Why is your smartphone so slow? 5 common problems and how to fix them

Don't replace your sluggish phone just yet—try these things instead

Credit: Michael Desjardin/Reviewed
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Smartphones are marvelous pieces of technology that have completely transformed the way we communicate and interact with one another. In a very short amount of time, these incredible instruments totally revolutionized the exchange of ideas, information, and culture on a global scale.

Phone battery life hero

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They're also, like, totally annoying the crap out of me right now, because they should be much faster than this. I mean, I paid hundreds of dollars for this thing, and yet here I am, stuck on this one screen. And, seriously—look at this. No, come here and look at how slow this page is loading right now. Are you kidding me? What the hell?

If your phone's experiencing a maddening bout of slow-down-itis, don't chuck it in the trash just yet—here are five common issues that might be causing your smartphone to sputter.

1. Try giving your phone a soft reset.

Ah, the ol' "unplug it and plug it back in" gambit—the critical first step of every troubleshooting guide that's ever been recorded. But before you dismiss it out of hand, lets talk a little about your phone's soft reset option.

Unlike a factory reset (also known as a "hard" reset), a soft reset won't wipe your phone of all its data. Instead, it clears the deck of any lingering processes that might be clogging up your phone's RAM. It's sort of like burping your phone, except way less gross.

For most iPhones, a soft reset is as easy as holding down both the home button and the power button at the same time until the Apple logo appears on the screen. Since the iPhone X doesn't have a home button, the process is a little different: Push and release the volume up button, then the volume down button, and then hold down the power button until the Apple logo appears.

For Android phones, hold down the power button and one of the volume buttons at the same time until the phone resets.

2. You might automatically been connected to a weak WiFi network.

Blessed though we are to live in a time (and place) where the WiFi flows freely, you might find yourself unknowingly fighting the feeble signal of a network you never intended to connect to.

This tends to happen if your phone is set-up to automatically connect to open and available WiFi networks before settling for cellular data. While this setting might help you conserve as much data as possible, it could also be the source of your smartphone's seemingly spontaneous slow-down. For me, this tends to happen in coffee shops, airports, and densely populated, heavily commercialized parts of town.

Always keep an eye on your phone's WiFi signal bars and be cognizant of when it slips in and out of strange networks. If you find yourself tethered to too many signals throughout the day, it might be time to turn your phone's WiFi setting off entirely.

3. You may need to install updates to your phone's operating system.

If you've been putting off installing that latest major software update, it might be the reason your phone's getting a little cranky.

Although most smartphone manufacturers make it really, really difficult to ignore their latest software updates, it's not impossible to dismiss those daily notifications indefinitely while you continue to stumble forward, updates be damned.

Needless to say, if your current build of iOS or Android is left to stew well past its expiration date, you're leaving yourself vulnerable to security exploits, bugs, and less-than-optimal performance.

A good rule of thumb is to stay on top of every new software update that your phone's hardware will allow for. You can check for updates on an iPhone or Android phone by jumping into your phone's settings menu—just make sure you're connected to the web first.

4. Your phone might be bogged down by unnecessary software animations.

With so much processing power in packed into contemporary smartphones, developers are keen on designing sleek, premium-looking operating systems chock-full of mesmerizing animations and dazzling doodads. Trouble is, all of that superfluous eye candy can really hinder your phone.

I've disabled user interface animations on every smartphone I've ever owned. Do I miss watching my applications get sucked down into infinity whenever I tap the home button? Sure, I guess that stuff if neat. But if you want to wring the best performance possible out of your phone, it's wise to disable 'em.

On an iPhone, these preferences can be accessed by navigating your way to the "Accessibility" section of the settings menu. There you'll find options for toggling zoom, magnification, and motion.

On Android phones, this is a bit trickier, as you'll probably need to enable developer options in order to access these settings. Once you've enabled developer options (usually by repeatedly tapping the build number of your phone in the "About" section of your settings menu), animation settings should become available.

5. It may be time to free up some space.

If you're anything like me, this one probably hurts.

I hate deleting old photos, messages, and videos—I'd rather hoard my digital memories until the robots take over and harvest my phone for gigabytes.

But if you're phone's getting up there in age and it's starting to feel sluggish, it might be high time you purged some redundant apps, photos of exes, and music you'll probably never listen to again. Don't think of it as deleting your memories—just think of it as a cleanse. Not only will this free up space for future software updates, but there's a good chance it'll speed up your phone in the short-term, too.

Fortunately for you, we've already written all about the ins and outs of freeing up storage on an iPhone and freeing up storage on an Android.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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