6 ways to take control of your Android apps

Learn how to manage an app's stored files, clean out its temporary storage "cache," keep an app from adding a shortcut on your home screen, and more.

6 ways to take charge of your Android apps
Ben Patterson

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You’ve got a lot more power over your various Android apps than you might think. For example, you can decide when and how your apps update themselves, or whether they get to install home-screen shortcuts automatically. If you feel an app is slowing down your handset, you can shut it down, or clear the “cache” of a storage-hogging app. You can even rein in an app that’s decided to become the default for your device’s core features (like the camera, or the clock).

Read on for six ways to take control of your Android apps, starting with…

Note: the following tips are for phones and tablets running on the Lollipop version of Android and using the Google Now launcher. The steps may vary for devices running customized versions of Android.

Shut down an app that’s using too much memory (or is otherwise cramping your style)

Your Android device can only do so many things at once. If just one of your apps gets too greedy with the modest amount of memory on your phone or tablet, your handset’s performance may slow to a crawl.

Shut down an app that’s using too much memory Ben Patterson

Got a memory-hogging app on your phone? There’s an easy way to stop it in its tracks.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to find out which of your apps is using the most memory—and once you pinpoint the culprit, you can stop the app in its tracks. Doing so won’t delete the app, mind you; instead, think of it as pulling the plug until you relaunch the misbehaving application.

  • Tap Settings > Apps, then swipe to the Running tab.
  • Scroll through the list of apps. If you see anything that’s using an inordinate amount of memory, go ahead and tap it. (Don’t worry, you haven’t done anything to the app yet.)
  • Tap Stop to close the app, but make sure to heed any warnings above the Stop button. Think long and hard before stopping a core Android or Settings process. You’ll know them by their telltale Android and gear icons—and generally speaking, you should leave them alone. Don’t be surprised when an app you stop no longer works (especially in the case of messaging apps).

Bonus tip: If a memory-hogging app seems particularly unstable, you can tap the Report button (right next to the Stop button) to send a complaint to Google.

Clear all the data of a storage-hogging app

Memory isn’t the only precious resource your various Android apps are using on your device; there’s also storage, the vault of data on your handset that will, sooner or later, begin running out of room.

Clear the “cache” or all the data of a storage-hogging app Ben Patterson

You can junk an app’s temporary “cache” files in just a few taps.

Some apps, like games, are just plain big, gobbling up gigabyte-sized chunks of storage. Others, like podcast managers or document readers, aren’t all that large themselves, but the files they handle can get fairly hefty. And just about every app on your phone or tablet lays claim to small “caches” of temporary data that, taken together, can add up to hundreds of megabytes.

As with your device’s memory, you can check how much storage your Android apps are using, and you can quickly delete their data caches, which can usually be tossed without causing any grief. You could also nix all their data, which will free up more storage, but could wipe out your personal settings and potentially crucial files.

  • Tap Settings > Storage > Apps, find an app that might be using more than its fair share of storage (you can also tap the three-dot button in the corner of the screen and select Sort by size), and check the size of its cache and stored data.
  • Tap Clear Cache to clean out the app’s temporary data, or Clear Data to zap all the app’s stored data—keeping in mind, of course, that the latter option will wipe any personalized settings, documents, media files, or anything else you’ve created, collected, edited or otherwise saved using the app.

Bonus tip: You can delete cached data files for all your apps at once by tapping Settings > Storage > Cached data, then tap OK when the 'Clear cached data?' pop-up appears.

Decide whether apps can auto-update themselves

By default, your Android phone or tablet regularly checks in with the Google Play app store to see if any updates are available—and if there are any, the updates will be downloaded and installed automatically.

Decide whether apps can auto-update themselves Ben Patterson

If you’d rather update your apps manually, there’s a setting for that.

That’s the default behavior for your apps, anyway. If you’d rather update your apps manually, there’s a setting for that.

  • Launch the Play Store app, tap the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, then tap Settings > Auto-update apps.
  • Now, go ahead and pick a setting. Among your options: Don’t auto-update apps at all, auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only (a smart choice for anyone with a capped cellular data plan), or auto-update apps any time there’s a data connection, Wi-Fi and cellular data included.

Stop an app from taking over your phone’s browser, camera, or other core feature

If you install, say, a new web browser on your Android device, you’ll eventually be asked which of your current browsers you’d like to use to open a link in a non-browser app (like Gmail). If you tap “Always” after picking a browser, the app you chose will become the default browser for every link you open moving ahead.

Stop an app from taking over your phone’s browser, camera, or other core feature Ben Patterson

You can ask your Android device to “forget” any default actions for a specific app.

So far, so good. But what if you change your mind? There’s no easy way to directly pick a new default browser (or chat app, camera app, etc.), but you can ask your device to “forget” any default actions for a specific app. Once you’ve reset an app’s default behavior (such as for your browser), you’ll eventually be asked which app you’d like to use for a specific action (such as opening URLs).

Just tap Settings > Apps, pick an app from the Downloaded list, scroll down to the Launch by Default heading, then tap Clear Defaults.

Bonus tip: For a shortcut to an app’s App Info screen (where you’ll find the Clear Data, Clear Cache, and Clear Defaults buttons), open your device’s app drawer (for most Android handsets, tap the center button at the bottom of the screen), tap and hold an app’s icon, then drag it up and into the App Info icon.

Stop apps from installing shortcut icons on the home screen

No, you’re not imagining things: Your home screen is getting more and more cluttered. The reason: each time you install a new app, it automatically adds its own shortcut icon to your home screen.

Stop apps from installing shortcut icons on the home screen Ben Patterson

Keep your home screen from getting cluttered by stopping new apps from auto-adding home-screen shortcuts.

If you’d rather new apps left your home screen alone until you decided to create a shortcut on your own, here’s what you can do: Open the Play Store app, tap the menu button, tap Settings, then clear out the checkbox labeled 'Add icon to Home screen.'

Keep an app from setting off alerts, or let an app give you more alerts

Some apps just don’t know when to stop when it comes to alerts and notifications—and indeed, you’ve probably got some pushy apps that you’d like to shut up, permanently.

Keep an app from setting off alerts, or let an app give you more alerts Ben Patterson

You can permanently muzzle an app’s notifications—or, on the flip side, allow an app to send you even more alerts than it normally would.

On the flip side, maybe there’s an app on your phone or tablet you’d like to hear more from, with its alerts and notifications popping onto your screen even when your handset is set to Priority mode (which screens all but the most important calls and messages).

To tinker with an app’s notification settings, try this:

  • Tap Settings > Sound & notification > App notifications, then pick an app from the list.
  • Toggle on the Block setting to muzzle all of an app’s notifications, or flip on the Priority setting to make sure an app’s alerts appear above most others, and continue to ding while Priority mode is on.
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