7 Tips to care for your Android phone and make it as good as new

There are a handful of thousands of Android phones on the market right now, ranging to the very affordable to the dreamy. It is quite understandable then if one says not all phones can perform as well as the market leaders and flagship models such as Samsung’s Note and SIII or HTC’s One.

Perhaps you spent a fortune on your Android phone and want it to work flawlessly; or perhaps you did not spend much and still want it to perform just as well. Whichever boat you are on, the best thing about Android is that there are simple practices you can follow and soon have your GALAXY Y performing like an Optimus, your Optimus like a Wildfire, you Wildfire like an Ace, your Ace like a Desire, your Desire like an XPeria, your XPeria like a GALAXY S, your S like a top of the line GALAXY Note or SIII.

So you probably get the point by now. The argument is how you can make your phone a better performer (it is surprising how many are unaware of this.) Here are seven simple steps that can have a great impact on your great (or not so great) Android phone and, who can say, perhaps they will even leave you with a butter smooth feel like the phones at the top end?

[All image screenshots taken on an international GALAXY Note. Screenshots may not be reproduced without permission.]

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 1.  Get rid of old app footprints

Arguably the biggest obstacles to a smooth Android phone are old, uninstalled or moved app footprints. An app almost always creates a folder (or several, depending on the app) for itself, to store its files and access them from time to time.

ES File Explorer screenshotFor permission reasons apps cannot access your SD card files to delete folders they have set up, after uninstallation. This means with every app you install and later uninstall at some point of time, you leave a bunch of useless folders on your phone that simply take up space without doing anything to help your phone.

If you own one of Samsung’s Android phones, its My Files app has you covered; but other phones do not come with a stock file browser so you will have to opt for one from the Play Store. I recommend Astro File Browser or ES File Explorer (pictured above.)

Every week or month — if you are a hardcore user — or just every few months once, give some time to browse through your folders and delete those you no longer need. Most often these carry the names of the apps themselves so you will know when you have uninstalled the app, you can go ahead and get rid of its folder.

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 2.  The outside matters just as much as the inside

Your phone surely does not have mechanical parts, but it does have a hole or two for various reasons (such as headphone jacks, battery pull handles and so on) that, unfortunately, also serve as entry to steam, water, smoke, or any weird substance you live around but do not want to confess.

Just as the inside of a phone needs regularly attention on your part, the outside too requires tending. This is true even if you phone is made of rubber. These unwelcome substances harm your phone by denuding the circuit, and the more unfortunate thing is that you will never know if your circuit has denuded until the phone actually stops working.

Alongside this care, it is also advisable to clean your phone occasionally (at least once a week) with a clean microfiber cloth for the screen and a long, synthetic brush for other places. Never use any cleaning liquid or solution, especially with top of the line phones as this can wear out the protective coating given to it. Entry-level phones do not have this layer, however, and you can freely use a solution with these.

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 3.  The Android phone Power Cycle

The name power cycle sounds all sci-fi and 2050, but it could not meaning anything simpler than it does now. A power cycle merely refers to the process of turning off your phone and on again every once in a while.

Typically, doing this once a week should do, but if you find you phone lagging, do not randomly resort to restarting it. Also, there is a difference between powering off and then turning on your phone, and just restarting it via the power menu.

The restart button keeps baseband and system processes running and restarts the rest of your phone while turning it off and on actually restarts your entire Android phone, OS and all.

Some good Samaritan apps also permit the system to delete certain files (i.e. those belonging to their app) on restart, if the app itself is not found on the phone. So with one power cycle, you will be cleaning up your offline cache and freeing up memory.

The Power Cycle also forces your phone to re-search and re-register with your network provider and increase its efficiency in connecting across cellular towers by keeping cellular maps updated. (Positioning systems start registering errors after a while.) This, in turn, helps in receiving and sending/making all your texts/calls quickly.

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 4.  Know what your phone can handle

Not all Android phones can handle as many apps and processes at a time as any other. And this really depends upon many factors ranging from memory to app properties themselves.

