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Can changing the Android 4.4.2 KitKat runtime squeeze extra performance out of your phone, or is ART best left alone until Google decides to roll it out as a working replacement for Dalvik?

What Is Android Runtime?

Android devices ship with a runtime called Dalvik. Your apps need Dalvik to work. Android Runtime, or ART, offers a faster alternative; Dalvik is optimized to run on older hardware with a limited processor and memory, something that isn’t required of modern Android hardware.

With Dalvik, apps are compiled using the Just-In-Time (JIT) compiler, making use of free system resources. ART differs by compiling the apps at the installation stage using Ahead-Of-Time (AOT) compiling.

Switching your Android device runtime is only possible on Android 4.4 KitKat Google Releases Android 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 Updates for Nexus Devices Google Releases Android 4.4.1 and 4.4.2 Updates for Nexus Devices Google are rolling out over-the-air (OTA) updates to Nexus devices, and depending on which one you have, you should be seeing a notification to download Android 4.4.1 or 4.4.2 soon. Read More (that’s Android 4.4.1 and 4.4.2), but the switch is easy to achieve. The intended result is that your apps and games should launch more quickly – not a bad thing!

Switching From Dalvik Runtime to ART

To switch your Android 4.4.2 KitKat device runtime from Dalvik to ART, you will need to find your device’s Developer Options menu.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-dev

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This is hidden, but is easily revealed. Open Settings > About Phone and find the Build number – tap this 7 times. You’ll see a popup informing you that more taps are required to become a developer, but you can ignore this until you’re done.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-dev-options

Tap Back to the Settings menu and open the new Developer Options menu.

Before proceeding to change your runtime, consider making a backup of your device What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? What Is A Nandroid Backup and How Exactly Does It Work? You need that backup at the ready. Read More in case the results aren’t favourable (although this is not a must).

From here, find Select Runtime > Use ART. Tap OK to confirm and wait as your phone is restarted and the required changes made.

The message “Android is upgrading…” will be displayed as apps are optimized for ART. When Android starts, you’ll be ready to take advantage of improved app performance… in theory.

Reasons Against Switching to ART

While usable, ART is presently not enabled by default as it is still in the testing stage. It can be considered a useful Easter Egg from Android’s developers to show you the performance boosts that can be expect in future releases.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-choice

Whether you switch to ART or not is entirely your choice. The runtime isn’t yet optimized, and while estimates claim that app launch time can be halved, there are downsides. Apps compiled at the point of installation using AOT take up more storage space, and the improved app launch speed is mitigated by increased installation time.

Another downside for ART at this stage is the lack of support for certain apps. Although many high profile apps have been updated to support ART, there is no guarantee that apps that you rely on will work with Android runtime. This isn’t necessarily a short-term problem, either – there is no requirement for developers to update older apps at this stage.

Finally, note that switching to ART is best done on a stock ROM. Most custom ROMs How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device Android is super customizable, but to fully take advantage of that, you need to flash a custom ROM. Here's how to do that. Read More don’t provide support for switching to Android runtime.

Benchmarking: ART Vs Dalvik

In order to assess whether or not Android runtime was really going to make a difference to the speed of my apps, I performed some benchmarking. Sadly, I found any improvements to be negligible.

Under AnTuTu Benchmark:

  • Dalvik score: 16719
  • ART score: 17431

Result: ART is 0.95% faster.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-benchmark

Using 3D Benchmark (Ice Storm)

  • Dalvik score: 5638
  • ART score: 5616 (no sound)

Result: Dalvik is 1% faster.

Finally, I benchmarked with Vellamo (Metal)

  • Dalvik score: 539
  • ART score: 540

Result: ART is 1% faster.

I also ran a trio of apps, Chrome, Comics from Comixology and Doctor Who: Legacy, and found the difference in speed barely noticeable.

Identifying Apps That Don’t Work In ART

As noted above, there is a good portion of apps that don’t work in ART. This can be a problem, especially if you’ve noticed some performance improvements.

Fortunately there are various websites that share information about apps that work in ART, relying on crowdsourced data.

Perhaps the best list is www.androidruntime.com/list, a searchable database produced with the specific intention of helping you find which apps are ART compatible.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-undo

If ART doesn’t work out for you, switching back is possible by returning to the Select Runtime option, where you should choose Use Dalvik.

ART: Not Quite Ready To Make A Difference

Android runtime certainly looks as though it will make a difference, although at this stage it is difficult to say.

muo-android-dalvik-vs-art-meh2

However, as noted above, ART is still being optimized, so until it is rolled out as a fully-functioning Android component, we shouldn’t be disheartened if the speed increases aren’t as much as hoped.

One last note. If you’re using ART and find that an app you want to use doesn’t work, it isn’t a good idea to leave bad feedback in the Play Store, which some frustrated ART switchers have done. Obviously this isn’t helpful for developers or other users who might be confused or even discouraged from using an app that would otherwise work perfectly on their phone with Dalvik runtime.

