Android gotchas: Fast fixes for 6 common problems

Solve some of the most common Android issues with this easy-to-follow troubleshooting guide

Android gotchas: Fast fixes for 6 common issues
Uncalno Tekno (CC BY 2.0)

Smartphones have the power to make our lives more efficient. They also have the power to cause major migraines.

Let’s face it: Technology wouldn’t be technology without the occasional facepalm-inducing failure—and mobile devices are no exception. But an annoying Android error doesn’t have to send you scrambling to the nearest clueless carrier store or online help forum. I’ve been covering and personally using Android since its infancy, and I’m here to help. (My certified-geek badge is on file in the main office if you need to see it.)

Check out the fixes below or save this story for a rainy day. With these troubleshooting tips in hand, you’ll be swatting away problems and getting back to business in no time—no aspirin required.

1. What to do when your Android phone freezes or won’t start

It’s one of the scariest feelings of our always-connected lives: glancing down at your phone and realizing it’s frozen on some screen and not responding to your touch. Worse yet is the heart-dropping sensation you experience when you try to turn your phone on and absolutely nothing happens.

What to do when your Android phone freezes or won’t start IDG

Reboot your Android device into Safe Mode if it keeps freezing to test whether a recently installed app is causing your problems.

Before you launch into full-fledged CPR—which, in full disclosure, is more likely to result in a cracked screen than any sort of resuscitation—try the following troubleshooting steps:

  1. Press and hold the power button for a full 30 seconds—and don’t cut it short. Sometimes holding the power button down for an extended period of time is all it takes to wake and restart an unresponsive device.
  2. If your phone won’t turn on at all, plug it into its charger and leave it for a solid couple of hours, then come back and try again. I’ve personally seen numerous instances when a phone looks like it’s a goner, but the only problem is that its battery is dead. Give it a whirl, even if it seems like there’s no logical reason for that to be the case (a misbehaving app can drain your battery in a surprisingly short amount of time).
  3. Still no luck? Try pressing and holding your phone’s volume-down button and then pressing and holding the power button at the same time. Hold both buttons down together for at least 10 seconds. If your phone was frozen, this should force it to reboot. If the phone won’t turn on, this should force it to boot up to a recovery menu. In the latter case, you’ll want to tap the volume-down key upon reaching that menu until you see an option for either powering off or restarting the phone—then tap the power button to select that option.

If the freezing keeps happening, it’s time to try booting your device into something known as Safe Mode, which is a state that disables all apps you’ve downloaded and uses only the device’s original software. The procedure for entering Safe Mode can vary somewhat depending on your phone’s manufacturer, but you may be able to reach it by pressing and holding the power key for a couple of seconds and then pressing and holding “Power off” on the menu that appears.

If that doesn’t work, try powering up your phone normally. Then, as soon as the startup animation begins, press and hold either the volume-down key, or the volume-up and volume-down keys together until the phone finishes booting. When you reach the lock screen, you should see the words “Safe Mode” along the bottom of the screen.

Now, the test: See how your phone functions. If everything seems fine when in Safe Mode, that’s a sign that an app you’ve downloaded is misbehaving and causing problems. Restart your device to go back to the regular (“non-safe”) environment, then uninstall your downloaded apps one by one. Restart your phone after each uninstall and watch for things to get back to normal.

If you’re unable to find the culprit, all you have left is the nuclear option: resetting your phone to its original factory state and starting over fresh. And unless your actual hardware is just failing, that’ll almost certainly get you back on track.

2. What to do when your phone’s getting slow

New phones are almost always as snappy as can be. But, invariably, most Android devices seem to grow increasingly poky over time. So what to do?

First, try restarting your phone. (It sounds obvious, I realize, but some people almost never do it!) A fresh boot can do wonders for clearing out gunk and making things run more smoothly.

If that doesn’t do the trick, check the Storage section of your system settings to see if your available space is getting low. If you have about 10 percent or less of your total storage free, that may be your problem. (See item No. 5 below for some tips on freeing up space.)

The last thing to consider is if a particular app might be causing the issue. Boot your phone into Safe Mode, using the steps described in the previous tip. If things feel faster in that state, one or more of your downloaded apps is almost certainly slowing you down. Restart your device to go back to the regular (“non-safe”) environment, then uninstall your downloaded apps one by one until you see an improvement.

If all else fails, consider a factory reset, and also consider reinstalling your apps one at a time as you need them to avoid bogging down your device with things you don’t actually use. This is practically guaranteed to get your system running at optimum speed again—at least for a while.

3. What to do if your device starts feeling hot

No one wants a smartphone that doubles as a frying pan. If your device is feeling significantly warmer than normal, it’s probably because it’s working extra hard at resource-intensive tasks like video playback, game play, uploading or downloading large amounts of data, GPS navigation, virtual reality use, or Wi-Fi hotspot broadcasting. Your phone may also feel especially warm when charging.