Here is a simple example/experiment I performed: at a height, I had over 220 apps installed on my GALAXY Note, and still had it running smoothly. I had put several in for testing and reviewing, but constantly, I have about 120 apps on my phone with several running simultaneously. It did not lag, but instead ran just as smoothly and responsively as it had the day I had un-boxed it, and this is excluding Samsung’s bloatware and several necessary, stock S Pen apps.

A few days ago I had my friend’s GALAXY Ace Plus at home, and I was coding on a mod and repairing it when, after I had correctly installed the stock Gingerbread ROM on it, I decided to test just how far the phone could take me. By about 25-28 apps I noticed it started lagging a bit. By 50 it was reacting to my gestures at least a second late. By about 65 apps, the phone crashed twice and at 93 it turned off. (I have not told him any of this yet!)

Then, of course, in all honesty, I re-installed and updated the OS on the phone and now, he tells me, it is running perfectly smooth. (There still are a bunch of apps installed — somewhere around ten, perhaps.)

My point is not to showcase one phone as inferior to another — in fact, done right, every Android phone is just as good as any other, save a couple of special tasks some can do. The point here is that each phone has its limit; cross it and you are left with a slow, lagging box of technological wonders and you have only yourself to blame.

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 5.  Increase your battery life

There are several things you can do to increase your battery life on your Android phone, and, as it turns out, they all also help in keeping your phone snappy as a dragon.

Start with the basics: any Android phone with a front-facing camera has an auto-brightness feature. Simply set that up and your phone uses said camera to alter brightness based on how much light is falling on your screen. Then set the back light to turn off a few seconds after inactivity. Most apps that actually require extended back lighting (such as ebook readers) have a way to hold your phone screen lit either until locked or for a default value of several minutes, so that should not worry you much.

You have your battery’s worst enemies in your status bar above the notifications area: wi-fi, bluetooth and GPS. Turn these off when not needed just like you would a switch to an unused light or fan. If you have been using data and are done with it, turn it off too. Besides, you can save your money in the process.

Step three is your autosync. For the minority of us who have wi-fi available 24×7, it just seems all too beautiful to let go and many set up their phone autosync features in all its full blaring glory. The problem is, while your Evernote and Google Calendar are syncing every fifteen minutes, or your email every hour, or your news aggregation app goes hunting online every minute, your battery gets killed twelve to fifteen times faster. The solution? Shut it off and simply sync when you need it most.

Lastly, your widgets — beautiful looking, utilitarian home screen decorators that make an Android phone stand out — can actually kill your battery and slow down your phone much more than  you might suspect. It is best to set widgets to no sync. If you want the weather, press the little circle button and viola! You really do not need it re-syncing itself every other minute to let you know it would not rain as the weather man said, but snow instead. The same goes for your social networks. Sync it when you want to see what is going on, instead of leaving it on and selling out a few MB just to find out your friends’ opinions, autobiographies or gossips. No, news are not exceptions to this rule either.

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 6.  Clean old messages and call records

One of the less obvious but effective methods to speed up your phone is cleaning your inbox (both email and text message) as well as wiping clean your call records.

Your phone can take care of both these for you. In the settings, the messages are set to delete old ones once a limit is reached (which is often 200, and is way too much.) The same goes for your telephone records.

Your inbox, however, has no such presetting so it is up to you to do it yourself. If you delete your phone email inbox you will not be deleting the messages from the cloud, so they are still accessible from your desktop or laptop.

While both messages and call records appear to take up very little cache space, you will realise just how much they were holding you back only when you delete their memory spaces and start over. If you cannot set it to an automatic limit, make it a habit to get back once in a while and blindly wipe them all clean.

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 7.  Get an antivirus

I have previously had an antivirus face-off (read it here if you have not already, and choose an antivirus that suits you!) In that article we saw how the mobile antivirus field is still developing and you do not need to spend a fortune on one as you need to do on a PC. But there is an entirely different thing these antivirus software can do: monitor out-of-hand apps.

What are these so-called out-of-hand apps? Given that the Android market is free, while it has several advantages, it does come with a couple of unfortunate scenarios, one of which is apps that are really pretend software and/or apps that hide an army of advertisements behind them.

Although apps are supposed to declare what permissions they need from the user and what parts of the phone they can crawl into, there are some that carry an almost invisible, rarely read, clause in their EULA (End User License Agreement) that tell the user about ads they push.

