Why Your Android Smartphone or Tablet is Running Slow

Plus, how to speed it up!

Woman using Android phone
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Yes, we've become spoiled. We carry around devices that grant access to most of the world's knowledge, that provide entertainment and a surprising amount of computing power, and yet if that device doesn't pop right up with answers, we become quite frustrated. But sometimes it is good to be spoiled, which is why we're going to go over some reasons why your Android smartphone or tablet may be running slow and provide some solutions to make it run much faster.

The Quick Solution: Close Out of Apps

Mobile operating systems like Android and Apple's iOS do a good job of managing resources, but having a lot of apps open can still cause some slow downs. The first thing to try is simple closing out of the apps you are no longer using.

You can close apps by tapping the task button, which is usually a square button either at the bottom of the display or just below the screen. This will bring up all of the most recent apps in a cascading style down the screen.

Simply swipe up or down to move through the list and tap the X button in the upper right corner of each window to close the app.

Reboot the Device

If closing down apps doesn't cure the problem, a quick reboot should do the trick. It's a common mistake to think suspending the device by pressing the button on the side is actually powering off your Android smartphone or tablet.

You will actually need to press this button for several seconds until a menu pops up offering you the choice to Power off, or on some devices, Restart.

After Android powers down, wait a few seconds and then press the button again to power it back on again. This is basically a cleaning process that will refresh the memory and reload the operating system, which should cure most problems.

Check Your Internet Speed

If your Android tablet or smartphone is still running slow after rebooting it, you might need to upgrade it, especially if it is several years old.

But before we go down that route, there are a number of different options we can try to clear up the problem. And the first option might come from an unlikely source: the internet.

We do a lot of internet-related tasks on our tablets and smartphones. We browse the web, check Email, find out what everyone is up to on Facebook, etc. And if our connection to the web is slow, our device will seem slow.

You can download the Ookla Speedtest app from the Google Play store to check the speed of your connection. The first thing to look at is your Ping time. This measure how long it takes to send a piece of information to the server and back and can be just as important as bandwidth.

Anything under 100 milliseconds (ms) should be fine, with under 50ms being preferable. If you are over 200ms, you will experience noticeable delays.

Your download speed (bandwidth) should be at least 5 megabytes-per-second (Mbps) to stream video, and at least 8 Mbps is preferable to ensure a smooth experience. Many providers now offer anywhere from 20 Mbps to 80 or more. If you are under 5 Mbps, you will definitely want to check with your provider about upgrading.

The distance to your router can also cause issues. If your internet is running slow, try moving closer to the router and checking the speed.

If you are getting slow speeds but believe it should be faster, you can try rebooting the router. Much like your tablet or smartphone, a reboot can allow the router to have a fresh start, which can help it run faster. Read more on troubleshooting a weak Wi-Fi signal.

Disable Widgets

We've closed out of apps, rebooted and check the internet connection. It's now time to take a look at widgets, those helpful mini-apps that can sometimes eat up too many resources. A few widgets like a clock or Chrome bookmarks can be great additions to your home screen, but remember, every widget is running in real time when you are using your device.

If you've installed a number of widgets, try cutting back by disabling a few. 

You can remove a widget by pressing your finger down on the widget and holding it down until it move with your finger. A Remove section should appear on the home screen. Simply drag the widget to the remove section and drop it. If no remove section appears, try dragging the widget off the screen and dropping it, a process that works with some older devices.

Update to the Latest and Greatest Version of Android

Newer versions of the Android operating system can help out by providing fixes to security holes and correct issues with how resources like memory and storage space are optimized. If you've rebooted your device and checked your internet speed with no luck, you should make sure you are running the latest and greatest version of the operating system.

  • First, launch the Settings app from the app page.
  • Scroll all the way to the bottom of the Settings and tap on About smartphone or About tablet.
  • Tap System Upgrade, which should be at the top of the screen. Your device will display whether or not you are on the latest version of Android and provide you with an upgrade button if needed.

Unfortunately, this can be an iterative process. Once you upgrade to a newer version of the operating system, you will want to go through those steps again to check if you have upgraded to the latest. You may need to step through several upgrades to get your operating system up to date. And while you wait for those updates to install, you can read up on some useful shortcuts for Android.

Remove Bloatware

Bloatware has become a major issue with Android, with different manufacturers adding sometimes up to a dozen or more apps to the standard ones that come with Android. If you have a Samsung smartphone or tablet, you may have a number of duplicate apps such as Samsung digital stores in addition to Google Play stores. And not all of these apps are harmless. Some may launch automatically when you boot up your device, using up memory and taking up CPU cycles.

Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to outright uninstall these apps. But you can disable them. You can do this by launching the Settings app, tapping Apps and then tapping the app you want to disable. If it is an app you downloaded from the Google Play store, the button at the top will read Uninstall rather than Disable.

If you are consistently having performance issues, it is a good idea to disable any apps that came with the device that you never use. Bloatware can be a real performance drain on Android tablets and phones.

Disable Live Wallpaper

If you have a 'live' or animated wallpaper, it's a good idea to switch to a static background if you are having performance issues. You can choose your wallpaper by opening the Settings app, choose Display and then tapping on Wallpaper. It's better to use one of the default Wallpapers or a photo rather than choosing something from Live Wallpapers.

Clear the App Cache

Apps sometimes download graphics and other bits of data from the internet to store on your device to increase speed, but sometimes, this cache of data can actually hurt performance. The data cache can contain temporary files that are no longer used, or worse, corrupted files that can cause disruptive issues.

If you are having issues with your smartphone or tablet, it can be a good idea to clear the cache. The unfortunate side effect is that you may be asked to log into apps again, and the first time you boot into the app, it may take a bit longer to load. However, clearing out the cache can result in an overall improvement to performance.

  • First, launch the Settings App.
  • Scroll down and Choose Storage.
  • You should see Cached data or App cache in the list.
  • After you tap on Cached data, you will be prompted to clear the data for all apps. Choose OK.

Should You Worry About Freeing Up Storage Space?

Clearing up storage space is a common bit of advice for improving performance, but in reality, this will only improve performance if you are running very low on free space for your internal storage. You can check how much free space you have by opening the Settings app and tapping on Storage.

If you have under 1 GB, you may want to delete apps you no longer to use to give the Android operating system a little more breathing room. Otherwise, this isn't something you need to worry about.

Still Running Slow?

The last thing you can try before biting the bullet and buying a new device is to restore your Android device to factory default. This will put it into the same basic state it was in when you first bought it, which should clear up any problems that are causing performance issues. However, if your tablet or smartphone is simply too old, it may start running slow again as you fill it up with modern apps.

You can restore your Android device to factory default by opening the Settings app, choosing Backup and reset and then tapping Factory data reset. Find out more about resetting your Android device.