You should never have to reset any software, so why do we need to reset our phones?

There's a disturbing long-term belief that broken software is somehow our fault for not keeping it clean when it comes to a phone. I've seen it rise up again recently now that Oreo has been available for the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 long enough for users to experience problems, but it happens with almost every device, even when an update hasn't recently arrived. Phone running badly? Factory reset it to fix things.

What?!

via GIPHY

Pardon my interrobang moment, but that's ridiculous. Not that it's bad advice because it can often fix things, but it's a thing we should never have to do. When the "fix" for your software is to delete all its associated data and start fresh, that means your software is bad. Full stop. It (meaning the software) either fills its own data files with garbage that causes it to slow down while trying to sort through it all or it has no checks written to prevent it from reading garbage data that may have been written to storage incorrectly. Or both. Probably both.

I understand why we do it, because its easier to just bite the bullet and reinstall everything than it is to deal with a phone that acts like its broken. I'm not even saying we shouldn't be doing it or suggesting it because unfortunately, it's solid advice. Waiting for an update to fix the real problems isn't a solution because it will never arrive — manufacturers are too busy working on something new they can sell to find time to fix or maintain the things they have already sold. It's just painful to know that 20 or so years since the invention of the smartphone have passed and we still have to find user-initiated fixes because the software performs so poorly. And it's only gotten worse over time.

10 years from now will we be paying a mechanic to factory reset our self driving cars?

Sometimes having a user reset software to its factory state is a proper request. For example, if you're running a beta test of a program or operating system and decide to drop out of the program and go back to the regular release build. It's reasonable to expect that the data from the two versions won't be consistent and no easy way to migrate backwards has been developed. The same reasoning applies if you skipped a version — going from ver. 1 to ver. 2 to ver. 3 should always work, but going from ver. 1 straight to ver. 3 may not. I can also accept it when a mea culpa from the developers comes with: "We found some major issues and were able to fix them. Unfortunately these fixes require you to reset the software" is nothing you ever want to see, but the very few times you do are acceptable. Developers are regular folks like me and you and can face problems that kick their butts. Scrap the problems and start new is a reasonable request.

You should never have to take responsibility and fix for software issues on a $900 phone yourself. Ever.

But we're not talking about regular-folk developers when it comes to resetting a phone operating system. In Samsung's case, the need to delete everything because it's broken is not OK because this software comes from a company that made like $75 Billion dollars last year on the backs of these phones and this software. Other companies didn't make nearly as much but still made a lot more than you or I ever will. Knowing that some users need to reset all their data periodically should be concerning. Seeing the internet-at-large recommend you factory reset your phone because of an update or it's just been a while since you last did so should be setting off huge alarms with klaxon horns and rotating red lights in an executive office. If your first idea is to reset the software to erase any of the data it created, it shows how little confidence you have in that product.

Properly written software should never need to be reset to its default state. We have to periodically reset our phones, or reset after an update to fix things like battery life. When both of these statements are true, there is a problem that shouldn't be there when you're paying $900 for a product.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

