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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Smartphone

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Smartphone

Smartphones and tablets perform a lot better when they're not encumbered by a bunch of stored files. Chances are, that content is clutter you don't want anymore -- but if you do, it's easy to upload it to a PC or to the cloud. Keeping your mobile device in pristine condition means you'll have more available memory for all the features and functions you want to take advantage of every day.

If your device is having difficulty completing tasks like file downloading, it's a dead giveaway that it needs some maintenance.

We're used to the idea of spending a bit of time running hard disk defragmentation, spyware scans and other tools on our PCs, but we may not be so au fait with what's needed on the limited-memory phones and PC-substituting tablets we're using daily.

Clean Out Downloaded Files

Every time you click on a Web browser download link and view a PDF or other downloadable file -- like a podcast, email attachment image, or offline map -- on your device, that content is being stored and is using up the limited space available.

Non-volatile flash computer memory used in devices is more expensive than the hard drive type of memory used in PCs. There are also weight, power and space constraints in mobile devices that we don't see in a PC. Consequently, memory capacity is limited in a smartphone or tablet.

Find Your Downloads

Open the Apps drawer area of your device and look for a provided file manager. This will be labeled "Files" or "File Manager" or similar.

Open the app, and browse for folders called "Downloads" in "Internal Phone Storage" and "SD Card." Delete files you find there that you don't want.

Media Files

Look for a file folder called "DCIM" which holds camera images. Delete the ones you don't want. Upload to your PC or to the cloud.

Folders called "Podcasts" and "Movies" may hold large, redundant media files that you can get rid of if you want.

Rooted Users

If you're rooted, you hold privileges that allow you to get down into the guts of the file structure.

Download the paid Root Explorer (Speed Software) from Google Play that allows you to access the whole of the file structure, including a folder called "mnt."

Mnt Folder

Browse to "mnt" on rooted devices and look for a second SD Card. Bizarrely, some manufacturers refer to some internal memory allocation as "SD Card," so you can often see "SD Card" and "SD Card 2" or "SDcard-ext" within "mnt."

Perform the same redundancy deletions on both of the cards.

Browser Configuration

Configure Web browsers to use one of the SD cards rather than internal memory as a stage for downloading. It's likely there is more available space on the SD cards than on internal memory.

Dolphin browsers can be set to download to the SD card from the "More" and then "Settings" option within the browser. Wherever possible use the SD card option for caching or data storage -- and buy a more capacious card if necessary.

Clear Your Cache

Clear out any app caches. Caches work like the Web browser cache that you may be familiar with on a PC.

Systematically open all of the apps that are native to the device and all of the apps you have downloaded, and look for cache settings within "Settings" or "Options."

Clear any caches. Dolphin's cache is cleared by pressing "Clear Data" and then choosing the "Clear Cache" option.

Bear in mind that cache stores repeatedly accessed online information, so expect a little slowness in some apps the first time you use them after a cache clearout.

Downloaded Applications Tab

Open "Settings" within the app drawer and choose "Applications." Then choose the "Downloaded" tab. Systematically open each app that you use regularly and choose "Clear Cache" if the button is available.

Then open each app that you never use and choose "Clear Cache" followed by "Clear Data" and then "Uninstall." This will remove the apps and associated data.

All Applications Tab

Choose the "All" tab and follow the previous cache-clearing step only. Don't uninstall anything or clear any data within this tab unless you've researched further.

There are apps in the "All" tab that are used by the device overall. "Android Keyboard" is an example. You will have freed up enough space just performing maintenance in the "Downloaded" tab.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!


Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.


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