Why is my phone so slow?

Whether it’s lagging YouTube videos, choppy streaming, or long page-load times, chances are you’ve had a frustrating moment where your phone moves slower than you’d like. In this article, we’ll explore some causes of this frustration, and offer some solutions.

Common causes of a slow phone

Of course, an older phone (or operating system) will always be slower. Before you do anything else, you should check that you’re running the latest version of your phone’s operating system (like Android or iOS), and consider whether you’re due for a phone upgrade.

Beyond those two basics, here are some other things that can affect phone speed.

Older or failing battery

As your phone ages, it’ll take longer to charge, and it won’t hold a charge as long as it used to. Why? It comes down to chemistry. The lithium-ion battery in your cell phone relies on a healthy flow of ions from a cathode to an anode. Over time, resistance builds up, and that flow is reduced. A typical cell phone battery loses some charging capacity every year, requiring longer and more frequent charges. Because of this basic chemistry, your phone battery will have a general life expectancy. Most manufacturers estimate a cell battery will last between 600 to 800 complete cycles (where a “cycle” equals one charge from 0% to 100%).

And yes, a failing battery can affect the performance of your phone. It can produce excess heat, putting stress on other components and leading to slow downs. Or a degraded battery might not be able to support heavy CPU use, which can lead to random shutdowns.

Limited space for storage

There’s a direct relationship between the amount (and size) of files you have stored on your phone, and your phone’s performance—as storage fills up, performance can slow down. While modern phone processors use different techniques to keep memory available, the accumulation of pictures, videos, and messages on your phone will limit your processor’s ability to adjust. You’ll probably notice slower performance as you get closer to your storage limit.

Physical damage to your phone

Yes, there’s a general degradation of battery, memory, and storage over time. But your phone can also slow down due to physical damage. If the phone was dropped and the hardware either damaged or jarred loose, or even if moisture has worked its way into your device, you may see a slowdown.

Unnecessary apps or “bloatware”

Your phone will come with many apps and programs pre-installed—visible or invisible—that are collectively referred to as “bloatware.” This software can cause extra strain on your device’s processor, drain system resources, and even pose security risks.

If you’re experiencing a device slowdown, you can try uninstalling or deleting some of this pre-installed software. Likewise, you can try a similar process of removing apps you purposely downloaded.

Easy ways to speed up your phone

If your phone is slow because it’s been physically damaged, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fix it. If it needs a new component or battery, you’ll want to replace those parts before trying to speed up your device using other methods. Beyond hardware changes, here are some other steps to try.

Review the apps on your phone, and uninstall as needed

First, you should audit the apps installed on your phone, and their permissions (or levels of access) to your data. This audit will tell you what apps you have, what they do, and what they have access to. You can easily do this on both Android and iOS devices to free up storage space, reduce strain on system resources, and overall speed up your phone.

To review apps on an Android device:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Open the Apps and Notifications menu. Here, you can see all the apps on your phone. If you see something you don’t recognize or don’t use, delete it.
  3. Or you can select an app and then tap Permissions to see what it has access to.

Alternatively, there’s often an Apps and Permissions section under the main Apps and Notifications menu. This menu lets you view permissions for multiple apps at the same time.

To review apps on an iOS device:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Privacy to see all of the apps on your phone, sectioned into categories like Contacts or Photos. Alternatively you can go back to the main Settings screen and review individual apps.

Clear your phone’s cache

Cached data on your device—or an individual app—can eat up storage space and lead to slowdowns, or even become corrupted. Clearing cache often can help.

On Android, clearing an app’s cache is relatively straightforward:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Storage, then tap either Apps or Other Apps.
  3. Depending on the exact brand of Android phone you’re using, you should have the option of cleaning files by clearing an app’s cache.

In general, the best way to clear an app’s cache on iPhone is to delete the app entirely and reinstall it. This process removes saved data for that app:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General, then tap iPhone Storage.
  3. Tap the app you’d like to delete, then click Delete App.

Keep your phone’s operating system up to date

Developers issue software updates, including patches and bug fixes, to correct problems that might be slowing your phone down. So it’s essential to keep your phone updated. You’ll likely have automatic updates turned on, but if you don’t, you can find the latest OS version in the Settings menu. (On iPhone, for example, this is at Settings, then General, then Software Update.)

Keep your apps up to date

Individual apps may also need to be updated to address known issues and bugs that might impact device function. To ensure your apps are always up to date, you can turn on automatic updates in your phone’s Settings menu, and update when prompted.

Note: You might also choose to update your apps only when your device is fully charged or connected to Wi-Fi, so that the update process itself doesn’t slow down your device.

Advanced ways to speed up a slow phone

The following options are more involved than what’s listed above, and require some level of technical comfort with device hardware / software. But if you’ve tried the easy solutions and you’re still not seeing speeds improve, you can try these advanced options.

Perform a factory reset

A factory reset reverts your device to the state it was in when it first left the manufacturer. A factory reset will permanently erase your content (like photos and files), and remove your apps, saved data, and settings. If you want to save any of this, you should back up your device before proceeding with the reset. You could use Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, or any third-party app to store important stuff. Once you complete the reset, you should be able to download and log in to that backup app, and sync files again to your phone.

To do a factory reset on Android:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select Backup and Reset.
  3. Select Factory Reset.

Note: The exact menu names may vary between Android devices.

To do a factory reset on iOS:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap General.
  3. Tap Transfer or Reset iPhone.
  4. Tap Reset.

Developer options

Most Android devices will have Developer Options, where you can manage background processes, turn automatic updates off or on, and explore other advanced features. Many of these options are highly technical, so you should be cautious before changing them. If you do make a change you don’t like, you can always reset Developer Options to default.

To access developer options on Android devices:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap System Information to locate the build number for your OS.
  3. Once you find the build number, select it seven times—this will grant you developer access to your device.
  4. Once you leave this menu, go back to Settings, and you will see a new menu, Developer Options.

Custom read-only memory (ROM)

Because Android is built on open-source code, hundreds of ROMs are available. These are modified or customized operating systems that enable unique functionality. While not all custom ROMs are created equal, the good ones provide a streamlined, bloatware-free OS with many personalized features. Note that installing a custom ROM isn’t tricky, but it’s more complex than installing a simple app. You’ll need to invest in custom recovery software and dedicate some time to experimenting with different ROMs.

The Brave browser: an easy way to fix a slow phone (and improve your privacy)

The Web browser you use on your phone has a significant impact on your phone’s performance, from battery usage to browsing speed. So one of the easiest ways to improve your phone’s performance is to remove the default browser and install an alternative like Brave.

Brave Shields block unwanted ads and trackers, which means you’ll use less data as you browse. And with fewer elements to load on each page, Brave speeds up your browsing experience and loads pages three times faster. Brave also improves battery life by reducing mobile data use and speeding up load times. All this while improving your privacy and security.

Switching your default browser to Brave is one of the easiest things you can do to speed up your browsing…and your phone. Try Brave today.

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