77 Comments
  • I think at the end of the day, we just factory reset a phone because we don't know what's causing the issue, and/or don't know how to fix it.
    We do this in IT often enough, with Windows computers. It's just faster sometimes to shotgun it then find the issue.
  • As someone in the IT field it is a bad practice to "fix" the problem by reimaging a machine as that just allows the problem to come back because you never found the cause of it. Then you will just be destroying any logs that might've helped you from preventing the problem in the future. Resetting or reimaging is never a "fix" it's just lazy. Unless you did something terribly wrong like delete system32, then I could see the need to do so. But if an application is acting up or the start menu then there's no need to nuke it. Look at the logs and service dependencies and troubleshoot. Resetting should never be your first choice.
  • I agree. On Windows PCs resetting should be the last resort.
  • O come on!
    Turning IT equipment off and on is IT standard practice.
    I'm not an IT professional but have a lot of end user experience.
    Turning off or rebooting clears a lot of the conflicts and shuts down programs running (or crashing) in the background. Yes they might come back but what IT professional has time to check all the logs to see if a more permanent fix is possible?
    And if you have what's your number?
  • You are my least favorite kind of user to support. The one that "knows" how to fix stuff himself.
  • I think they are referring to reimagining
  • There's a HUGE difference between restarting a PC and reimaging a PC hence the reason you're not an IT pro.
  • Reimaging no. Rebooting yes.
  • Does floating desktop pools in a virtualized environment count as reimaging? Cuz I do it all day every day.
  • Pjsnyc virtualization is a whole other conversation altogether with data management. One being snapshots that you can just restore to in minutes. Like save states in an emulator. There without a question in my mind would I say resetting or going back a snapshot was ever a problem. Virtualization is simply amazing tech. Way different than a directly installed os
  • Well I must be doing it wrong then, please enlighten me. I have regional offices in 10 different states that have servers that rebuild themselves every night ;)
  • I never once said reimaging was a first choice. I said sometimes, it's faster.
    And it's not a bad practice, you are incorrect. It's a practice, based on balance of time allotted by external factors. I'll factory reset my phone when it's having weird OS issues, how many people do you think have the skill set to troubleshoot that compared to computing world? I can easily see why people are quick to resort to such a task.
  • This.
    IT professionals are like unicorns in my business, the best you can hope for is a call center somewhere who after 2 hours will pass your ticket into a black hole.
    Only contact I get is an email saying "ticket closed please complete this online survey"
    ...
  • Point taken Although factory resetting a phone because of a small hiccup is very costly to some people like me since I could be spending the better part of a day restoring my data. I am a heavy power user and despite Samsung's awsome smart switch software which makes factory resetting and restoring a breeze it still takes 5+ hours. In the end your point on balance of time is true. And each person's workload is going to be different based on their day to day use and how big the problem is. I still warn those who do factory resets that its possible that there is no guarantee that everything will be restored properly. It can be a pain at times to figure out what is missing. P.S to CBarker1967
    I wasn't talking about rebooting a machine. I was talking about resetting which means to wipe or factory reset and then restore data. Which can take along time and can cause data loss if not backed up properly.
  • My main point is that people make it out that factory resetting is simple and easy. When often times they overestimate the consequences of not properly backing up important or anything else you want to keep. If it's faster to wipe and restore assuming you backed everything up properly then ok that makes sense. If it's going to take longer to go through that than to find what's causing the problem and prevent future occurrences then that's being lazy.
  • Yes I was confused by the terms used. I would not have admin rights on my work PC to do a factory reset and on my home computer and phone I'm well aware of the work involved but I back up all my important files and can reload in about 2 hours with good BB.
    Factory reset is a cheep and simple solution in this case.
  • Well said.
  • Thank you Jerry. I was talking to someone about this the other day. Bottom line is if you need to reset your phone regularly, Tuesday software is broken for sure. Even twice a year is horrible.
  • Even power cycle induced clearing should be a thing of the past.
  • Agreed, sometimes it's the simplest way to fix a somewhat complicated situation
  • And our lives should be filled with truth and beauty, and our leaders be decent, honest people.
    While one might aspire to the ideal, don't hold your breath for it to be achieved. The design of the guts of the OS, coupled with the financial incentive that rewards being first, rather than being durable, stable, and reliable, will continue to result in buggy implementations that will sometimes require drastic measures to fix.
  • Indeed. It always comes down to money whether it's politics or business. And make no mistake about it: politics is business and business is politics.
  • I've often wondered about smartphones, with all the installing and uninstalling I do on my device...it just seems like doing so is bound to eventually lead to memory and storage issues. I don't know enough about that stuff to know if that's even a real thing, though. I think I'm just used to PC life, where time takes a toll on a system, bogging it down and slowly filling it up with error-causing miscellany. Even that has gotten better over time, but in the early 90s through to even a decade ago, it was a real concern requiring frequent rebooting and drive "cleaning" utilities.
