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Apple fans and iPhone owners believe that they’ve got the best smartphone that money can buy—right until they try to plug in headphones, install a powerful third-party app, or upgrade their operating system without buying an entirely new phone (well, until recently).
For the rest of us, the Android platform offers a superior experience at a lower price. With that said, if you’re like us, you’re making a few key mistakes that are limiting your phone’s lifespan. We looked into a few of the most common habits that can ruin Android handsets.
1. You’re not using a wireless charging pad.
If you’re not charging wirelessly, you could be taking an unnecessary risk.
“People tend to freak out when their phone’s charger port breaks, but it’s a pretty common issue,” says Ben Carmitchel of Datarecovery.com, a company that offers file recovery services for smartphones and computers. “Think about it: What other part of your phone is subjected to as much wear and tear? Eventually, the port stops working, and that’s when people start calling us, worried that they’ve lost their photos and contacts forever.”
Carmitchel typically tells those customers to pick up a wireless charging pad (provided that their smartphone supports the technology). The most common wireless charging standard, Qi, uses a technology called resonant inductive coupling to send power to a phone—no cables needed.
“If you’ve got the option, use a charger pad,” Carmitchel says. “They’re convenient and probably slightly safer for your phone. Well-made wireless chargers are just as safe as cord chargers, even if they take a bit longer.”
Some sites have reported that wireless charging technologies reduce the phone’s battery life. One particularly damning ZDNet investigation found that wireless chargers push phones through unnecessary recharge cycles, but experts say that the piece was based on a faulty premise.
“A phone’s battery is not drained when you use it while charging wirelessly,” Menno Treffers, chairman of the Wireless Power Consortium, told Digital Trends in response to the ZDNet article. “This is a misunderstanding.”
“I don’t think [power drainage] is a major consideration, particularly when you’re looking at the mechanical damage that can result from constant plugging and unplugging,” he says. “If you’re really worried about it, just take your phone off the charger when it hits 100 percent.”
In fact, keeping your phone at least 50 percent charged can actually increase its battery lifespan dramatically, according to industry research cited by Computer World. That means you can safely charge your phone whenever you’d like, and the more often you charge it, the longer it will last in the long run.
As is the case with other types of charging products, quality matters. Low-quality Qi chargers may not provide enough juice, resulting in extremely slow charges. Amazon reviewers found CHOETECH’s wireless chargers to be particularly reliable for popular phones like the Samsung Galaxy, Samsung Note, Nexus, and HTC series. They even work with the iPhone (not that that matters).
The product linked above also has an integrated smart chip that prevents overheating and short circuits—a crucial feature for any wireless charging device. If you’ve got a household with a few Qi-enabled smartphones, you might prefer a larger charging station like this one from JE. It supports up to three devices, which should stop your housemates from fighting over who gets to charge their phone.
2. You’re not keeping your phone in a case.
According to a survey performed by consumer research firm NPD Group in 2013, about 25 percent of smartphone users don’t use cases. Seventy percent of those unprotected consumers were Android users, while a mere 20 percent used iPhones.
If you’ve ever dropped your phone and heard the sickening sound of your screen cracking on the pavement, we don’t have to tell you to buy a case. If you’ve somehow avoided that disaster, change your ways before it’s too late.
“Many modern smartphones seem to be designed like bars of soap,” Carmitchel notes. “They look pretty awesome, but they’ll fall out of your hands constantly, even if you’re careful.”
Ideally, your case should extend slightly past your phone’s screen to provide shock protection for the inevitable drop. Some cases only cover the back of the phone, which isn’t particularly helpful.
“You don’t have to spend $100 on a case, but make sure it actually provides sufficient protection,” Carmitchel says. “And don’t trust the case completely—it might protect against normal wear and tear, but that doesn’t mean that you can take a hammer to your phone and expect to walk away without damage. You’d be surprised at what people do to prove their smartphone case’s toughness to their friends.”
So how do you know if your case will actually do the job?
Heavy-duty cases are well worth the money, provided that you can bear the extra heft they add to your precious handset. If you’re looking for something thin, look for a case made with silicone, rubber, or another material that can spread the shock of a sudden fall across the entire surface of your phone (as opposed to allowing one corner to bear the brunt of the impact).
For a lightweight case, you can’t do too much better than the LK Ultra, a thin, protective cover made with TPU plastic. It costs less than $10, so if you’re holding off on a case because you’re worried about staying within your budget—well, you no longer have that excuse. If you’re okay with a bit more bulk, OtterBox’s Commuter series does the job nicely, and the company offers a limited lifetime warranty.
We’d also recommend picking up a screen protector, particularly if you keep your phone in your pocket. Coins and keys can quickly scratch your display, and while your phone might have a “scratch resistant” face, note that “scratch resistant” doesn’t equal “scratch proof.”
Ideally, you’ll get a screen protector properly sized to your phone. NiceFuse 3D Screen Coverage Glass, for example, works well for the Galaxy S9, and it applies easily without leaving behind any sticky residue. If you’re looking for a universal screen protector, ZAGG’s InvisibleShield works well, although you may have to cut it down to size.
