When you stop and think about it, smartphones are a lot like cars: They're fun, they're functional, and we always feel lost without them. But no matter how much we love 'em, they all occasionally do things that drive us crazy.
As a certified Guy Who Writes About Android, I hear all about people's most pesky phone-related annoyances. From insufficient storage and wonky auto-brightness to less-than-stellar stamina, certain problems seem to pop up often. And nine times out of 10, there's a pretty easy fix -- or at least some steps that can help make things a little bit better.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD 6 tips to secure your Android device +
So pull into my garage, pop the ol' hood, and let's get started: Time to tune up your ride and get you back on the road in style.
Your phone's storage is getting low
Ah, storage. For some of us, there just never seems to be enough of it.
So what do you do when your Android phone tells you it's running low on the stuff? You have several viable options, which range from "subtle but simple" to "effective but annoying."
A quick trick to try first is to clear the cache being stored by apps on your phone. Head into the Apps section of your system settings and tap an app in the list. You'll then be able to see exactly how much space its cache -- the collection of temporary files it has saved for easy access -- is taking up on your device. Now, the fun part: Tap the "Clear Cache" button and wipe it all away. Repeat that process with more apps, and if you're lucky, all those little bits will add up to a meaningful amount of freed space.
If your phone has an SD card slot, you can also try buying a memory card and then moving some of your data -- music, videos, photos, or whatever else you might have saved -- onto your external storage. First, check the app that interacts with the content to see if it has a way to relocate the data for you (Google Play Music, for example, provides a simple and safe way to move music files). If no such option is available or applicable, you can use a file manager like Cabinet to move the files on your own.
Beyond that, you can try uninstalling apps you no longer use, deleting old photos and videos (especially if they're already backed up to a cloud storage service) -- or, if all else fails, performing a factory reset and starting with a clean slate, which is practically guaranteed to get built-up gunk out of your engine and give you lots of extra room.
Your Android phone's bloatware is hurting your brain
Manufacturers and carriers sure love to lard up phones with bloatware -- you know, those obnoxious preloaded programs you probably don't want and likely won't use.
Good news, though: Android makes it easy to remove or at least hide most of it out of sight. Open your system settings, select Apps, then find the app you want to axe in the list. Tap it and then look for a button that says "Disable" or "Uninstall" toward the top-left of the screen. Mash that button down, and voilà: You'll never see or hear from the app in question again.
Some manufacturers are tricky and bake bloatware into the system so it can't be hidden or uninstalled (bad manufacturers! Bad!). In those instances, unfortunately, the only way you can remove the offending app is by rooting your device, which is something only advanced users will want to attempt.
You wish your phone had a cleaner and/or more Googley user interface
Android is a beautiful operating system, especially as of the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop release. But many device-makers cover up Google's design work with their own subpar efforts, leaving you with a less-than-ideal interface to do your mobile bidding.
Want to get a more Googley look on your phone without any complex hacking? Start by grabbing the Google Now Launcher from the Google Play Store. The free app brings Google's own home screen design to any reasonably recent Android device, complete with its clean user interface and prominent Google Now integration. (And you can always switch back to your phone's default UI if you decide you don't like the change.)
Beyond the launcher, you can now download Google's own Calendar, Messenger, Keyboard, and Camera apps from the Play Store and install them on any phone. Other parts of a phone's UI are harder to change, but that whole package will make a significant difference in what your device is like to use.
You wish you could change more things about your phone’s home screen
Itching to go beyond the basics and really take control of your home screen? Android is brimming with cool custom launchers that let you make things look and work exactly the way you want.
An app called Nova Launcher is an excellent starting point to try. Nova gives you an environment that's similar to Google's stock Android setup but includes options for tweaking practically every detail imaginable, whether it's changing icons, adding custom gesture-based shortcuts, or removing the on-screen search bar. (The main app is free, though some of the more advanced options require a $4 "Prime" add-on.)