  • I you are constantly uninstalling and installing applications, you are eventually going to run into memory issues.
  • I agree... Samsung's post product sale support has become pathetic and customer care has become ridiculous. They even don't follow the forums and what is the feedback and bluntly write to customer to Change that setting and other and finally reset. We are been made stupid by buying these costly phones. Recent phone s9 is really bad experience with battery consumption that I have never seen on other phones.
  • Is ANY smartphone OEM largely bucking this trend? Anyone?
  • HTC, but there may be another one or two. Five phones and only one reset after a bad 3rd party app went crazy. I would dare say that HTC's software engineers are probably the sharpest out there on the Android side. There was an issue with the January update which affected battery life, and their dev team had it fixed in about 26 hours after it was reported. Contrast that with Samsung's response to battery life with the Exynos variant this year...
  • HTC and Sony have solid software. This is why I won't go anywhere near Samsung. I'm not paying big bucks for crap software, no matter how nice the hardware is.
  • Oddly enough, the only phones I have never reset, are my M8, and my Z3. I guess this means I concur.
  • I'm not okay about HTC...
    I had an HTC Titan (Windows Phone) and after a year, I experienced lots of issues with it. First of all, Bluetooth not working properly and a few days later, Wi-Fi not working at all (unless I place the phone ON the router).
    The helpdesk of HTC tried to help me, asked to do some weird manipulations to arrive on the BIOS and change some values.
    This phone went 7 times in their repair center in about 2-3 months and on of the time, a guy at the helpdesk yelled on me that I rooted/jailbreaked the phone because the serial number wasn't the good one (excuse me, when YOUR company change the motherboard, it's normal you don't have the same serial number anymore). After all those repairing processes, they sent me a free, sealed and brand new HTC 8X, the latest model available at the time and was on the market just a few days before I received it. This phone lasted only 1 week before even not turning on... Replaced by guarantee and the new one receibed, I sold it 50% off. I used my Samsung ATIV S for about 4 years (it still work today with the unofficial migration to Windows 10 Mobile) and replaced it for the Lumia 950 (work still great today, after a battery replacement I did a month before changing my phone). After 2 year and a half, I'm now with the Samsung Galaxy S8 which I bought a couple of months ago.
    As I experienced, I never had any problem in the before-smartphone era with Sony Ericsson. Since the smartphone era, Samsung is the only one where I didn't experienced any problems unless slow software upgrades availability. Don't ask me about Apple, their phones are too highly priced, fragile and seems to be garbage as I see from friends... My ex-girlfriend had battery issues after only 6 months on her iPhone 6S (when fully charged, after only an hour, the battery was nearly dead and no change if she uses it or not). My brother had the iPhone 5 with dead On/Off and Volume Up after 2 years. My brother currently uses the iPhone 6 which has already 3 battery replacement in about 3 years now. A friend has the iPhone 6, it's 3 months now that she doesn't have it because it's in repairing processes (the battery pushed the screen of the body) and has to use an iPhone 4S which is incredibly slow.
  • I forgot to mention : I never did anything factory reset on any of my phones to correct issues (if we don't count the HTC Titan).
    The only one I had to do it was unsurprisingly the HTC Titan and it was even worse after...
  • My honor 8 never needed a factory reset in the 2 years I had it and not once did I notice it to be slower/less responsive than when I first got the phone.
  • Apple designs both software and hardware for this very reason
  • It happens all the time in software development. It'll take you 30 hours to find the source of the bug? Wait, it'll take you 5 hours to reset and restore from a backup? Do the cheaper option. Sometimes bugs popup. The reason customer service asks to to reset your device is that if it is software it'll definitely fix the issue. That said, it would be better if customer service was able to remotely diagnose. If, for example, CS could remotely "image" your device for backup. Remotely wipe and reconnect to a fresh install. Run diagnostics with a vanilla virgin device. If it turns out to be hardware, they could ship you a new device with the backup image restored to it. OR if the device works fine wiped, restore the image to see if the problem comes back. Then you can call the customer on the restored phone and tell them that it's a piece of third party software that has a bug but it couldn't be determined which one and either offer to remote wipe for them or let them fix the issue. The problem is that there are billions of apps out there. And while I like to think that software is infallible, things pop up (like that Galaxy issue where a signed app had the same APK name as a baseball app). Humans are still building the software and while it would be nice if an OEM could dedicate 50 hours to discover a fix to a bug, most of the time, wiping the phone is more cost effective. That said, if it's a bug hundreds of thousands are experiencing, it'll probably get the attention it deserves and a fix.
  • This is such a pain. My wife's S7 is so bad now and she is a very light user. Battery dies way faster than it used to. I think I'll be factory resetting her phone this weekend.
  • Won't help. My S7's battery is garbage, and I've factory reset it several times. I kind of wonder if wireless charging isn't so great after all, since I always had that thing on a charging pad...
