Hey there, everybody!  This week we’re going to talk about something everyone seems to forget  - system maintenance and clean-up.  Like any computer, our Android devices can get clogged with old info that builds up until performance starts to be affected.  Unlike a computer with Gigs of space, our device's storage space is limited so this can happen in a much shorter time span.  If your phone is starting to act a bit sluggish this might be the reason.  Freeing up some space and getting things back as they used to be isn’t hard at all once you know where to look for the clutter. Join us after the break!

Messaging databases

If you’re a big texter, this section is for you.  Even if you’re not a texting machine, it doesn’t hurt to keep everything tidy.  For users still stuck on Android 1.5 or 1.6,  (Come on with that update already!) this section is even more important.  Android 2.0 and higher gives users an option to set the max number of messages in each thread, but still - how many of those threads do you really need to keep?

Everyone will have their own way of saving what they believe is important, and what to do with it.  If you don’t have a clue where to start, here’s how I do it.

  • Look through your message thread, and find something you need to keep.  (image 1)
  • Long press on it and choose forward. (image 2)
  • In the address field, use your phone’s Gmail account address. (image 3)
  • The message will get forwarded back to you through your Gmail app and you can label and archive it as you like. (image 4)  Having Gmail search on our phones makes this an easy way to store AND find those messages you may need one day.

image 1 image 2 image 3 

image 4

Once you have anything and everything you want to keep saved in your Gmail account, make sure you’re in the main screen of your messaging app.  A long press on the thread will give you an option to delete. Select it and give the phone a few seconds, and it gets wiped.  Forever.  Make sure you have saved anything you need, because forever means forever.  Your carrier can’t get them back, neither can Google, and certainly not us.

If you’ve neglected this for a while, you might run into a case where the phone freezes while trying to delete an exceptionally long thread.  If this is happening to you, have a look here for some answers.

E-mail databases

Holding on to all your e-mail is usually fine on a computer.  If you’re not using the Gmail application for mail (and you can use it to get all your mail), you’ll need to keep the mail database on your Android device in check.  Use the same idea from above - anything important can be forwarded to your Gmail account to be labeled and archived.  If you need access to it on the go, fire up your Gmail app and use the search mail function.  After you go through and forward anything important, just delete what’s left through the settings for your mailbox.

If you’re using the Gmail app to collect your mail, don’t be afraid to archive everything.  It’s still there, and Google gives us all a ton of mail storage space for each account.  On the Gmail account I created for my phone, the only thing I’ve deleted since September is spam.  I get quite a bit of mail throughout the day, and still have over 95% free space.  An average user will probably never run out of mail storage space.

Application cache

Here’s a big offender.  Most applications that can access the internet on your device will have a cache somewhere.  Many third-party apps will store this cache on the SD card, but the standard Google applications store their cache in your device storage partition.  Yes, the same spot you use to install apps.  This is a measure used to save some bandwidth and speed up the loading of internet content, but only pages or other ‘net content that you use often benefits from this.  I say wipe it.

Each internet connected application will have a spot settings option that will delete the cache.  Go through and delete it from inside the app, to be sure your only deleting what’s not important.  Resist the temptation (if you’re rooted) to go into the system and delete it manually.  I do this about once a week and find that I end up freeing about 10-12 Mb each week.

Some apps (especially those that store the cache on the SD card) actually benefit from having a cache, so we don’t want to wipe everything.  I’ll use Twidroid Pro as an example.  It stores some data on the SD card, and inside these data files is the profile pictures of the people you follow.  Yes, these files can get pretty darn big, but they are on your SD card so size isn’t the most important issue here.  Twidroid can use the data to pop the profile pictures up without having to download it all over again.  It takes a quick look and if the profile picture from a tweet on your list hasn’t changed, it just loads from the SD card.  With a big list of people you follow, this can be quite the time saver.  Many applications like Twitter clients, IM clients, RSS viewers and the like will save this sort of image data on your SD card.  Until this starts to affect the time it takes to scan the SD card (see below), I suggest leaving those sort of apps alone.

