Does your Android phone feel sluggish? Is the camera refusing to take pictures because there’s no more space to save them? Or maybe you’ve had to resort to a one-in-one-out policy when it comes to downloading new apps.
A deep-clean could be the solution. Whether your phone sports 16GB, 64GB or 128GB of storage, it can be all too easy to fill it up, especially if you’ve migrated app data and settings from an older phone. Restoring a full backup of your device (to see if you’re backing up, check Settings > Backup & reset > Back up my data) minimizes the setup required when upgrading to a shiny new phone — but it can mean that you end up dragging along apps and data you no longer need.
Even if you’ve started afresh, photos can be another common storage hog. Not only are smartphones the de facto recorder of life’s moments, they also collect all the images and videos you receive from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and image files created in scanner apps, for example. All these images are saved to your device — but with Google’s generous photo upload policy (unlimited lower-resolution uploads for all Google users; unlimited full-res uploads for Pixel and Nexus users), it’s hardly necessary. Anytime you have an internet connection, you can view every photo you’ve ever uploaded via the Google Photos app.
Downloaded files from emails and web browsing can make sneaky demands on those GBs too, and if you’ve been using your phone for a while, it may be overstuffed with fragments of app data — cached files that apps create while they run to help keep operation smooth and slick.
Expunging unneeded apps, photos and other files from your phone is a must when you’re running low on storage, and can even provide a sizeable boost in performance. Here’s how to get started with your Android deep-clean:
1. Identify the biggest storage-hungry culprits.
Like laptops, smartphones use a solid-state drive for storage, and maxing out this drive can slow down performance (here’s a technical explanation of why). Tests have suggested that using no more than 75% of total storage of computer solid-state drives helps with performance. If sluggishness has been an issue, aim to delete enough files so you’re under that benchmark.
Head into Settings > Storage where you can see what percentage of your total storage you’ve used, and what types of apps are eating it up.
Photos often take up the most space, so if you haven’t already, here you can enable Smart Storage, which backs up photos and videos that are over 30, 60 or 90 days old to the Google Photos cloud service. This option means you can delete photos from your device, but still view them via the Google Photos app, whenever you have an internet connection. For Pixel and Nexus phones, doing this is a particular no-brainer as you get unlimited full-resolution photo uploads in Google Drive; for users of other Android phones who have enabled unlimited lower-resolution backups, it’s worth noting that this option will delete your full-resolution originals (from your device) unless you back them up somewhere else first (like an external hard drive or a photo sharing service such as Flickr, which offers 1TB of free storage).
Note: Deleting photos directly from the Photos app removes them from everywhere even if you’ve selected auto-backup — see below for how to delete backed up images and videos from your device only.
2. Free up space (easily).
An easy place to start is by deleting downloads, infrequently used apps and backed up photos and videos. For those running Android 8.0 Oreo, it’s as easy as going to Settings > Storage and tapping on “Free up space.” If your phone is running Android 7.0 Nougat (or earlier — which you shouldn’t be, because you should always install software updates) you’ll need to address each separately.
Since your photos and videos are backed up to Google Drive, deleting them doesn’t affect your ability to view them on your phone, as long as you have an internet connection. Go ahead and check these for deletion — I last reclaimed a pretty hefty 5GB of space. For Android 7, open the Photos app (not the Samsung Gallery if you have a Samsung phone) select Menu > Free up space.
Downloaded files can accumulate through email attachments or PDFs you open while web browsing. Here you can view a list of downloads in order of size, then delete what you don’t need. You may not claw back more than a hundred MB from download files, but go ahead and delete them anyway — every byte counts. For Android 7, go to the Downloads app, sort the files by size and then touch and hold to bring up the option to delete the file.
Infrequently used apps can easily build up on your Android phone too — whether you’ve migrated some outdated apps from a previous phone or you download apps on a tablet or web browser that remotely turn up on your phone too. Happily, here in “Free up space,” you’ll be shown which apps haven’t been used in at least 90 days — which may not mean you don’t want them, so run through the list before hitting delete. For Android 7, go to Settings > Applications > Application Manager and you’ll see a list of apps. If any don’t look familiar, tap and then select “Uninstall.”
Note: You can check “Free up space” regularly to see if there are photos or downloads you can quickly and easily delete with little impact.
3. Check to see what other types of apps and files are taking up a lot of space.
The storage manager also shows how much space various categories of apps take up compared with others. Do you have a ton of games, music apps or movie/TV apps? If so, tap on the category and run your eye down the list. Are many apps performing similar functions? If so, you could delete some of them. If you know which apps you want to delete, head into Settings > Apps and notifications > Show all apps for Android 8 (or Settings > Applications > Application Manager for Android 7), then tap the apps in question and hit uninstall.
