Ask Lifehacker: Why Is My New Android Phone So Sluggish?

Ask Lifehacker: Why Is My New Android Phone So Sluggish?

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.



  • Hey,

    My HTC Desire HD was slugish out of the box. Turns out it was a background running service that was chewing my CPU to near 100%. This also resulted in my battery being quite dismal.

    My solution was to turn debuggin mode on (Settings/Applications/Development/USB Debugging). Problem solved.

    I would have not located this issue without running a diagnostic using the app System Panel – look into it – the long-term application resource monitor feature tracked my CPU and memory usage for all running apps and background services over a period and correctly identified what was happening. It might help you.

    • Agree completely with this. I have a Desire HD and had the same problems, which were fixed by choosing the USB debugging option in settings. Havent had problems with the phone slowing down due to 100% CPU usage anymore.

      As a side note, I find some applications will still slow the phone down though. Angry Birds has issues every now and then, which I believe stems from the ads. I find that it is jerky and laggy, but when the ads are not on screen, no problems.

  • yes agree with orko, seems like a CPU usage issue or phone cheapness issue

    try playing Angry Birds – that runs fine on my Nexus One, so if you are having sluggish performance with Angry Birds then you either paid too little for your phone or the CPU is being chewed up by some background process

    would help if you said what phone you are using, what phone your wife is using and whether she was also having the slowness issue on the same app and what the app name is…

  • Samsung (I have a Galaxy S, this likely affects others from their stable) phones have a stupid filesystem for the core android system. Installing a lagfix (e.g. speedmod, voodoo) dramatically improves performance, without replacing the ROM. These work by replacing the kernel with support for the ext4 filesystem, then re-formatting the system partitions to ext4 (usually with a backup/restore). The stock filesystem is RFS, which is an ugly hack of FAT32 with posix extensions, making it slow and unreliable. I suspect they ship this filesystem to allow their PC software Kies to work with the phone – Kies no longer works after a lagfix. But no huge loss.

  • G’day,

    Thanks for the article and all the feedback.

    My phone is the desire HD. My wife has a Legend.

    I’ve made a few changes to how I use my phone and noticed some improvements.

    Since writing the email, and before noticing this article, I’ve also adjusted my expectations a little. (i was exaggerating a little when I said 286.)

    In response to Boris, angry birds is pretty horrible on the legend, and has a hiccup or two on the desire HD.

    I look forward to checking out Orko’s suggestions. Will let you know how I go.

    Not sure about rooting/custom ROM yet. Maybe though.

    Thanks everyone.

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