your phone down, and are often packed with highly intrusive ads.
Hitting the Limits
Of course, there’s only so far you can go to speed up your phone. You can keep it running fast and smooth for a while, but sooner or later you’ll hit the limits of the hardware. Then you reach the ultimate speed tip: upgrade to a new device.
In the meantime, give these tips a try and let us know how you get on. Join us in the comments to share your experiences, along with any ideas of your own.
Originally written by Chris Hoffman on July 27th, 2012.