If you need a little more inspiration for deletion, you can see which apps are getting the least playtime — and are therefore the ripest candidates for deletion — by heading to Play Store > top-left menu > My apps & games. Sort by “Alphabetical” in the top-right to filter by “Last used,” and head to the bottom of the list to check for underused apps, especially if they eat up more MBs than their neighbors. To delete an app, tap to open, then hit uninstall.
4. Manage music and podcasts.
If you use Google’s Play Music app for streaming music and podcasts, you may have inadvertently selected to download purchased or uploaded music to your device, or allowed the app to automatically download the three most recent episodes of subscribed podcasts.
That might mean you have a ton of media on your device that doesn’t really need to be there — after all, if you’re in a Wi-Fi or 4G zone you’ll have access to the tunes. Or, you may have doubles of particular songs if they appear in various collections. (Of course, if you’re embarking on a 12-hour plane journey, go ahead and keep these on your device.)
You can see how much storage space music and podcasts are taking up in Play Music > Settings > Downloading > Manage downloads, where you’ll also see how this compares to the storage usage of other apps. To clear out these downloads, tap on Music Library > Songs and manually delete song by song (or podcast episode).
To prevent future auto-downloads, in the Play Music app, head to Settings > Downloading and disable the setting.
You’ll most likely still have various bits of digital flotsam that have escaped the wide net cast above — this next stage is about streamlining the files that are saved to storage.
5. Sort out your photos.
In Photos, hit the top left menu and select “Device Folders,” where you’ll see categories such as Screenshots, WhatsApp images, videos and gifs, Instagram pictures and other image files created in your various apps. You can delete folders here — for example, you probably don’t need to save all your WhatsApp gifs or items scanned on Office Lens — by tapping on the folder, then the top-right menu (or selecting All in Android 7 and tapping the trash icon). Here you can also turn off syncing to Google Photos; though they won’t count against your storage if they are less than 20MP image (which they should be), for the sake of a tidy cloud folder, screenshots probably don’t need to be backed up, for example. A cloud with a line through it indicates a folder is not being synced (and therefore if you delete it here, it’s gone forever). So make sure you sync your photos and videos before you purge them off of your phone.
6. Delete old offline maps.
Google Maps’ offline feature can be a godsend for navigating abroad without incurring roaming charges. However, those saved maps of Paris or Casablanca could be contributing to your phone’s dwindling storage. Open Google Maps and tap the top-left menu button to view — and delete — offline maps of places you’re no longer in.
7. Empty app cache or app data.
In the course of operation, apps create cache files — bits of data created as you use an app in order to make the app run faster. Depending on how much you use an app, cached files can build up to quite a size — but, thankfully, they can safely be deleted.
Head to Settings > Storage > Other apps to see a list of your downloaded apps (excluding music, games, and movie/TV apps) sorted by the amount of storage they take up. Click on the ones using the most storage to see how much of that is taken up by cached files. You can then click on “Clear cache,” which can help with storage issues as well as improve sluggish performance — for example, my Instagram cache took up nearly 1.4GB while the app itself took up under 100MB. If you’re using Android 7, you can clear all app cache data at once in Settings > Storage > Cached data.
If the phone is having performance issues — or if an app is glitching — you might even hit “Clear Data” on especially bloated apps, which essentially resets the app as if you had just downloaded it. You would then need to sign in again and any saved progress in the app (such as with a game) might be lost unless the app is saving data to the cloud (such as with Instagram — you could clear app data in Instagram without losing photos).
The nuclear option
The ultimate deep-clean, of course, cleans all of it out: your photos, apps, data and settings.
8. Do a factory reset.
With so many apps, including the photos and contacts book, capable of syncing to the cloud, this isn’t as explosive a nuclear option as it might be in a computer deep-clean — and it can be the best way to clear the junk from your Android trunk in one fell swoop, while potentially bringing your phone back to its early-days speed.
Resetting your phone means you can then cherry-pick the apps you want to reinstall. Check in Settings > System > Backup > App data that you’ve enabled Automatic restore so that when reinstalling these apps, their data and settings are preserved. (Alternately, you might disable this setting if some apps were glitching — a fresh install might sort out in-app performance issues.)
Finally, head to Settings > System > Reset options > Factory reset — and enjoy your spiffy like-new phone.
[Image credit: phone settings concept via BigStockPhoto]