Android devices offers many advantages over competing products from Apple, but Android does seem to be more of a resource hog than iOS.
The Reviews vs. Real Life
The first Android tablet I tried, the ASUS Transformer TF700T had a super-fast Tegra 3 processor but had HUGE latency problems. I was surprised how different my experience was from all the reviews I’d read before purchasing – both from sites like PC World and from actual use reviews. The reviews I had seen all indicated that the TF700 was very fast.
Digging further, I came across a few posts in online forums from people who seemed to be experiencing the same problem I was having – each with a large number of responses from other users saying that the poster was crazy, imagining things, or had unrealistic expectations. I couldn’t understand how people could have such seemingly different experience with the same device.
New Found Respect for Staples
I decided to spend some time in Staples playing with the display models and talking to an employee who was far more knowledgeable about tablets than you’d expect to find working in a retail chain. He owned several tablets including the Transformer and had experienced none of the problems I described. Furthermore, the tablets on display (even the low-end models) all seemed to lack the sluggishness I was experiencing. So I became convinced that the problem had something to do with the way that I had configured the tablet rather than the device itself.
A Clean Start
Based on advice from my friendly Staples adviser, I decided to perform a factory reset and start over.
My first problem, I believe, was that I started setting up the tablet by restoring my Google Play profile from a previous device I’d owner – which happened to be a phone. Even though nothing in Google offers any warnings, I think this pulled in some app or setting that wasn’t fully compatible with the new Jelly Bean operating system.
After completing my tablet setup 2.0, my ASUS Transformer was significantly faster than it had been the first time around. But as I installed more apps onto the device, it began to show down again. Not nearly as bad as before but still noticeable and disappointing.
Further digging uncovered several other likely causes of the drain.
Taking a Look Under the Hood
Unlike iOS, Android has a list of running apps so you can see which apps are running in the background, how much memory they’re using, and how much remains free. There is also a list showing Cached Processes – apps not currently running but still held in memory so they’ll launch faster when you need them again.
Multitasking – a Dual Edge Sword
One theoretical advantage to Android is that it can supposedly run apps in the background to update your inbox, download the latest articles to your news asps, and check for – and automatically install – the latest updates so you never again need to manually update an app. With whatever unused memory remains, Android hold onto whichever apps you’ve recently run. It then flawlessly fees up memory as you need it to run your current app. That’s the theory anyway.
Either because of poorly designed apps, hardware weaknesses (ASUS reporting offset some of the high cost of the high-end Tegra 3 processor by using cheap memory which may have result in lag time whenever the Transformer tried to purge cached or secondary apps from memory), or a combination of the two, my Transformer wasn’t realizing memory as quickly as was needed to keep up with me.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Because of the Transformer’s generous 32GB of internal storage, along with a 32GB micro SD slot and a 64GB SD slot in the optional keyboard dock, I had decided to take advantage of all of this space to try out a slew of apps – most of which I rarely used.
Coming from the PC world where I was used to installing scores of random program that I seldom used but that lay dormant on my hard drive until the rare occasions when I decided on call on them, this seemed perfectly harmless. (Of course, many of those programs don’t really lie dormant and harmless on the hard drive thanks to all the pesky updater and prefetch executables that get bundled in with the primary program – think googleupdate.exe and acrotray.exe for starters – but I’d long ago learned to remove these from the startup menu and MSconfig so they wouldn’t allow me down. More in this some other time.)
But, thanks to automatic updating and Android’s desire to always have my apps ready to go, the more apps I installed, the slower my tablet became.
Luckily, as with PCs, I discovered a way to at least reduce the negative impact from my abundance of apps.
First, I removed a few of the apps I’d tried but never intend to use again. No need to have them gumming up the works for no good reason.
Second, I looked through the all’s that came bundled with Android and found a few that served no real purpose – no point in having a voice dialer on a device with no phone – and clicked Disable.
I noticed that my tablet was SIGNIFICANTLY faster – with no noticeable delay whatsoever – when I wasn’t online. So I started looking for things that would allow the device down when it was connected to the internet.