If you want something a little different, Action Launcher 3 (free trial with $5 in-app purchase to unlock all options) is another one worth considering. The app has all sorts of innovative features, like a streamlined sliding app drawer and an instant-theming option that can dynamically style your entire home screen to match your wallpaper. Action Launcher also allows you to keep widgets available on demand so they're there when you need them but hidden when you don't.
Your Android device's auto-brightness doesn't work consistently well
Some phones' auto-brightness settings leave something to be desired -- and even the best of them usually have room for improvement. Enter Lux, an app that takes over your phone's auto-brightness and makes it more effective.
Lux continuously adjusts your screen's brightness and temperature to make it optimal for viewing in any environment. It also has the ability to learn from your preferences and adjust its behavior accordingly.
The main app is free and packed with functionality. If you like it and want even more oomph, there's also a $3.80 upgraded version that provides an extra jolt of power.
Your phone's screen turns itself off while you're reading
One of the most annoying things about using a mobile device is when the screen times out while you're in the midst of reading something. The fix resides in an unassuming little app called Screebl (free with optional $2 upgrade for additional features).
The way Screebl works is simple: When your phone is being held in an upright position -- the way you'd hold it while using it -- Screebl keeps your screen on. That way, the display won't time out and turn off when you're reading something, even if you aren't actively touching the glass. When you set your device down, Screebl allows the screen to time out normally and shut itself off.
It's so effective, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Your Android phone's battery life could be better
First, the harsh truth: Some phones have better battery life than others. Aside from keeping a portable battery pack handy (which I'd strongly recommend), you can't make your phone last longer than its physical limitations allow.
That being said, there are things you can do to cut back on unnecessary power use and make the most of what you have. One of the most common power-sucking culprits is an app that goes overboard with background check-ins and syncing. Social media apps like Facebook and Twitter along with news-reading apps and weather apps are frequently guilty of this crime. Unless you really need those apps to download new updates every 15 minutes, even when you aren't actively using them, take a moment to go into their settings and change their refresh rates to "manual" -- or at least once every couple hours.
Dimming your display's brightness and lowering its timeout (both accessible in the Display section of your main system settings) can also go a long way in making your phone last longer. Or better yet, use Lux and Screebl -- from the previous two tips -- to intelligently manage those functions for you.
Other than that, it can help to turn your phone's Wi-Fi off when you won't be needing it for a while. And be sure to look in the Battery section of your system settings to see what, if any, other apps and processes are taking the biggest toll on your battery life. (Hint: If you're using a virus scanning app and see that in the list, it might be worth uninstalling it altogether. With Android's own built-in security mechanisms and native phone-finding feature, such apps are almost completely unnecessary and good for little more than draining your system's resources.)
Your Android apps won't stop pestering you
Got an app that won't stop pestering you? Hop over to the Apps section of your system settings and find the offending program. Tap on it, then uncheck the box labeled "Show notifications." The app will never notify you again. (Just make sure that's what you want before you do it!)
If you have a phone with Android 5.0, you can also use Lollipop's Priority Notification system to fine-tune what types of notifications can reach you when.
Text on your phone’s screen is too small to read
Hey, we can't all have perfect vision. If you're struggling to see text, try activating Android's Large Text option, located in the Accessibility section of the system settings. It'll make everything on the system level a little bit bigger.
You might also want to adjust the text scaling in your mobile browser: In Chrome, tap the overflow menu icon (the three vertical dots in the corner of the screen), select Settings, then select Accessibility. Move the slider there to make the text as large as you need it in order to read comfortably.
You wish you could keep your Android phone unlocked at home, but your device doesn't have Lollipop
The ability to keep a phone unlocked based on location or Bluetooth connection is built right into Android as of the Lollipop release. If you're using a phone with an older version of the OS, though, you can get a similar effect with an app called SkipLock. It bypasses your lock screen PIN or password anytime you're connected to a whitelisted Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device, effectively achieving the same result.
This story, "10 common Android annoyances, solved" was originally published by ITworld.