How to fix Android's blank screen of death

Home screen problems? Android Market apps may be able to help

Ever since the release of Froyo, Android version 2.2, some users have complained about their home screens. The problem: they don't always have one.

When exiting an application, turning the phone on, or sliding out a physical keyboard, a number of Android owners see a blank screen, with their wallpaper but no application icons. The delay in what is called "home screen redraw" can take a few seconds or even 30 seconds and more. My phone has suffered from this problem for months, but I finally found a fix which involved replacing the Android home screen launcher with third-party software available on the Android Market. (Short version: I downloaded a free app called ADWLauncher.) 

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While Android 2.2 offered my Motorola Droid immediate improvement in terms of speed, and gave the advantage of installing applications to the memory card, things eventually started going haywire, and home screen redraw wasn't the only problem. The GPS broke, the soft keyboard was slow or unresponsive, and even the phone portion of the phone was unpredictable. Eventually these issues led me to do a complete factory reset in mid-November. All of this is only to point out that the home screen redraw problem continued to exist after the factory reset, even though in theory the reset had given me a brand new install of Android. It also indicates that home screen redraw issues are specific to 2.2, because I didn't notice anything like this in 2.1.

But the important thing is really this: can you fix it?

If you search Google for "Android 2.2 home screen redraw" you'll find plenty of user forums discussing the problem and offering solutions that seem to work for a few people, but not all.

One is to go into the display settings and turn off window animations. Another suggestion is to move applications from the SD Card and into the phone's internal memory, or at least to do so for applications that you want to appear on the home screen. Some users such as myself have downloaded third-party launchers which basically replace the stock version of the Android home screen, with varying success (more on that later).

I suspect Motorola Droid owners are particularly susceptible to home screen redraw problems because the phone has only 256MB internal memory, half of what's available in a typical new phone. 256MB can be used up quite quickly by Android Market applications, hence the need for installing apps to SD Card storage.

In any case, none of the solutions offered in my Google searching solved my problem, and user forums were filled with people who seemed resigned to the fact that it wouldn't be fixed until at least Android 2.3, if at all.

My next step was to call Verizon. Since my phone was still covered by a 1-year warranty, a customer service rep quickly offered to send me a replacement Motorola Droid, which I received the next day.

The new phone was immediately more responsive - but not perfect. I still experienced long delays after exiting certain applications. Sliding the keyboard out and back in would lead to a wait of at least a minute before the home screen icons popped back up.

Finally, I sought advice from Android expert JR Raphael, who writes for PC World, Computerworld and other publications. He recommended ADWLauncher, an alternative home screen launcher application. I was skeptical at first because I had previously tried LauncherPro, which only made the home screen redraw worse. But it turns out ADWLauncher solved nearly all of my problems. I still get a delay once every day or two, but it used to happen constantly throughout every day. Now, the home screen refreshes quickly upon exiting most applications and upon sliding the keyboard in and out. 

ADWLauncher is more customizable than the stock Android home screen, and I liked the free version so much that I paid for the enhanced version. However, I quickly uninstalled the pro version and got a refund because the ADW backup process did not allow me to transfer settings from the free app to the paid app. (That seems like a missed revenue opportunity.)

I'm not sure if ADWLauncher will solve everyone's home screen redraw problems. But I think if you are suffering from a similar malady, it's worth both contacting your carrier and seeing if they will replace your phone for free, and also trying out a few different home screen launchers to see if any of them work better than the native Android software. I've contacted Google to see if there is any more official word on how to improve home screen redraw, and will update this post if I hear anything. 

One final note: After having done one factory reset and gotten one replacement phone, I've concluded that the biggest Android disadvantage may be the lack of an easy process to transfer applications and settings from one phone to another.

The Android Market will show you the apps you've downloaded, but in my experience this has worked only with ones I've paid for, and not the free ones. The most useful tool I used was App Referrer, which let me generate a list of all my applications along with their Market URLs. This speeded things up quite a bit but it was still at least a two-hour process to download applications, load up new bookmarks and get my home screens and folders in the order I wanted them in.

Obviously, there is no iTunes equivalent for Android, and the fact that Android phones are made by multiple manufacturers and come in different form factors complicates matters. But I highly recommend that Google create a smooth backup system that would work across Android devices.

Android phones offer great software and hardware and have some advantages over Apple's iPhone - you can actually replace the battery! - so I hate to see it bogged down with such a cumbersome backup process.

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