These are called push ads and can dangerously appear even when the app is not running and appear in your notifications bar.

These are just one of many things, including keylogging and data theft (yes, right under your nose, if you do not pay attention) that a good Antivirus can take care of for you, apart from viruses and malware. Not only will you keep your phone secure, reducing background apps will make your phone at least thrice as fast. So, go get the right Antivirus for your Android phone today.

Additionally, you might also want to do a little spring cleaning with CNet.

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I have been with Android long enough to tell you there is no better operating system on the market. (That is sort of obvious, is it not?) And, like any electronic device, your Android phone will slow down and lag as you use it everyday. Some phones do this in a matter of weeks, others in a few months while most top-end phones can last you years without such problems. But the bottom line is, you will have a laggy phone some day and you will have to deal with it.

Following these seven tips religiously, you will end up with a phone that keeps performing to its maximum potential for years and years (and you really will not see a reason to replace it!) While it does take some time and hardly any effort, think of what you will get: an Android phone that performs every instant just as well as it did the day you bought it. [vhb]

Simplifying and understanding Google’s new privacy policy

A week ago, on March 1st 2012, Google’s big step forward came into practice in earnest. When they first made their proposed new privacy policy public, half its users did not understand what it really meant. Within a month, a number of people spoke against it and many even vowed to delete their Google accounts. As it happened, not half of them had really understood what the new policy meant, and, most importantly, what was different from the old one.

In short, the main point put forth by the changed policy is that Google — which used to keep its user history from Google Search and YouTube separate — can now combine collected user data in order to deliver better results and show advertisements that have a greater probability of attracting your click on them and hence make the Search Giant some good money. And, while this is not as bad as it seems, (it is definitely better than Google’s re-branding the Android Market to Google Play,) the decision to start using its services, or continue to do so, is left entirely to you.

Below is Google’s new privacy policy, simplified into three steps, some views about it, and what you can do to convince yourself it is no big harm after all!

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[You can read EPIC’s original complaint against FTC (pdf document.) Or you can listen to Rainey Reitman’s short talk on CBC’s Day 6 Explainer. And if you decide to stick on to Google, you can join me on Google+!]

The New Google and Google+

On June the 28th some lucky ones—including me—may have noticed a small tweak in Google’s homepage and most of its services save Gmail. And on Wednesday, this trial feature was formally launched for a larger groups, but still a limited one, of users around the world. Perhaps the most noticeable of these—at least the one that caught my eye—was the black bar at the very top of the page.

“We’re working on a project to bring you a new and improved Google experience, and over the next few months, you’ll continue to see more updates to our look and feel,” said Google’s digital creative director, Chris Wiggins.

Before I explain what Google hopes to achieve from this new look, let’s take a look at Google back in ‘97:

Charmed?

The main difference is that the colourful Google logo has been reduced in size, the search box has been made more prominent and two sets of links have been moved to the top and bottom of the page giving your browser what Wiggins described as a cleaner look.

While this goes quite the extent in making an already minimalist, clean page unnecessarily cleaner, the changes in other parts of Google do have an underlying utilitarian face to them. Wiggins describes these broadly as focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

Focus is perhaps what ought to be—and rightly is—on top of Google’s priority. No matter what they are doing on any of their services, the user’s concentration must effortlessly be able to put its entire self to what it is doing at present.

This shall be achieved in the coming weeks and months over which this gradual alteration shall be made to the users’ comfort by the use of bolder colours for actionable buttons and the possible automated hiding of anything the user will not need, such as the navigation buttons—which will of course re-appear when we do need them. This way the browser area in use will remain uncluttered.

Elasticity is Google’s attempt at fitting their services into all modern forms of technology, not merely the desktop computer or which it was originally intended, as though Google was built natively for that device. It makes one wonder if they forgot they were the ones who created Android in the first place.

The idea is that with the internet slowly becoming accessible from more locations and devices than one, Google should be moulded uniquely to best fit each of these—a tailor-made Google service for every possible alternative to the old desktop.