  • Around the 2 year mark is when battery degradation usually starts to become noticeable regardless of charging habits.
  • I haven't had to factory data reset an Android device in order for it to work properly since 2016. Everything I've had since then has worked just fine, even months later. Perhaps people shouldn't be downloading questionable things onto their devices.
  • its not the apps. apps can be cleaned up properly. If you look at the space that the OS takes up, you'll see that it keeps growing over time. Its a very serious problem in mid tier devices that don't have much memory to spare. I had a lenovo a1000 with 8gb internal, and after a year the OS alone took up almost 7GB. resetting brought it back to 3-4GB
  • The storage filling up over time is understandable. Even windows does this. But the difference is in windows we have a disk cleanup option that can very efficiently clean it up. What we need is a way to cleanup the entire android system storage, not just app cache/storage.
  • This is one area that I emvy iOS users. For the most part, you don't think about clearing cache or resetting your phone to improve performance. I remember feeling the same way aboutac computers back in the day. No refragmenting or booting up in Safe Mode or anything.
  • Haha...yeah...the "fix" to making your iPhone faster is to clear out your apps by swiping them away ;)
  • That's not a fix. Who told you that? iOS just does things differently and much more effectively. Even a two-year old iPhone blows way the most recent 845 Android device. It'll be working long after any Samsung as well and resell better. Those are just facts...
  • Apple fanboy alert.
  • Back in 1996 we didn't get software updates. We were given a basic device that came with basic software that was solid because they knew they couldn't fix it later. These days people want updates before they're released. Yes, I'm looking at you Galaxy S8 and Note 8 owners complaining about Oreo not being out for months after release. I can confirm that my S8+ worked better on 7.0. Sure my phone is slightly faster at launching apps with Oreo, but battery life, hot spot reliability, and charging reliability are so much worse. I did a factory restore just in case it was a bad download, and the issues persisted. The restore did fix the issue with games freezing while loading. I'm hoping that 8.1 fixes these issues, but I'd prefer a way to revert back to 7.0. Android makes me miss Windows Mobile more every day.
  • I'm sorry but this is the most asinine opinion article I've ever seen on a tech site. The vast majority of users that have to reset an android device do so because they caused the issue. Users download bad applications, get malware or transfer data from old devices that cause unexpected behaviors. You don't have to reset most devices to fix them. The reason it is done so often is because the person troubleshooting doesn't have all of the context necessary to isolate the root cause.
  • Your comment is exactly why the article was written. You shouldn't have to troubleshoot your apps or the OS when it comes to performance of the phone itself. If there is a bad app then it shouldn't be able to hurt the device's performance without some kind of warning or blocker. It is a shame that resetting the phone is fastest option for fixing problems.
  • While most solutions could be simple, diagnostics is the problem. Diagnostics can be hard enough for an experienced technician with the device in hand. But most consumers want a quicker solution. A factory reset is just a simpler solution to get a device owner up and running again when they call in for a problem. Especially considering most users have no idea how to actually observe a problem in such a way that a technician can know where to look. It's especially hard to diagnose any problem that a technician can not duplicate. Add in that these devices are designed to be highly customizable, so the number of variables that can be the cause of an issue are near endless. Would we all like everything to just work? Of course. And would we like all fixes to be obvious and simple. Sure. But there are always tradeoffs. We all want fast, reliable, and cheap. But you can really only have two...
  • Exactly. That's why I don't think it's fair to blame the user.
  • Surely you are trolling, I mean your username lends me to believe so. The statement I shouldn't have to troubleshoot apps that I load invalidates your entire argument. Programmers can't account for the infinite ways users customize their phones. By the way devices in a lot of cases have error codes that tell the user what the problem is.
  • Your ignorance is showing.
  • The operating system or the apps that you use are buggy because they've been crunched out the door at maximum speed and minimum cost to meet ever increasing demand for questionable features and glister, smaller, faster and cheaper (yes cheaper). If all users were willing to ignore the marketing hype, to restrict themselves to using only what was originally put on their devices by the manufacturers and to wait for 3-5 years for a newer version, it might be possible to build a smartphone that didn't need to be reset before it suffered an irrecoverable memory error. The alternative is to make "dumber" smartphones with secure boot and tested, certified OS updates from a central source, like Chromebooks, where nothing of value is stored only on the instrument, but is replicated to the cloud. This would reduce the likelihood of a mistake by the user or bad app from crippling the device.
  • You are wrong.
  • I agree 100% with this article. So many apps just spill files all over the place and never clean up.
  • It's almost always been about battery consumption for me. I suppose I'm unorganized when it comes to what apps I install and what apps I actually use regularly. Sometimes I just want to start over with a clean slate just because.
