A frustrating problem with any smartphone is a battery that drains faster than you expect. Having to recharge during the day after a full charge overnight is always a sad feeling. Maybe you’ve also noticed your device slowing down, too. The problems often have the same cause.

Background apps can use up your battery and resources. Some apps might not be well optimized, some might be malware, or some might just have a bug.

Have no fear! Shutting down these rogue background apps just takes a little know-how. Some of this walkthrough will be very familiar if you’re a power user, but we hope there’s something to learn for everyone. 

Whatever the case, the first step is to identify any problems, and stop these unwelcome background apps.

Update your device! Get to Oreo, if you can

One of the best “hidden” elements of the Android 8.0 Oreo release is a new feature called Background Execution Limits. This prevents background services from running freely. Now developers and their apps can’t just have a social media app running in the background looking for updates. Instead, apps now have to check for updates as part of a scheduled job — get in, get out, and use a much smaller amount of processing power and battery to do so.

background apps

This feature essentially keeps apps from running unlimited background services, and limits the possibilities around listener services running constantly as well.

This won’t stop unscrupulous apps that deliberately avoid the latest Oreo API. Only apps updated to meet Oreo’s standards will use this new helpful battery saver, so it won’t prevent all of your apps from going crazy but it will get you more economy from quality apps that are regularly updated, and it’s definitely the first step towards slowing down any problematic services.

Update to Android 8.0 or 8.1 Oreo, and then update all the apps you can to get this new feature working for you. Check what version of Android you’re running by following these instructions,

Check what’s draining you

Battery: Since battery life is so important, it’s well monitored by your Android OS. To have a look at the apps guzzling power, just go to Settings > Battery > Battery Usage. You’ll get a list accurate to two decimal points of what’s draining your battery. Depending on your device and software, the apps will be split into either system or non-system apps, or by hardware and software, such as with this Huawei phone:

Huawei battery screenshot background apps

The more you use certain apps, the higher on the list they’ll sit. Look out for any apps you don’t recognize using more than a tiny percentage of your battery. Any app using over a few percent is worth looking into — saving five percent here or four percent there will add up. (anything that’s a Google app or service is probably not something to worry about and just a natural part of using Android and Google Mobile Services.)

RAM: Using Developer options, you can also check out which apps are dominating your phone’s limited memory, or RAM. It may be that an app is not using a lot of battery, but when you’re only working with 2GB of RAM and an app you’re not using is taking up a few hundred MB, that’s leaving you short on free memory.

You can check this out in a few different ways, but here’s the sure-fire winner that works in Android Oreo, Marshmallow, and below:

  • Go to Settings > System > About phone.
  • Scroll down and find “Build number” and then tap it seven times. This will enable Developer options on your device, and you’ll see a notification that this has happened.

Now go back to Settings > System and you’ll be able to select Developer options from there.

Then go Settings > Developer Options > Processes (or Settings > System > Developer Options > Running services)

Here you can view which processes are running, your used and available RAM, and which apps are using it up. Again, some of these services are essential to keep your phone running. You should be primarily looking for demanding apps you’ve downloaded personally.

If this method doesn’t work to unlock developer options, just do a Google search of your phone model and “developer options unlock.”

Stop the app, kill it, or uninstall

You can control these processes in a few ways.

Find the app in Developer Options and stop it

Once you’ve identified an app that’s draining your battery or gobbling up your free RAM, there’s a few ways to stop it dead, and then considering limiting it or uninstalling it.

The first involves the Developer Options > Running services method we described above.

Notice how Messenger takes up RAM through three separate services.  Tapping any app and hitting Stop will stop it from running and free up your RAM. Be careful, if you stop any essential service just through testing or by mistake, you might crash your phone. It’ll just need a reboot, but it’s a little bit of a pain.

Find the app, Force Stop/Uninstall

Once you’ve identified your apps it might be worth checking out all the apps you have installed and giving them a once over.

Go to Settings > Apps & Notifications > Apps.

You’ll see your apps load in alphabetical order, and from here you can click into any app and decide to Force Stop or Uninstall it. As with before, Force Stop might cause a crash, but you’ll be ok following a reboot.

Limiting problematic apps

If you want to keep using an app that appears to have a high demand, you might be able to limit what it can do.

Some Samsung and Huawei phones include OS options to manage applications. In Battery Settings, Huawei offers a “Launch” option which allows you to identify specific apps, restrict launches, and target power saving measures. Samsung also offers a power-saving option to help manage apps.

If you don’t have access to a proprietary built-in option, there are, of course, good apps to help. The perennial favorite is Greenify, which offers fine controls over apps and places them in hibernation. If you have a rooted phone, you’ll have even more control, but it works well with standard devices too.

greenify best battery saver apps for android

One problem with apps like this is intentionally introducing another app to monitor your device. In our popular read this week 13 tricks and hacks to speed up Android, our own Adam Sinicki noted that while background apps can kill battery, background app killers can slow you down as well:

Booting an app from nothing takes longer and uses more battery than switching to one that is paused. If you open an app that requires more memory, Android will automatically kill the least important ones to free up space. Task killers can actually end up slowing your device down.

What next?

Android P is just over the horizon for a general release and we expect Google to continue upgrading Android’s ability to quash any apps that make your life harder. The update will prevent idle background apps from accessing the microphone or camera, which should have been a thing years ago and cuts down on what malicious apps can do. There’ll also be more limits for idle apps on using sensors like accelerometers without good reason. All of this should help you and your device.

At Google I/O 2018, new details of an Adaptive Battery feature were discussed, with claims that Google is seeing a 30% reduction in CPU wake-up calls as a result. That’s definitely going to help, if real-world testing backs it up. We’ll have to wait and see just how far the update goes.