Android Tweaks: Customization, Better Battery Life, and More Power
Do you want to make the most of your Android device? Lucky for you, you’ve found a guide on how to do just that! In this post, I’m going to tell you how to customize your device to your liking, increase your battery life, and bump up your performance all at the same time (you’re going to have to be rooted for some of these). I’m going to try to keep this post up-to-date, so remember to check again once in awhile.
If you want to root your phone, there are a few options. Z4Root is an app (apk) that roots your phone without a computer and will work for many phones (check to see if yours is compatible). If not, then SuperOneClick is for you! This one requires a computer. If you have an HTC phone, unrevoked is probably what you need. No? Find your phone in Lifehacker’s guide to rooting. Disclaimer: anything you do to your phone (including bricking, breaking, making it unusable, or making it into a hat-weight, etc.) is solely your fault. We will however try to help you fix your phone and do whatever we can to help. Always make a backup before modifying the Android system (or any other part of your phone).
You want your phone to be yours, right? Well, it isn’t that difficult to change the appearance of your device to be unique and extremely personal, while also being easy to use. Let’s get started on customization.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to get a 3rd party launcher, such as ADW or Launcher Pro. The list of launchers is pretty long, so I’m just going to name a few of the best and give their intended use.
The best launchers all focus on customization and performance. ADW.Launcher, Launcher Pro, and Go Launcher EX are all extremely similar, with very minor differences (ADW and Launcher Pro have paid versions: ADW EX and LPP, respectively). Then there’s also Zeam, which is meant to be extremely lightweight and to use minimal resources. If you like Sense, Blur, or Touchwiz, then HeLauncher is for you. HeLauncher, like Zeam, is also extremely minimalistic. Looking for eye-candy? Try out Regina 3D Launcher or SPB Shell 3D. These launchers are great for showing off, if you’re into that.
I personally use ADW EX, but ADW has nearly all of the features. I think (and many will agree) that Go Launcher EX is easily the best free launcher, and had I found it earlier, I wouldn’t have bought ADW EX. You should explore the launchers I’ve listed, find some reviews for the paid ones, and try the free ones out. Choose what you like the most, because that’s what’s really important.
Once you’ve picked your launcher, go get some themes for it. You can find them in the Market by searching “[LAUNCHER OF CHOICE HERE] themes”. It’s pretty simple. After that, go explore the settings and really dig down deep. If you’ve realized you don’t like what you picked, try a different launcher. I guarantee that you will find something you like.
Obviously, I can’t tell you which widget’s you would like, but I can tell you which ones I (among with millions of other people) like. These are all standalone widgets; there are a lot of great widgets that come with other apps, but they won’t be included here.
My favorite widget has to be Widgetsoid. It’s like the stock Power Widget on steroids (really, really strong steroids for widgets–that exists, right?). You can put nearly any control in the widget, plus a whole bunch of other ones for rooted users. You can alter the appearance by changing the colors, transparency, etc. I always have 2 Widgetsoid widgets on my secondary home screen.
A great set of widgets is Beautiful Widgets. It replicates the famous Sense flip clock, and gives a few other widgets such as the “Super Clock”, weather, and some toggle widgets. Everything can be themed with one of the hundreds of great themes downloadable in the widget itself. It is a paid app, so you should definitely make sure you want it before you get it. But I highly recommend it.
Minimalistic Text is well, a minimalistic widget that displays text. It is actually really sexy. Many great Android desktops feature this widget because it looks so great. It’s a clock, battery level display, weather, and custom text display widget all in one. It’s super customizable, which means you can make it match any color scheme.
Similarly great looking and minimalistic, SiMi Clock Widget does many of the same things. Again, you can customize it to your liking, and I’m sure you’ve seen it on other’s desktops.
If you like custom launchers (especially ADW/ADW EX), then you’re going to love this. It’s basically a custom launcher for your lockscreen! WidgetLocker can use all of those widgets we talked about (hey look, they used BW, Minimalistic Text, and Widgetsoid in the featured screenshots) and can also use custom sliders. You can even put application shortcuts on the lockscreen! You know that WP7 commercial where the guys are skydiving and one guy whips his phone out and takes a picture in seconds? Well, that scenario applies to WidgetLocker, because instead of unlocking your phone, then finding the camera app, you can just hit the camera shortcut on the lockscreen and take a picture. There are tons of themes available on XDA.
Zedge is hands-down the best way to get (non-live) wallpapers, ringtones, and notification sounds on to your phone. Just get it.
Change your boot animation (tedious without root).
Well, that’s about it for customization for the non-rooted user. If you are not rooted, skip to battery life. If you are rooted, or are willing to root, then keep on reading!
If you have a ROM, get a theme for it. Look in the Performance section for ROMs.
Get yourself some new fonts. Type Fresh is an app that will let you download compatible fonts right from your phone. In addition to Type Fresh, a lot of ROMs, like Liberty, have font selection built into their toolboxes. Look around and see if your ROM does.
Change your boot animation and boot logo. A guide can be found over at GizmoNinja.
It’s great to have a powerful and personal phone, but if it doesn’t last, what’s the point?
First off, YOU SHOULD NOT use task killers such as ATK. Android automatically manages running apps. It is okay to have an app to kill single bad apps, but you should never mass kill your apps. Running ATK or similar will drain your battery because your apps will constantly have to re-open after being force closed. Remember, not using RAM drains battery just as much as using it.
1) If you aren’t in a 3G area (or 4G, if applicable), then turn 3G/4G off. When your phone is constantly searching for a faster data connection, your battery life drains pretty quickly.
