Rein-in power-hogging Android apps

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The Facebook app has recently come under fire for using an excessive amount of battery power and reducing the performance of smartphones. Some users are reporting that uninstalling the app can result in 15% better performance.

Of course this isn’t actually a new debate — Facebook has been a known resource hog for a long time. While few other apps cop as much ire, there are plenty of others that can also degrade the Android experience.

The problem is, how to identify them, let alone figure out a solution?

The Problem

Battery1The core of the issue (especially for Facebook) is how background processes and syncing are handled.

An idle smartphone uses very little power, but certain apps like to wake up the CPU to check for updates and grab fresh notifications.

In theory, this shouldn’t be too big an issue, but the aggressive nature of some apps allows them to consume a lot of extra resources. In other situations, bugs can cause services such as GPS to remain on, chewing through battery power.

The issue is that, even when working correctly, some apps are simply using too much power for the utility they actually provide.

Dealing with Battery Hogs

Battery2Android makes it relatively easy to check battery usage — simply navigate through to Settings > Battery, for a list of what is using the most.

The stats are pretty straightforward — if you have used 50% of the battery, each app or service will show how much of that percentage it has used. If one app has used a lot more than others, then investigate why.

Touching the app in the list will bring up more detailed information on how it’s using power, such as CPU, Wi-Fi or GPS use.

You can also force stop, report or uninstall an app that is misbehaving as well. Common issues are from games or music apps that continue to run in the background and never ‘sleep’, or bugs that keep GPS on.

Identify Performance Loss

While reduced battery life is generally very noticeable and easily checked, apps (such as Facebook) can also reduce performance.

A lot of the time, it’s not noticeable, but in some cases, it can make a phone feel sluggish, create lag or increase app loading times.

DiscoMark2Part of the problem is background processes, which can be using excess resources, such as CPU cycles and RAM. Depending on the priority assigned, they can also compete with and reduce the resources available to other apps and processes, and create lag.

The magnitude of the problem or lack thereof will vary from phone to phone, so benchmarks can help give a comparison.

The free app DiscoMark can test performance, based on app load times.

Reboot, then select your commonly used apps and run the test. Uninstall a suspected performance hog, reboot, the run the test again to see if there is a difference.

In our tests, uninstalling Facebook on a Nexus 5X gave 6% faster load times on average, and 15% on some apps, such as Gmail.

Android RAM 101

The way Android uses RAM is often misunderstood. On a smartphone, RAM holds app data and processes in a location and format that makes it easily accessible for the CPU.

This ensures fast load times when you open an app and gives better multitasking.

Having mostly full rather than empty RAM is actually the goal for best performance. New apps or tasks will have the appropriate resources dedicated to them when loaded, and older ones will be removed from the RAM.

Android is generally excellent at managing RAM, and apps such as Task Killers don’t help. By forcibly removing an app from memory, it needs to be reloaded from the slower main storage next time you want to use it.

This tends to take longer and use more processor power, reducing battery life. Devices with more RAM can keep a greater number of apps ready to go, which can help make a phone seem faster if you use a lot of different apps.

Devices with less RAM are more easily influenced by apps that use a lot, requiring more reloading when switching apps.

Marshmallow RAM Manager

RM1This handy service can show you which apps are hogging resources, and help identify problems.

To open RAM Manager on Android Marshmallow, head to Settings, then hit the tab for Memory. On older versions, similar info is available through developer options and is called Process Stats.

RM shows how much memory is used and gives an indication if performance is normal or not. You can also display RAM use by individual apps, over a period from the last three hours to a full day.

Unless it is absurdly high (which could indicate a software bug), the RAM use is not the most relevant info.

RM2By clicking on an individual app, it shows how the app acts in the background. For example, it shows that Facebook is always running; in contrast, the Camera app is only sometimes running.

Of course, ‘always running’ is not a problem in itself, as it simply indicates that an app is working in the background. But if you have closed an app or it shouldn’t need to be working in the background, it is worth investigating.

Touching the information ‘i’ next to the app name groups other handy info together in the one spot. It shows how much storage space an app is taking up, how much data it has used, the permissions, notification behaviour and battery use.

Touching the various options opens up more settings or details. You can also uninstall or force stop problematic apps.

Solutions

GreenifyUninstalling is the cure all, but sometimes updating to a new or rolling back to an old version of an app can help with a bug.

For many apps (such as Facebook), the mobile website is actually a very usable alternative. This gives better control of background resource use, but in some cases, functionality is reduced.

For easy launching, place a shortcut to the site on your device’s home screen. It’s as simple as opening the desired page in Chrome, opening up the options tab in the top right, and clicking Add to Home screen.

Another option is to use a third-party app to control how an errant program behaves on your smartphone.

Greenify can force an app to sleep when not in use, so it can’t use any extra resources, but can still be resumed.

For example, with Facebook, this would stop all background processes and notifications when actually open, improving battery life and performance, without needing to force the app to close.

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