Planning to try Android runtime, or would you prefer to wait until it is widely available? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Featured Image Credit: Placeit.net
Image Credit: Disappointed phone call via Shutterstock

  1. punk
    January 16, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    sir...how long does it to switch from dalvik to art?...because i wait it to long time until now its not switch on my phone

    • Christian Cawley
      January 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      What phone and Android version are you using?

  2. nouman
    December 21, 2015 at 11:04 am

    can you help me i have tried rooting my phone and didnt work properly i tried alot of root systems and stuff and when i finally rooted it, it started lagging and i saw a vid on youtube saying change your runtime, i did that and now my device wont even turn on

  3. Richard Zeilman
    November 9, 2015 at 9:22 am

    hi there Christian Cawley i have one of a newer phone called archos 40d titanium its running on android kitkat 4.4.2 and ive got a problem i went to dev options and i dit not find the chance runtime tab under the stay awake option where it suposed to be at is there mabey an app that could let me chance ?

    • Christian Cawley
      November 9, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      There should be the option there. If not, then the manufacturer/ROM doesn't support art ART.

      • Richard Zeilman
        November 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm

        Wel it should be there that's what is confusing to me since its a stock asop Google rom what is refusing to update

  4. Julius Ijie
    April 1, 2015 at 8:04 am

    HELP. I switched my android from dalvik to art. It rebooted and started optimizing apps when it came on. After optimization, a dialogue came up on the screen saying that the internal memory was full and I needed to free some space. The thing is this dialogue wont clear from the screen disabling me from deleting files to create more space. Is there any way this can be fixed?

    • Christian Cawley
      April 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      if your phone is rooted you can uninstall apps through ADB

  5. Grateful Hommie
    March 24, 2015 at 5:26 am

    I have changed my android from Dalvik to ART and now my phone wont even turn back on for me to change it back. All I get is my phone optimizing apps and then shutting down. PLEASE HELP ME FIX THIS (As I changed the settings based off this article.) I appreciate your time and I now know that ART is NOT for me.

    • Christian Cawley
      March 25, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Grateful Hommie - what device are you using? Do you have access to recovery?

  6. Renju Jose
    January 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Well, that's a great guide you have given there,Christian.
    Now that Lollipop is out, I hope you update your guide with more results on Lollipop!!

    Certainly this one has been a good read.Thanks.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 29, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks! I'm waiting for Lollipop still on one device and haven't found a satisfactory ROM in the other, but it's an excellent idea, I'll see what I can do :)

  7. Toby
    December 26, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I have ASN Alcatel one touch fierce (1.2 Ghz quad core) running 4.4.2...totally froze ftering switching to ART.

    • ram patil
      January 30, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Hi there I'm ram Patil
      I could'n understand your comment
      Tell me in short is it good or bad what was your experience plz reply

    • Christian Cawley
      February 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Ram Patil, I suspect Toby meant that his Alcatel froze after switching to ART.

    • Brian White Hernandez
      August 5, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Is an alcatel fierce 1 or fierce 2?

  8. Pou Lin
    December 16, 2014 at 5:36 am

    Hi...I had an amazing time gaining extra information..thank you so much ^__^

    I recently bought moto g2 and thought of trying this out but at the same time I am stingy about it as it makes me worry about my cell..I read few more articles which says that its risk free ..is it???

    And changing to ART..reduces the memory since installation footprint of apps increases...so when I change it to Dalvik..will my memory come back to the same size as it were before????

    • smilingahab
      December 24, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Yes, flipping from Dalvik to ART and back is safe if you are operating a stock ROM - i.e. you haven't messed with the bootloader or Android itself. Yes, when switching back to Dalvik, the information stored for ART's AOT compilation will be erased. But it doesn't take up much more room. Don't worry about it unless you have a lot of incompatible apps - now that Android 5.0 Lollipop is out, a lot of developers will be upgrading and rebuilding a lot of apps, and things are only bound to get faster.

      BTW I don't know how I'd post it, but on a stock HTC Desire 510 running 4.4.2, I converted to ART and enabled high performance mode, forced GPU 2d rendering, and max background processes to 4 - apps open before my finger leaves the screen! Combine this with aggressive power mode during long idle periods and keeping the phone where it can cool off, my battery lasts a day or more and I get better performance than a tablet.

  9. Howard B
    April 2, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    "Android devices ship with a runtime called Dalvik. Your apps need Dalvik to work." IIRC, many apps (including CPU-intensive games) use native C code. I know this because many apps wouldn't work with my first tablet, a Velocity Micro Cruz T301, which had a MIPS CPU instead of ARM. Dalvik (Java) apps would work, because Java is CPU-agnostic (Java will run on any machine that has a Java stack, because Java apps are written in p-code, or pseudo-code, which, as you said, is compiled via JIT); apps that required an ARM processor just wouldn't install.

    • Christian C
      April 3, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Hi Howard - thanks for expanding on that for us. We were aiming to stay away from the real detail of Dalvik, hence the brevity of the quoted sentence, but I think you've made a good addendum to the article there.

      Thanks again :)

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