Feel like your smartphone or tablet just isn’t getting the same mileage that it used to? Is your battery conking out by 3pm when it once lasted all the way to bedtime? Is it sluggish and less responsive than in the past? You may have some rogue apps sucking your system’s resources in the background.
Never fear! In all but the most dire cases, shutting down Android apps running in the background is a fairly easy process. To long-time Android users, this walkthrough might be a bit remedial, but we’re going to move through this slowly to make sure to keep even the newbiest of newbies on the same page.
Identify the culprits
The first step to shutting down renegade applications is to know thine enemy. A surgeon doesn’t just cut into a patient willy nilly! He has to know whether it’s the appendix or the spleen that’s acting up before he ever picks up a scalpel. These are your diagnostic tools:
Check battery use
The most common symptom of background apps run amok is a hit in battery life. To see which apps are hogging juice, go to Settings > Battery to get an overview of what apps have been draining your battery the most since your last full charge.
Check process stats
If you’re looking for a bit more information than just battery use, you can get a log of how much processing power each app has a tendency to use. But first, you’re going to have to get Developer Access.
Becoming a Developer is kind of a hidden option. You won’t find “Unlock Developer options” anywhere in your Settings menu. What you’ll need to do is go to Settings > About Device and scroll down to Build number. Tap Build number a few times. You won’t get any response, but if you tap enough times, you’ll get a notification congratulating you on your promotion to Developer.
Now head back to your Settings menu and you’ll see a new selection is available: Developer options! Access Developer options to see a whole slew of new toys to play with (but be careful messing around with these settings unless you know what you’re doing).
The option you’re looking for is Process stats. Tap that to see how much RAM your apps are using. Choosing a specific app will let you screw down on it and get a lot more technical information, if you’re interested.
Choose your targets
So now you’re equipped with your diagnostic tools, but how do you know which ones to shut down? Not all background applications deserve to die – many of them are important for your device’s everyday functionality. For instance, if you’re thinking about shutting down Google Play services, Google Search, Google Keyboard, the Google Play Store… hell, basically anything with “Google” in the name, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Leave those guys alone: it’s healthy for them to keep doing their thing in the background.
The real villains you’re looking for are usually games or music players that you’re not actively using. You might also have some other app that’s sucking a lot of RAM or battery and you can’t think of a reason why it should. Some apps need to be constantly sending and receiving packets of information to perform their intended function, but if that Spot the Difference game you haven’t played for weeks is showing up on your battery list, it’s time to put that sucker down.
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Kill the traitors
The quickest way to stop a runaway app in its tracks is just to kill it. If you’re running Lollipop or greater, then the fastest way to kill an app is to tap the Recent Apps button (that little square on the bottom right) and find the app in the stack of ‘cards.’ Swiping the card left or right will kill it dead.
Alternatively, you can always Force Stop an app. Go to Settings > Apps and then tap the app you want to murder. Once in the menu, tap Force Stop to continue the execution. You may get a warning that doing this may make the app misbehave, but if it’s sucking resources in the background, it’s already misbehaving.
Unfortunately, death isn’t permanent in the Android universe. These apps will spring back to life the next time they are launched. If you have a repeat offender, you may have to take more drastic measures.
Shun the non-believers
If an app has proven itself to be wholly untrustworthy, the best step is to just delete it from your device. Go to Settings > Apps and tap the one you want to get rid of. Say goodbye and then tap uninstall.
However, many of the apps most likely to hog background resources are the bloatware apps that came preinstalled on your device. Without rooting, you can’t actually uninstall these. You can, however, disable them. Settings > Apps, choose the bloatware you despise, then tap Disable. The app will stay on your phone or tablet, but it won’t be able to misbehave any more.
Conscript outside help
If all this seems a bit tedious to you, you can always do the equivalent of hiring a digital maid service to keep your device’s background neat and tidy for you. For this, we recommend Greenify.
Greenify is a lightweight little app that automatically force-closes apps whenever you’re not using them. The language Greenify uses is ‘hibernating,’ but it effectively just kills background apps so you don’t have to bother with it. Do note that a lot of these solutions, including Greenify, may require root to use.
If you really want to take full control of your device, however, the best solution is to root it. Root users will be able to unlock Greenify’s full automation capabilities and get rid of bloatware for good.
If you’re a new Android user frustrated with resource-draining apps running wild in the background, hopefully we’ve given you the tools you need to eradicate the varmints. If you’re a long-time Android user, what kind of advice do you have for people struggling with recurring background app problems? Let us know in the comments!