There are a lot of choices when it comes to making your Android phone all it can be, and a lot of nuance about which are the “best” choices to make. Everyone has an opinion about the best apps, home screen layouts, launchers, and so on. However, there are some enduring certainties that cannot be avoided. Here are “do’s” and “don’ts” for every Android user.
Do: Configure data usage limits
Don’t go over your monthly allotment again.
Every Android phone has a tool in the main system settings to monitor and limit your data usage. In this age of limited data plans, you should probably take a moment to set that up as soon as possible. You can set your monthly billing cycle date, data limit, and configure a warning when you’re near your limit. There’s even a setting to disable data so you don’t end up with overages, if that’s something your carrier does.
Don’t: Use third-party lock screens
The stock lock screen is always more secure and stable than its replacements.
Many parts of your phone can be customized extensively, and you can even replace things you don’t like. There’s one component that you ought to leave alone—the lock screen. The Play Store offers a heap of replacement lock screen apps, but there’s no official method for replacing the Android lock screen.
That means all those apps are just messy hacks that require you sacrifice security. The method they use to take over the screen when you wake the phone is also likely to cause lag. When it comes to the lock screen, you should just make do with the limited customization options included with your phone.
Do: Set up and Use ‘OK Google’
DO: Delete all unnecessary apps, media, and content
Smartphones are just like any other computer. While flash drives don’t work like today’s typical hard drives, they still do slow down when you have more data on them. The easiest way to improve smartphone performance for your Android device is to get rid of all unnecessary material. Not only will doing so speed up the phone itself, but it’ll also speed up your workflow. Instead of having 50 to 60 apps to sort through, just keeping the bare essentials and getting rid of everything else will speed up your usage.
DON’T: Update to brand new versions of Android
While we all want the latest and greatest software and features, they typically slow down devices. This issue isn’t exclusive to smartphones; the recently released OS X Yosemite beta brought a noticeable lag to some MacBooks in addition to the new features.
With Android, you may not even be given the option of whether you want to update software to a new version or not. But if and when you do, take heed: making a significant upgrade will always slow down the phone. The bigger the software update, the slower the phone is likely to become. Wait and see if anyone else who has same phone and has completed the update runs into issues before jumping on board yourself.
DO: Close any apps that you use infrequently, and use lighter apps for the services you need
Android has a number of strengths over iOS and other mobile platforms. One of the best is multitasking, Android can run a variety of applications at once. On older Android phones that may not be a good thing, because as the software improves and becomes more hardware-intensive, your phone remains the same. If you notice things are slower, close whatever you aren’t using.
On that point, there are plenty of different apps that can be used for the same purpose. You may have one web browser built in, plus Chrome, Opera, and Dolphin; multiple chat apps; multiple phone apps; picture apps; Twitter apps; etc. As mentioned above, there’s no reason to have multiple versions of the same app.
When you decide what to keep and what to drop, remember that some apps are slower than others, and keep the one that best suits your needs along with the speed you require. For example, stick with the stock Twitter app versus Carbon, or Opera instead of Chrome.
DON’T: Run applications off of an external memory card
Android’s expandable memory is a useful feature for many users, but those memory cards are always going to be slower than the phone’s built-in flash drive. If you have a memory card, use it for music, video, and other media. Running apps from an external memory card is just fine, but it will work slower because your phone has to take more time to move it from the external card to internal RAM, and when you close the app, your phone will have to do the process in reverse, too. So run apps straight from the phone, and leave media on the external media card.
DO: Close all applications and reboot the phone once a week
Even on brand new smartphones, eventual slowdown is bound to happen. Mobile operating systems aren’t mature enough to handle data and memory management as well as, say, Windows 7. So even if you’re diligent about closing apps, managing your phone properly, never pushing it too hard, or anything else, eventually it’ll need a fresh reset to clear out the cobwebs.
With older phones, you’ll need to do reboots more often. Make sure to close all apps first, because all of that app data is saved prior to shutting off. Closing apps before turning off the phone will improve smartphone performance because it forces the phone to save information immediately, so when you reboot, the device will be fresh and not cluttered with all of those apps starting up from their last place.
Instant voice search from anywhere!
The “OK Google” hotword is the quickest way to start a voice search on Android, and it’s something you should take advantage of. The options available to you vary a bit from one device to the next, but you should at least be able to speak “OK Google” when the device is awake to open a voice search (called OK Google Everywhere).
To enable this feature, go to the Google app and open your voice settings to train it with your voice. Some devices (like the Nexus 6) even have the ability to listen for OK Google while the screen is off.
Don’t: Install APKs from untrusted sources
Be careful what you sideload!
One of the cool things about Android is that you can get apps from a variety of sources outside of Google Play, like Amazon and the open source F-Droid repository. However, with great power comes great responsibility.
Don’t go around installing any APK you find posted on a forum, and definitely don’t try to load pirated apps and games on your phone. That’s a great way to end up with malware and spam. You can leave the Unknown sources toggle off in the security settings if you don’t plan to sideload any apps outside of Google Play.
Do: Disable unwanted apps
Get out of here with that junk.
Virtually every phone and tablet comes with at least a few built-in apps you don’t want or need. Even if you never use them, they’ll still sit there in your app drawer, and some will even start up in the background. Often, you won't be able to delete the app if you don't want it. This is particularly common with carrier account management apps.
If you don’t want them, just disable them. You won’t need to root or do anything fancy, just open your system settings and find the app manager (the location within Settings varies by device, unfortunately). Scroll through the list and tap on the offending apps to open the info page. There you’ll see the disable button. Easy.
Don’t: Kill background tasks
This will do more harm than good.
Despite what you’ve heard, Android manages its background tasks just fine. You don’t need a task manager app or anything that claims to speed up your phone by clearing RAM. When a process isn’t needed, Android is smart enough to end it. In fact, micromanaging tasks will cause the phone to slow down because most of the processes these apps kill are simply going to start up again and draw more power in the process.
Do: Set a secure lock screen and use Smart Lock
Security and convenience? Sign me up!
One of Android’s best features is Smart Lock (Android 5.0 and higher only), and it means there’s no excuse whatsoever to put off using a secure lock screen. You can set a pattern or PIN lock screen to keep out unauthorized snoops, then use smart lock to automatically go back to the faster swipe unlock when certain conditions are met. For example, keep the swipe screen active when you’re at home, but if you’re out, the secure lock screen takes over. You can also use trusted Bluetooth devices or even your face to keep the phone unlocked when it’s convenient.
Don’t: Use third-party antivirus apps
This is just redundant.
The internet can be a scary place, and the often sensationalist coverage of Android security issues doesn’t really help. Many phones even come with antivirus apps pre-installed. Frankly, you don’t need them. They’ll just sit in the background and waste processor cycles to scan all the apps you install, even though Google is already scanning them automatically via Play Services. Your phone is better off without a third-party antivirus app.
Do: Plan ahead with Device Manager
Google includes lost phone features as part of all Android devices with Device Manager, which you can access from any computer or phone on the Device Manager website. If you ever lose track of your phone, this tool can track it, make it ring, lock it down, and even remotely delete everything if you don’t think it’s ever coming home. Just make sure you’ve got full administrator access enabled for Device Manager in the settings. Go to Security and find the Phone administrators menu. Make sure Device Manager is checked, and you’re good to go.
Don’t: Reset your phone right after changing your Google password
Device protection is disabled by the OEM unlock toggle.
Google added the device protection system in Android 5.1 to make a stolen phone useless to thieves. Android now asks for the login info from the last Google account used on a device after a reset when Device Protection is enabled. A fair number of devices already support it, and almost every phone and tablet will have this feature by default going forward.