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It’s common to hear people complain that their phone has started to slow down, or that they’ve run out of space, or that the battery life is no longer any good.
A lot of these things can be caused by the various apps, files, and other random stuff that amasses the more you use your phone. Fortunately, it’s easy to clean it up, and Android has the tools to get the job done.
1. Uninstall Apps
The first place to start is to uninstall any apps you don’t use. We all tend to accumulate apps over time, leaving them there just in case we ever need them. If you don’t use them, uninstall them.
There’s no real benefit to keeping hold of apps that you don’t use. They clutter your app drawer, they take up space, and they can run in the background or go online without you realizing. If you want to see the amount of space an app is using, go to Settings > Storage > Apps, then select Sort by size from the menu.
In addition to uninstalling apps you’ve downloaded, you can disable any system apps that you don’t need. When you disable an app, its icon gets hidden, any updates get removed, you can’t launch it, and it won’t run automatically.
To disable an app, go to Settings > Apps, then locate the app and tap Disable. To re-enable it, find the app again and tap Enable. Note that disabling only works for built-in system apps that can’t be uninstalled.
Get Rid of “Speed Booster” Apps
While you’re at it, you should get rid of any “performance-boosting” app you have installed. These rack up hundreds of millions of downloads, but are almost all junk.
These apps include task killers, RAM boosters, or anything else that promises to speed up your phone. They don’t work. Cache cleaners are unnecessary because the feature is built into the operating system. Antivirus apps generally aren’t needed because all apps submitted to the Play Store are scanned for malware (unless you’re downloading apps from outside sources). Battery savers usually will not extend your battery life.
All these types of apps make grand claims that are rarely fulfilled. More often they will slow down your phone or drain your battery. They also tend to be packed with advertising, and many play fast and loose with your data privacy.
If you want to go a step further, you could tackle some of the big name apps too. Facebook is notorious for slowing down Android — so why not check out some of the alternatives instead?
Android has tools to help you identify resource-heavy apps. The battery chart shows which ones are using the most power, and some versions of Android let you see what apps are taking up your RAM.
2. Free Up Space
Every phone comes with a limited amount of storage space that is several gigabytes less than what was advertised. Most devices lose up to 8GB to the operating system and pre-installed apps, and there’s no way to reclaim this.
Thus, you need to keep an eye on the space you do have available. There are several things you can do to keep plenty of storage free.
Go to Settings > Storage to see how your space is distributed between your apps, media, cached data, and other files.
Tap Apps, then Sort by size from the menu, and you can see how much space each app is taking up. This doesn’t just include the app files, but also any content (such as offline playlists in Spotify) and cached data.
If you don’t want to uninstall an app, you can tap Clear data to free up its space. However, this will completely reset the app, including any login details, saved settings, or scores.
What To Delete?
You don’t need to worry about Cached files, as this is managed by Android. When you use apps, certain files and data get cached so they can be restored quickly, making the app work faster. Android decides how large the cache can get and will delete its contents intelligently if it needs more space.
Images, Videos, and Audio are self explanatory, and they also give you an easy way to free up space. Unless you need to store your photos and videos on your phone for some reason (maybe you’re frequently out of range of Wi-Fi or 4G), you can use a cloud service to store them.
Google Photos is the obvious choice, with its offer of unlimited storage for slightly compressed files, but you can also use Flickr, or Dropbox, or pretty much any other cloud app.
Similarly, you can upload your full iTunes library to Google Play Music without needing to pay for Google’s streaming service.
The other category is called Other or Misc. This is harder to call, as it contains literally all of your user data.
App settings, files, or game saves might be stored here, as will files you’ve dragged and dropped from your desktop. The Download folder is also here, containing everything you’ve downloaded through your browser — that’s often something that needs clearing out.
You may be able to identify what each one relates to, as they’re normally neatly sorted into folders. You can delete any files you don’t need, or any folders relating to apps you’ve uninstalled. If you aren’t sure what a file or folder is, it’s best to leave it alone.
Of course, if you have a phone with a microSD slot, you don’t need to worry about freeing up space. Recent versions of Android enable you to move apps or large files to a card. Just tap the app’s name then select the Move to SD Card button.
3. Factory Reset
Finally, the simplest option: a factory reset. It’s a bit of a pain to have to do it, but if your phone has really slowed down, if it’s throwing up errors, or if it’s just generally buggy, a factory reset is the best option. Just make sure you’ve backed up everything first.
A factory reset clears out everything from your device, including all your account information, returning it to the state it was in when you first bought it.
When you turn it back on, you will need to enter your Wi-Fi and Google account details. All your old apps should automatically start reinstalling. A lot of apps are now able to backup their data to your Google account (like Pokemon GO), and if any of yours do this, then that data will be restored without you needing to do anything.
For the rest, you need to make sure you have a proper backup plan in place. Helium is a good option, albeit not the easiest to use, or you can check out our other recommendations for Android backup apps.
Your Spring Cleaning Apps?
It’s easy to clean your Android phone, and for the most part, the tools you need are built right into the operating system. While a little slowdown is inevitable over time, cleaning out the junk and getting rid of misbehaving apps every now and again should keep your phone running smoothly.
How do you keep your phone in good shape? Do you have any favorite apps to help with the job? Let us know in the comments.
Originally written by Chris Hoffman on August 26th, 2013.