  • Or maybe, idk, use the ******* device maintence option on Samsung phones that exists explicitly for preventing the need to factory reset?
  • The fact that a phone needs that option speaks volumes.
  • It's there because it's needed.
  • No, it's not. I've never touched it and the phone has not suffered
  • over ther years I have been using Nexus devices, a Pixel 2 most recently. I must have chosen wisely as I have factory reset extremely rarely. The second time I factory reset my 6P was to sell it after 29 months usage.
    If I didn't occasionally play with dev previews (specifically when not ota delivered) I could likely get by without ever resetting. I do use the phone plenty too--I currently have 241 apps installed.
  • The StarTac had an upgradable os with the ability to load or sideload apps?
  • For my Cell , I always factory reset after every major OS update. For my personal PC, I do a format / reinstall every 1 - 2 years.
  • I hate to say it but Apple has it right.....
  • No you don't. That's exactly why you come here.
  • My previous phone LG v10 , no resets in 2 years of use. My current phone pixel 2 xl no reset in the 5 months of use.
  • I agree with the author that this is a problem and the users/customers should not be required to reimage a device after making a purchase. I also agree with some comments that rebooting should not be required. These problems are directly related to the quality of the software and product, the greatest issue is that due to multiple causes and development reasons this has become an accepted norm for consumers. I speak with my purchases by rejecting those that require user intervention, but most consumers are so used to this ordeal that the vendors peddling incomplete wares will continue this trend.
  • I briefly read some of the comments - short version - I believe it is to reassign pointers - addresses - allocations. It has to do with the operating system, version etc. software, memory allocation, memory management ( a lot going on here ) reliability and efficiency... Things simply get lost, corrupted and need to be rewrote, replaced... We are not in a perfect world yet...
  • How complex was the Star-Tac software as opposed to Android Oreo? The reason you didn't have to reset the Star-Tac was because there wasn't that much running to reset. Poor premise, poorer comparison.
  • A writer who does not understand how a computer works hs no business writing as if she/he is an expert. A computer that uses solid state memory, onto which the user can install whatever cr*p they choose, and subjected to a near constant stream of memory-fragmenting app updates, can not be protected from memory fragmentation and storage cell failures. When a smartphone owner does not utilize the automatic backup features offered by Google and Apple to protect both data and apps, he/she should expect to suffer a prolonged outage when the inevitable happens, and the device needs to be wiped and restored. This would be an even more unpleasent experience if the device is lost or stolen. Complaining about what should be a relatively short and simple loss of utility to restore a device to as-good-as-new condition is the kind of whining one might expect from an ignorant Luddite, but not from someone writing for a site that specializes in immature, high-churn technology.
  • Factory resets have become virtually pain free thanks to Google. If my contacts, apps, photos and email weren't stored in the cloud, I'd probably never reset my device.
  • Since nougat(exynos note5) i havent bothered to do a reset for updates that honestly are just the monthly security patches but recently my carrier pushed feb & march security patches out within the same month which seems to have caused it to crash & restart it @ random times
  • Yep, I agree. Had to reset my Note8 after update. The screen showed a reddish hue (like the blue filter was on full power) that I couldn't get rid off. After reset all is fine.
    My wife's S8 had some hick-ups that could be fixed by wiping cache partition.
    Overall though I don't mind the reset. Gave me opportunity to clean house.
  • I blame how software seems to be getting pushed out the door much too early these days despite their increasing complexity. I've experienced it all. iOS 11 being a total crapshoot on my iPad until the 11.3 stable build, the Windows 10 FC update causing my PC to BSOD after a while on Forza until later updates fixed it, and a botched Nougat update on my old Moto Z where the damn thing kept overheating even after an FDR. Weirdly, I haven't got issues with Oreo on the Note, but that's probably because I did a reset as soon as it was installed. Regardless, I feel that the quality of all pieces of software has gone downhill.
  • Lol my dad old intel c606 board seems to corrupt w10 partition evertime wu forcefully loaded the chipset drivers. My xb1 on the other hand was beta testing the alpha fall update when fh3 came out it(what a waste ultimate was) crash every 10 mins. or so sadly havent had much time to play it
  • Damn straight Jerry. What are your thoughts on "empty folder cleaner" apps?
  • So true!!
    What are we actually fixing in this instance? May help to determine if you want to take the time verifying EVERY app you are about to put back on. Doing a factory reset & being able to tell immediately before you add any personal options that speed/connection/crash/bug is there....
    Either the supposed "security" patches being installed then updated on a monthly basis are not doing what they are designed for or we are getting faulty products. Why does Microsoft Windows 10 February 2018 come to mind on that idea?
  • Recently I decided to update samsungs weather app didnt work till I put phone in airplane mode then booted to the console menu to clear cache partition then restarted & quickly applied a more recent version was worth the trouble but when I applied the se ui update worked fine till I restarted phone so back to touchwiz I went & back to reorganizing my app list/home screen Would be nice to see samsungs galaxy upcycle program go live