In fact this brings to my mind a key aspect discussed in Michio Kaku’s latest book Physics of the Future (which I only recently started reading!) where he says we will, in the near future—perhaps by 2030, be able to access the internet from everywhere—our spectacles, clothes, furniture, even our wallpaper. If this is indeed the case—and it looks most likely so—then Google seems to be the one taking the very first steps towards such an elasticity.

Effortlessness is the last of Google’s focii in its make over. How many of us actually put in effort when working on Google? And yet Wiggins explanation seeks to give us just this image.

He says it is Google’s web designing philosophy to combine power with simplicity. We want to keep our look simple and clean, but… use new technologies like HTML5, WebGL and the latest, fastest browsers to make sure you have all the power of the web behind you.

Alongside this, and an experimental feature I have not had the privilege of being included in (though my name still stands on the list of users for the forthcoming inclusion,) is Google’s take at providing internet users a structured social experience via what they call Google+.

Read Google Plus, this is basically a combination of five tools: circles, sparks, hangout, instant upload and huddle.

While it does, arguably, appear like a re-make of most existing services with Google’s signature on them, it seems that their real intention is that, through Google+, real-life sharing has been, in their own words, re-thought for the Web.

In Circles, Google’s version of a contact-storage system, you can group your contacts into suitable groups—what they probably call circles—and chose which group to conveniently share stuff with.

Sparks, like the Zite app, allows Google to monitor the kind of information you share with your contacts and streamline search results to suit your needs better.

In Hangouts, rather than trying to track down people on FaceTime, Skype and Fring, Hangouts lets you tell your friends or “Circles” where you are hanging out and invites them over to hang out with video chat. This will help people in your circles who are now far away to connect in a virtual pool and bring all camaraderie to a virtual conference—another instance straight out of Kaku’s book.

“The way people use and experience the Web is evolving, and our goal is to give you a more seamless and consistent online experience — one that works no matter which Google product you’re using or what device you’re using it on.”

Chris Wiggins

Instant Upload is Google’s take on the concept first introduced by Apple’s iOS5 and iCloud. The idea is nothing different: pictures, say, that you click, will instantly get uploaded to a virtual cloud from where you can chose to do whatever is wise with them, like share it with a circle, perhaps?

The last one, Huddle in my opinion, is the only new concept Google has managed to introduce in this bunch. Presently, there is a large wall separating iPhone, BlackBerry and Android users. In spite of Android users making up the largest chunk of the three, there is no way for users of any of these platforms to communicate or chat with the users of any other platform. Huddle closes this gap by introducing its Google+ App for iPhone through which iPhone and Android users can chat cross-OS without the need for an external agent like a chat room or, say, an online application like Google Talk or Yahoo! Chat.

So much for Google+, which, in my opinion, will go on to get the bigger of the two receptions, mostly because the other, updated-design-feature is all too subtle for the daily I-don’t-care-what-your-website-looks-like set of internet users who claim to be around only because content (still) is king.

Very well Mr Wiggins, the world is prepared for the new Google—and I am quite sure three-quarters of the world will not give a damn as to what colour your top bar is, and then again, there is the small lot of us to whom it does make a difference.

My own idea is (and hopefully Google will agree) that even if users do not actually notice the new, black top bar, let alone blog or debate about it, the overall, subtle changes—and the ease and economical use of Google’s services—is something they are sure to notice in the days (or should I say months?) to come. Welcome, new Google!

What do you think of this? A milestone turn in Web 2.0, or another disappointment?

On why 2011 is a year to take heed of the climate

Perhaps Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, belongs more to the present times than a few years back when it was released. I remember having watched it in school, and there was hardly anyone in the class who was not mesmerised by it. And we were young then. It is quite surprising, therefore, to see much older men, leaders of nations not being awakened by its call.

This year, we saw them alarmed. And they had a good reason for it: this year, 2011, is coming as close to a terrifyingly erratic and human-unfriendly climate as we have ever seen before. Five times a mass extinction has occurred according to studies, and the next one is not due another 300 years. But these calculations had no place for our exponentially worsening irresponsibility towards climate in them. And with theories of a doomsday fast approaching, people world-over seem to have taken keen interest in the climate, leaders of nations included. They have awoken; we have awoken. Or so it seems. Then, what next? // Continue