2) Use WiFi over a cell connection when possible, but remember to turn WiFi off after!
3) Keep the brightness setting as low as possible. Using the automatic setting is convenient, but it usually makes your backlight 20%-30% stronger than it needs to be. It isn’t that big a problem, but its a good thing to keep in mind.
4) Turn Bluetooth, GPS, etc. off when you don’t need them. When you open Maps (or a similar app), Android will automatically turn GPS on while using the app, so remember to close Maps or Navigation when you’re finished.
5) Use a static wallpaper. Live wallpapers are great for showing off, but they do suck up a lot of battery.
6) Dump unnecessary widgets. Keep your power control widget, maybe a clock, and even a music player, but not much else. Even if they don’t sync data, they use a good portion of your battery life.
7) Make your data fetching apps sync less often. Do you really need Twitter updates every 5 minutes, or Facebook every 7.5? Unless you’re in the middle of a conversation with me, the answer is clearly no. So change the sync interval to 15 or 20 minutes. I understand that some do need constant syncing for work. If that’s the case, then do what you gotta do!
8) *root* Undervolt your phone (look in the Performance section below).
8) Monitor your battery usage page (Settings>About Phone>Battery or Settings>Battery & data manager>Battery usage) and act accordingly.
There are many apps that have been developed for the sole purpose of saving battery, but many of them fall short of their claims. However, there is one that stands out above the rest. JuiceDefender is its name, and juice defending is its game (no duh). JuiceDefender will actually automate many of the tips I listed above. It comes with 3 presets: Balanced, Aggressive, and Extreme. In addition, you can make a custom profile for ultimate battery saving goodness. I use the Balanced preset (haven’t had the time to set up a custom profile) and it actually seems to really be helping. JuiceDefender claims that it has increased my battery life by 114%. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but it seems pretty accurate. JuiceDefender comes in four variants: stable (free), beta (free), Plus (~$1.44), and Ultimate (~$5.08).
While JuiceDefender takes care of nearly everything, it doesn’t do screen brightness. But as I said automatic brightness settings don’t really work as well as they are advertised to. So what’s so special about this app if it doesn’t automatically manage brightness? AdjBrightness can make your backlight level go lower than the stock settings. In addition to saving battery, it can save your eyes at night. You can even change settings for the hardware buttons and make your screen time out setting whatever you want. It really is an app worth rooting for.
In addition to what I’ve listed, I’d highly recommend reading this post by elnator on Android Forums. It’s pretty thick, but elnator does a nice job of thoroughly explaining why things eat up your battery.
It’s all about the power. By now you’ve customized the hell out of your phone and quintupled your battery life, but now your phone has slowed to a crawl. No problem, I’ve got it under control!
For the non-rooted user, there aren’t that many things to do, but the options will make a difference.
One of the simplest tweaks is turning off animations. To turn off window animations, go to Settings>Display>Animation and select “No Animations”. In addition to getting rid of Android’s animations, you can turn off animations in your launcher to increase the snappiness a little more. If you see other animation settings, feel free to disable them. Your apps should launch and close really quickly now.
Another way to get more performance (and battery life) is getting rid of widgets, icons, and extra homescreens. You don’t need 10 homescreens each filled with a 4*4 widget and 5 screens with 16 icons per screen. Besides the battery consumption, they use a lot of memory, which means that the phone will be more sluggish. I recommend using less than 5 screens with not too many widgets (I use 3 screens with power control on one, my favorite apps on another, and a music control on the next).
Manage your apps. Uninstall apps you don’t use and, if you have space, move your apps to your internal memory. For example, the Droid X has 8GB of internal memory, so all of the apps should be stored on the internal memory. For a phone with 4GB, move your favorite/most used apps to the internal memory. The reason I promote moving apps to the internal memory is because it is simply a lot faster than an SD card, unless you have a Class 10 card.
Speaking of Class 10 cards, if you have a slow SD card, getting a higher class card will drastically improve the performance of your phone. Here is a 32GB Class 10 microSD card for $90 on Newegg. It’s expensive, but it’s fast and spacious.
Finally, if your phone is still slow, properly set up a task manager using Android Central’s guide. I know I said that you shouldn’t use task killers, but if you use one properly, it will help you. Some of the information is is old, so I’d only recommend using a task killer as a last resort.
That’s really all you can do to make your phone faster if you aren’t rooted. If you are rooted (or are considering it), then let’s continue maximizing our performance.
Get a custom ROM, such as Cyanogen, MIUI, or Ultimate Driod (these ROMs are available for most devices). For the un-supported devices, such as Droid X, Droid 2, or the Thunderbolt, click the device names to see a list of available ROMs. You can also find ROMs in ROM Manager (which is probably the best way to get them).
Overclock and undervolt your device. I use QuickClock Advanced and Droid Overclock to do both. QCA automatically finds the lowest VSEL (best battery life) possible for your phone and the highest frequency the CPU can go to on that voltage. However, a select few devices are supported. For un-supported devices, get SetCPU. It’s a little more difficult, but it’s more powerful at the same time. No matter what you use, you’ll have better battery life and a faster phone.
Make your SD card faster by flashing a fix from XDA. The pictures in my Gallery load in a second now! WOW! Then get SD Maid and run it. It will clean up your SD card by removing “corpses” from your “basement”. How’d the dev find out about my corpse collection?!?!
Whew! That was a lot! I hope that you enjoyed this feature on Android. I hope to post a list of essential Android apps and a guide on how to make your Droid X (maybe Droid 2) look, feel, and run like mine before summer. Leave feedback in the comments and feel free to share the article with friends.