The storage card

We use our SD cards not only for multimedia, but as a catch-all for everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else.  Look through your SD card with a file explorer.  You’ll see just how much junk you actually put there.  For the most part, this doesn’t hurt anything.  It can really slow down the scanning process though.

Each time you unmount your SD card from the device so you can use it to copy files from a computer then remount it to make it available to the phone again, the OS has to scan for new media files.  Every file has to get scanned, and if it’s a picture, sound or video it has to be added to the database used by multimedia apps.  Every profile picture from twitter, image from your RSS or Google reader, sound from a Web page, or animation gets added.  Open the settings and set a new wallpaper for your Homescreen.  Look through the albums.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.  It’s ALL there. 

Eventually you’ll collect enough junk to slow down things like opening your music player, or looking through your picture albums.  The kind of things we talked about above.  When this happens, it’s time to wipe those third-party application caches, as well as go through the folders on the SD card named download and temp.  Move out anything you want to keep, then delete the whole folder.  Don’t worry, it gets recreated when it’s needed.

Another big offender on your SD card is the .Lost directory.  Every time you mount your SD card to your computer and delete something, it gets placed here.  If you correctly unmount the card from the OS, it gets deleted.  But if you’re like me, there have been times where you forgot and jut pulled down the shade and stopped mass storage to remount the card back to your phone.  That means things put in .Lost don’t get deleted. 

BTW - not unmounting your card from Windows is not good for the card and can cause quite a mess on a Windows PC, so try to remember!  I have a Toshiba laptop here that if the card is not uncounted correctly will delete my DVD drive from the machine every time.  The only way to get it back is to reboot the laptop.  Everyone knows restarting a Windows session on a laptop while docked is a slow and painful process, but I’m sure it’s not good for the Windows file system either.  I know it’s a clunky way to do things, but always unmount the USB device created when you plug your phone up to your PC before you remount the SD card to your phone.

One last tidbit before we go.  I talk a lot about a file explorer this week.  This is one of those things that Android leaves for third-party vendors to supply.  Maybe one day there will be a built-in option but until then we have to look to the market to take care of it.  There are a lot of file explorers out there, but I always recommend Astro to anyone that asks for a simple but full featured file browser.  You can get it for free from the market by scanning the QR below.  If you're reading this on your phone, just click the link to fire up the market and download it.

Astro File Manager

 Hopefully these tips will keep your phone's file system in shape and keep things running speedy.  I like to go through everything about once a month, but clean up my messaging app every week.  Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments, so we can all benefit from each other.  See ya next week!



Reader comments

Monthly Maintenance - keeping things speedy


wow.just cleaning out my txt made my phone a whole lot faster.i wish there were more details on the clearing of the application cache. i'm not sure exactly what i should be deleting with that.

If the application has a cache, the option to clear it will be in the applications settings. Not all apps have one.

I suggest clearing it once a week. In the browsers settings you'll find the option. There's also an option to set the cache size. Leave that at 6 Mb to keep your browser sessions faster. Be aware that after you clear it, you will notice it takes a bit longer to load your homepage the first time.

I just downloaded the Astro file manger but I cant figure out how work my way around in it. Your tips where great I already did most of them except the download & temp tip.

Most important thing - Astro can't delete or mess up any system files, even if you've rooted your phone. Just try long-pressing on things and explore the options given. Longpress on a file, select Edit, select delete to delete a file. Warning - it deletes then for good!

i downloaded an app from the market to move most of the stock app's cache to the SD card. Its for rooted phones only and its called "Move Cache for Root Users" Works great.

Agreed. I use it too. Just trying to give solutions to those who can't or don't want to root their device. Careful with streetview cache on the SD card. Sometimes it makes maps flip out.

thanks for the heads up. I don't use streetview often, but if it starts to wig out, at least I'll know what it is.