This is all normal and to be expected, but if the surface starts to feel alarmingly hot, stop any of the aforementioned activities until it cools down. You may also want to turn the display brightness down and take your phone out of its case to help it cool. (In fact, you may want to consider using a less restrictive case or forgoing one entirely for a while to see if that helps. A lack of ventilation can make it tough for a phone to avoid overheating.)

Finally, at the risk of being Dr. Obvious: If you’re using the phone in the sun, get it out of the sun. Humans aren’t the only ones that can overheat from too much exposure.

4. What to do when an app keeps crashing

Does one of your apps keep stopping and generating errors on your phone? Here’s what to do:

First, try the age-old fix of restarting your device. That may be enough.

What to do when an app keeps crashing IDG

Tap “Storage” and then tap the button to clear an app’s cache if the app keeps crashing.

Next, head into the “My Apps” section of the Play Store and see if any updates are available for the app in question.

Still crashing? Head into the “Apps” section of your system settings, find the offending app in the list, and tap it. Next, tap “Storage” and then tap the button to clear the app’s cache and see if that makes a difference. If it doesn’t, come back to that same spot and tap the button to clear the app’s data.

If you’ve done all of that and continue to experience issues with the app, the last thing to try is uninstalling it completely from your phone and then reinstalling it from scratch. If even that fails to fix the issue, it’s safe to say the app is flawed—and your only remaining option is to ditch it and move on with your life.

5. How to free up storage on your Android phone

Running out of room on your Android device? Let’s do a little spring cleaning:

How to free up storage on your Android phone IDG

Storage settings show you a breakdown of each type of content on your phone and how much space it’s using.

  • Your photos and videos are probably responsible for eating up much of your phone’s space, especially if you capture content at a high resolution. Either connect your phone to a computer and manually back up your media and then delete it, or install the Google Photos app on your phone and follow its prompts for automatically syncing your data to the cloud. Once the app has finished backing up your stuff, look for the “Free up space” option in its main menu to remove the now-redundant local copies.
  • Got a Google Pixel or Nexus phone? Your device has an option to automatically remove local copies of backed-up images as space is needed. In the Storage section of your system settings, tap the line labeled “Manage storage” and make sure the “Smart Storage” option is activated.
  • Regardless of what phone you have, head into the Storage section of your system settings. On newer versions of Android, you’ll see a menu icon in the upper-right corner with an option called “Free up space.” That’ll give you a list of files and apps that haven’t been used in some time and make it super simple to delete any or all of them on the spot.
  • If you don’t have that option—or even if you do—look in the main area of the Storage settings. There, you’ll see a breakdown of each type of content on your phone and how much space it’s using.
  • Tap the line labeled “Apps” to see which apps are using the most space, then consider uninstalling any apps you no longer use—especially ones that are higher up in the storage-use list.
  • Tap the line labeled “Cached Data” to clear away temporary cached files for all of your apps. This could free up a fair amount of space, but just be warned that any gains you make may be short-lived.
  • If the line labeled “Audio” shows a lot of space being utilized, consider switching to a service like Google Play Music, which lets you store your music collection in the cloud at no cost. You can then delete your locally stored collection and simply stream songs on the fly as you wish, and also easily manage what music is downloaded on your device at any given moment through the app.
  • Head back into your app drawer and look for an item called either Downloads or Files. (If your phone has the latter, look for a folder called “Downloads” upon opening it.) There, you’ll see all the files you’ve downloaded from email, web browser, and other apps. Delete anything you no longer need.

6. How to fix account sync issues

An Android phone tends to rely heavily on your Google account, so when your account has issues syncing things can get funky fast.

If you’re seeing an error about account syncing or simply finding that your data (email, calendar, or anything else Google-related) isn’t up to date, try the following steps:

  1. Head into the Accounts section of your system settings and select the “Google” option. That’ll show you a complete list of Google accounts connected to your device along with each account’s current sync status.
  2. If one of the accounts is, in fact, not up to date with its syncing, try tapping the menu icon in the upper-right corner and selecting “Sync now” to manually force a sync.
  3. Still having trouble? Tap the specific Google account in question, then make sure all the toggles are activated for any services you want synced.
  4. If none of that works, your best bet is to remove the account from your phone entirely—you’ll see the option in the menu on the same account page you accessed in step No. 3—and then add it back as new. Just be prepared that any associated apps, data, and settings will also be erased, so it’ll take some time for everything to repopulate and sync back properly.

And there we have it: problems solved and headaches avoided. Doesn’t that feel good?

Related articles

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform