Dear Lifehacker, My shiny new Android (2.2) phone gets bogged down when there is more than a couple of apps running at once (as does my wife's, running 2.1). I use ATK but keep getting told that "2.x phones are so amazing you don't need task killers" and "task killers are bad/make things worse" but with no real solution to the fact that my phone performs worse than my old 286 three quarters of the time. I really don't want an iPhone for a bunch of reasons but I'll go there if it means I can play a simple 2D game without massive lag issues. Thanks, Jake Hi Jake,
There's a bunch of possible issues that can lead to problems with phone performance, and it's not an issue that is exclusive to any single platform. (As many people learnt last year, an older iPhone with a newer OS is often a recipe for disaster, for instance).
We've run a pretty detailed post on how to improve Android performance, and those tweaks are all worth looking at to try and improve performance. But given that the focus in that post is on older devices, here's some more general areas to consider:
You might just have a lemon. Sometimes, you've just got a buggy piece of hardware, and there's nothing to be done except go back to the supplier and seek a replacement. You mention you've compared your phone's performance to your wife's, but to be sure that your own phone is running normally, you really need to compare it with the same model running the same software. If you don't have a friend or relative that works with, head back to the supplier. (This is one minor reason why buying from a physical store can still have an edge over buying online, incidentally.)
You might do better with a different ROM. We're definitely in the task killers are generally unnecessary camp, but we're also firmly of the belief that switching to a different ROM can work better. That's the case even if your phone shipped with 2.2.
You might be on a poorly-performing mobile network. Phone performance can be impacted by network performance — checking for mail, for instance, is a lot fiddlier when the network's running slowly. You can't do much about the reception where you live (especially if you're on a contract), but you can test the phone in other locations to see if that's a factor.
Your preferred apps might be poorly coded or processor-intensive. Android doesn't exercise any control over the apps in its market, which is great from an openness point of view but means you can run into dodgy apps that hog more than their share of processor cycles. If there's particular apps you're running all the time, a little online research might reveal that they're processor hogs. In this context, a task killer to kill off apps when you're done with them might actually make sense.
More generally, frame-based gaming is demanding. Chances are no matter what you pick, if you want to use a graphically intensive game, then you won't want much else running in the background.
You might have unrealistic expectations. Modern mobile phones have much more impressive processors than their predecessors, but they're still no match for modern desktop PCs. And it also depends which model you have — cheaper phones might have the latest Android firmware, but a slower processor than an Android model running an earlier release. But even if you've got a super-grunty device, it's not going to match up to a PC. I agree it should run faster than a 286, but I suspect if you actually fired up a 286, you might have forgotten just how much relative pausing went on, especially when running a graphical user interface.
We're big fans of Android around here, but we'd never advise anyone to hang onto a phone that doesn't meet their needs. If you can't get your Android device to behave, then by all means look at other options — but try and test them out before committing. If readers have additional suggestions for improving Android performance, we'd welcome them in the comments.