I hate to push my own app but I'm not sure how this post can be complete without mentioning CacheMate (for root users only) that clears out ALL the cache and junk from your system. There is no need to physically maintain anything. There is an Auto-Clear settings so it will all be done for you. I have even been adding things like removing cache from the SD card (in its experimental stages but has most Twitter apps, for example, and Google nav) and certain databases, most notably the Market history database. Note that as I've said, this app is for ROOT USERS ONLY but it worth mentioning as an option for those who are rooted. See all the info at http://www.androidappcritic.com/index.php/cachemate/ or search the Android Market.

First off - I use and enjoy the hell out of Cachemate. :). It was omitted simply because the scope of the Inside Android column is set more towards what non-rooted users, and users new to the platform can accomplish without a third party solution. I wasn't trying to slight you or your application by any means. I do recommend Cachemate to any user who needs a cheap, effective solution on a rooted phone.

Thanks for using CacheMate. I agree with you. The article's scope did not warrant it. Besides, you would have gotten more comments asking how to root devices and/or what root is than about the rest of the article. It's the nature of root apps. Cheers.

For backing up SMS messages, I would recommend the app called 'SMS Backup' - make sure you select the one by Christoph Studer, not the other with the same name.

This automatically backs your messages up to your gmail, and appends a label of 'SMS' or whatever you want. No extra steps required, and no hassles of manually sending hundreds of messages if you want to doa big cleanup of your inbox.

I think I read about this one in Lifehacker.

You can also use WaveSecure to backup your SMS messages, but I prefer having them sync'ed with my Google account.

Great suggestions, but there is a problem with cleaning out non-gmail if you're using the native POP email app. Trash will not permanently delete. It just doesn't. It's a known bug Google has not addressed yet (at least up to 1.6; I'm hoping for a fix when Tmo pushes out 2.0) At this point (with up to 1.6), the only way to clean out the email Trash folder is delete your email account and re-install it. A bit of a pain, but if the phone gets really slow, might be worthwhile. But make sure you get your settings right (a few ISPs have changed their port settings for security reasons, like Verizon).

I have the Christopher Studer SMS Backup program, too - archiving all my SMSes in my Gmail is one of my favorite things about my G1.

I know this is an old post, but it is a good one. One that I imagine new users will benefit from, so I wanted to add a tip from my(and my others') arsenal. The app SMS Backup & Restore is a great way to clear your text messages without worries. I personally like to keep text for later use. They can come in great during an argument, and I often use them for that purpose. It's always nice to have them backed up in case something important is in all that clutter. I also am compulsive about my phone being "clean"and "neat" looking. SMS Backup & Restore completes both of those tasks flawlessly, and at the same time.

It's simple enough to figure out what it does by the name-- backups your texts messages, and will also restore them as they were if you need some info that was tucked away in there. And it is simple enough as hitting one button. I like to backup my SMS daily, or every other day. Then, next time I connect to my computer, I throw the backups on there, tho you can easily keep them on your SD as the files are generally pretty small. So now I have an index off all my previous text messages indexed by date(as I named them according to the date upon backup).

So, if you are an avid texter, but want to keep things speedy and clean, definitely look into this free app. It really backs up and restores all your SMS's flawlessly. I have seen how an over abundance of texts can lag down a phone, at least your SMS program, and this app can remedy that very easily.

Wish I would seen this a year ago when I cleared cache and wiped out all my videos and pics. I tried digging around but never seen them again. Are they really. Any way to get them back. Samsung galaxy s2

Great article!

By the way I got this problem, my HTC One V camera shows static live view but still takes photos & video. Sometimes pics just got bad (like if cam was damaged which is not) and sometimes screencaps continue being showed with the 'warning' logo, i.e., static view unavailable. I don't know what to do and still have 1 week and half with it.

I already did a cam app cache clear, and uncheck the fast boot and restart the phone (http://forums.androidcentral.com/htc-one/293527-htc-one-camera-problem-s...), at first it worked it out but it didn't take so long for having the same issue.

Do you think it may be an SD card problem? Do I need to format it?

Any help will be great!

Thanks in advance