Don’t Update Me, I’ll Update You
I pulled up a list of installed apps in three Google Play store and deselected “Allow automatic updating” for each of the installed apps. This means that Android no longer had continually launch these apps in the background to check for and install updates that I may not even want.
This step resolved any lingering latency I’d been experiencing. But, feeling newly-emboldened by my success, I pressed on!
Multiple Personality Disorder
Another problem seemed to step from my use of multiple Google accounts to separate and organize my personal, work, and volunteer lives.
By default, Android will automatically sync a piles of data for each use account. Of course, all of this uses some amount of system resources. Since I don’t use things like Google Play or Currents with many of my accounts, I decided to disable some of the sync options. In the end, I only left a few sync options active, and this works fine. I can still manually sync data when I open an app with no more of a delay than I already experienced with iPhone email or Outlook on my PC. The few folks with only one Google account won’t need to worry about this step.
No Notifications Are Good Notifications
Next, I went back to settings and pulled up the list of downloaded apps. Each app has a checkbox for “Show notifications”. For email, task reminders, and weather reports, notifications are very helpful. Some users may find “breaking news” or order updates from online shopping apps helpful too. But I don’t see a value to notifications from Hulu, Wikipedia, or Solitaire – or from dozens of other apps. As best I can tell, these just primarily exist to tell you that there is an update available for the app. By disabling them, Android no longer has to continually run them in the background just to check for updates.
Improving The Memory
All of this tweaking becomes necessary because today’s tablet – regardless of the operating system – have far less memory than the current generation of PCs. Innovations in the mobile operating systems are supposed to render greater memory unnecessary. But this practice is far from perfect.
So, even though my tinkering was successful, I ultimately decided to take advantage of my 14-day return window and swapped the ASUS Transformer for a Google Nexus 10 built by Samsung.
While the Nexus has no micro SD or SD slots, these are less important than I had initially thought they would be since there is a practical limitation to the number of apps that I can install without running into problems. Users who want to upload tons of music or movies may feel a bit limited by 32GB, but there is always cloud streaming.
The Nexus 10 is “pure Android” with no additional bloatware installed by the manufacturer and it boats 2GB of memory – the most I could find at the time – which means that I will be able to run more apps (actively or in background / cached mode) before running into problems.
It’s been a great performer, with none of the problems I had experienced with the Transformer.
One Bad App Can Spoil the Barrel
Wanting an inexpensive second tablet to use take notes while I read emails or articles on my primary tablet, I bought an incredibly inexpensive Nook HD+ for $149 and spent $20 (plus the cost of a micro SD card) to install AndroidForNook in place of the default Nook OS.
Until recently, my Nook had been a great little performer – especially given that it has a relatively slower processor and smaller memory that my Nexus 10.
But, recently, the tablet started grinding to a halt soon after startup. It quickly went from sluggish to completely locked.
Because I had already undertaken all of the previously mention tweaks, I started removing apps that had a large memory footprint but didn’t get much use. This was a somewhat slow and tedious process because the tablet kept freezing after I’s had time to remove only one or two apps. But, after several reboots and removal of a dozen or so apps, the tablet is again as speedy as my Nexus.
I didn’t take the time to remove each app with scientific precision and then recording the corresponding change in system performance. As a result, I can’t say with 100% confidence what had caused my system slowdown. But I suspect that, rather than merely having to many apps installed, one or two problem apps were likely causing the device to freeze.
I can’t say for sure which app or apps were responsible. But, over time, I will gradually add back some of the apps I removed. If I discover the culprit, I will provide an update.
Most users won’t need to go through all the steps I did, if you:
- only use one of two Google accounts
- don’t feel compelled to install scores of apps
- add (or remove) apps with a large enough gap of time in between to pinpoint any specific apps that drag your system down
Still, for anyone who wants to extract as much speed as possible, it is well worth the investment of your time to perform a few tweaks.