With news of the introduction of Android 4.3 some of you certainly have something exciting to look forward to, as the update makes its way around the globe. While this is a time of joy for some, do not be surprised if the next iteration of Google's OS isn't getting everyone as excited – for many it's a reminder of their own troubles with Android. To put it bluntly: only 38.9% of all Android users are running a version of Jelly Bean. That means, roughly speaking, some 500 million devices are missing out on all the performance improvements that versions 4.x and above bring to the table. What's more, if your device is among the ones left out, it's usually the case that your device is also probably running on some aging hardware.
With a userbased edging on the billion, making sweeping statements for all of the Android ecosystem would be a gross oversimplification. There is one thing that we dare postulate, though: everybody hates lag, even those of you running Google's latest and greatest. Hundreds of millions downloads of apps promising to boost your device back to its former glory or simply keep it in good shape are an objective indication of that.
Most of you have come across such apps, many have them installed as you read this. As you have probably figured by now – no one-click solution exists. As always, if you want good results, you have to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty. The guide below is aimed to be fairly simple, but there's also something for the more adventurous of you.
With downloads in the 10 to 50 million ballpark, Android Assistant (AA) has managed to score an impressive 4.6 stars! If anything, the non-flashy, conservative interface should be nothing less than an indication that this is a timeless collection of tools that just works. Keeping track of what's important, the first tab features the coveted Quick Boost button. Alike many other similar applications, AA will flush all the unneeded processes and services down the drain, leaving more juice for you to play with. Under the Process tab, you'll get more of an in-depth view of what's running on your system -- killing those is within the tools AA offers, but this is only a temporary solution (more on this later). The other, more important tool, is the System Cleaner, which allows you to free up space by wiping the cache of apps, the web and other. Keep in mind that you're better off keeping the cache of apps that you use daily -- wiping it will actually slow down their launch time in consequence.
Remember how we said that killing processes and services is just a temporary solution? It's true, and no amount of aggressive Task Killers will change that. Task Killers (TKs) are a flashy, short term solution that may actually cause more harm than good. Users of such apps sometimes get so vindictive that sooner or later they break the functionality of apps they didn't intend to. There's a much better solution. Enter Greenify, an app that will actually allow you to keep your 250 apps and ensure that by doing so, you aren't slowing down your droid. How? Well, Greenify allows you to hibernate apps and services running in the background. Hibernated processes will be put to sleep,but will still work once you need them. This is unlike the so called "freezing" apps out there, which break apps' functionality altogether until you unfreeze them. We've experienced Greenify's usefulness first hand and strongly recommend you consider the app. The only downside? The app requires *root* privileges.
This lightweight miniature app has one simple function that you probably gleaned already -- restart system resources including the UI and also close processes and services, freeing up memory like Android Assistant does. Fast Reboot gets a honorable mention for two reasons. First, a simple click of the app icon is all you need to do to get some free memory -- no heavy widgets required. And second -- Android crashing, especially on older versions, and doubly so with a range of custom ROMs, is a tad more common than we'd like. What's more, some processes simply grow wild every now and then and misbehave for reasons better left for the ages to answer. In all such scenarios, Fast Reboot is the perfect app to have.
We may be repeating ourselves here, but you really don't need a Task Killer app. Apart from the inevitable cat-and-mouse game you'll be reduced to playing, and even apart from randomly breaking functionality you didn't intend, continuously killing apps actually eats up resources. The inherent appeal of TKs is undeniable, however most of these apps weren't doing anything in the background anyway! And a fat chunk of the rest simply restart. This is where WatchDog comes in play by helping you monitor apps instead of blindly staging an app massacre every time your phone stutters. WatchDog will keep a history of apps that are misbehaving, and even allow you to monitor apps in real time. Should an app start misbehaving and consume precious CPU cycles, WatchDog will immediately notify you and let you cut the cord on that one app only.
Much alike Android Assistant, ROM Toolbox is probably the biggest collection of tweaking tools in one single app. Root is required, but the amount of goodies you get makes that well worth it. Among the plethora of tools available, several stand out for our needs in this guide. One of those is the SD Booster feature which allows you to increase the cache size of external and the internal SD cards, thus speeding up write and read speeds. Usually, the bigger the better, but using the built-in benchmark is advised to pick the optimal size. Speaking of SD cards, ROM Toolbox also allows you to choose the install destination of future apps, handy if your internal memory is running short and your SD card is left unoccupied.
CPU Tuner, as you've probably guessed, allows you to take control of your Android smartphone's processor and tweak away at your discretion, should your kernel allow it. With several levels of configuration, this one is for those among you who know what they're doing and don't mind getting dirty. Simply put, you can choose from a host of configurations that can aid in increasing performance, albeit that's usually at the expense of battery. Now before you say it, we're aware that ROM Toolbox also allows you to play with your CPU. Where CPU Tuner wins out, however, is the statistics department, which allows you track the time your smartphone spent in different states, allowing you to squeeze more juice out of your CPU without sacrificing too much battery. After all, what's the point of having your CPU run at full speed all the time, if its resources are actually only required 1% of the time?
Tip: Disable animations
The more advanced among you already know how to do this, but we suspect a large majority don't. If you go into Settings → About Phone → and then Tap Build Number 7 times, you'll get developer privileges on your device. Once you do, a new tab will appear in your settings menu called Developer Options, navigate inside and locate the following three options (they're below each other): Window Animation Scale, Transition Animation Scale and Animator Duration Scale. These three control the multiple transitional animations your Android uses between the different actions you use (e.g. multitasking), and are, by default, set to 1.5x for no good reason that we know off. Turning these off will speed up your multitasking, and give you the feeling of a phone running significantly faster. You're invited to play with those and experiment to see what fits you.
Tip: Avoid Live Wallpapers
If you're truly out there to milk your phone, Live Wallpapers are your enemy! Not only will they drain your battery faster than an ordinary, static background, but they also require system resources to run, all the time, every time you're using the device.
Tip: Use Widgets conservatively
Widgets are awesome, no doubt about that. But do you really need them, especially at the cost of performance and battery life? A widget-cluttered homescreen will not only severely slow down your Android smartphone (especially the beautiful, but heavy ones, like Flipboard), it is also very likely an unnecessary luxury. We are not telling you to get rid of all of them, but perhaps you should look into it a bit more practically -- are there widgets that you use so rarely that an app is sufficient? Get pragmatic!
Tip: Homescreens and Space