Oh, and while you’re at it, you might consider picking up some PopSockets to help you prevent accidental phone drops in the first place. They’re inexpensive, useful, and weirdly stylish.
3. You’re keeping the case on while you’re charging your phone.
Listen closely to your smartphone, and you’ll notice something: It, uh, doesn’t make a sound. It doesn’t contain any fans to dispel heat—it’s designed to vent excessive heat through the back of the case, which is typically made from metal or plastic. If you cover your smartphone while it’s charging, it won’t be able to get rid of that extra thermal energy.
Under normal conditions, this isn’t such a big deal.
My Android phone gives me a warm feeling. No, really, it keeps overheating in my pocket (with obvious effect on battery life).
— Justin Dolske (@dolske) March 19, 2011
“We occasionally receive phones that have been damaged from overheating, although usually there are some secondary factors involved,” says Carmitchel. “Charging in a case usually won’t cause damage, but if you’re leaving your phone in direct sunlight or it’s already in a warm room, your risks go up considerably.”
Some damage doesn’t show up immediately, and even if you charge your phone in its case regularly, you shouldn’t assume that you’re in the clear.
“Most Android phones have safeguards to prevent overheating, but they’re not 100 percent effective, so the safest course of action is just to take your phone out of its case and leave it on a hard surface where it can dissipate built-up heat,” Carmitchel explains.
That goes for wireless chargers, too. Many cases have metal components that can damage wireless chargers’ induction coils, and if your case also stores your credit cards and debit cards, the chances of accidental damage go up. If you’ve got a lightweight plastic case (we’re partial to the Spigen Thin Fit, but that’s just us), you can safely leave it in place while charging your phone, but otherwise, go ahead and slip it off before putting your phone on the charger pad.
4. You’re closing apps or installing optimization apps to save battery power.
Some apps use a ridiculous amount of energy (or worse, data) while running in the background. We’re looking at you, Pokémon Go.
You should go ahead and close those; however, others use far less energy in the background than they use starting up. In other words, if you close your Reddit app every few minutes, only to re-open it, you’re just wasting power.
“Mobile operating systems are designed to optimize battery life, so by closing all of your apps, you’re actually doing your phone a disservice,” Carmitchel says. “There are exceptions. If you know what you’re doing, look in your phone’s settings to monitor apps individually. Close any that seem to be sucking up a lot of processing power.”
That’s not just one expert’s opinion; Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of Android, Chrome, Chrome OS & Play at Google, tweeted that closing apps could “very slightly worsen” performance “unless you and [the algorithm that controls your phone’s operating system] are one.”
— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) March 14, 2016
That’s also why those optimization apps don’t work; for the most part, they just add another task for your phone to manage. Most Android smartphones have built-in optimization utilities that handle optimization much more effectively, and they’re not loaded with ads.
If your phone’s battery drops to under 50 percent by the time you get to the office each morning, consider lowering your screen brightness or investing in a case with a built-in battery. Vproof’s Portable Charger Case, for instance, adds 110 percent more battery life to your phone while providing decent shock protection.
5. You’re trusting cheap memory cards.
Here’s a quick primer on how memory cards work: Memory cells use electrical signals to store binary data (the “1s and 0s” you remember from your high school computer class). They don’t need an active electrical charge to store the data, but over time, memory cells start to oxidize, and they become less reliable. Good memory cards use high-quality components that resist this effect.
“All devices eventually fail, so don’t trust any single flash card with your crucial information,” Carmitchel says. “Make backups and you won’t have to call us. Most phones have access to excellent cloud backup services. If you’re just storing unimportant stuff like music, you don’t have to worry about backing up, but [you should still] use a higher quality memory card.”
Those higher quality cards provide more dependable access to your data, and in some cases, they’re significantly faster. That leaves one crucial question: How can we differentiate between high-quality memory cards and inferior units?
“You get what you pay for,” Carmitchel says, “but flash memory is pretty inexpensive anyway. Just look for a well-known brand and check out the reviews. Avoid generic products, even if they seem like a good deal.”
That’s because many of those generic products repurpose flash chips from older devices, and most use older flash technologies that are less reliable. The good news is that high-quality memory is fairly cheap. SanDisk, one of the more well-known memory card manufacturers, offers a 32-gigabyte microSDHC card (along with an SD adapter) for about $12.
It also includes an app to help phone users automatically manage memory—we prefer to simply use our phone’s settings menu for that, but hey, if you’re into dedicated apps, have at it. SanDisk also offers a whopping 256-gigabyte card for just under $90. Both products come with a 10-year limited warranty.
If you’re not sure how much memory you’ll use, go bigger; larger cards will have a longer lifespan since you’ll write to individual memory cells less often. Regardless, don’t forget to back up your data, or you’re taking an unnecessary risk.
6. You’re not actually using your memory card.
You’ve loaded in a memory card, but your phone keeps running out of storage space. You know you have enough memory—you started with 64 gigabytes, but you’ve added another 128 gigabytes. What gives?
“Android phones won’t usually prioritize their memory cards for storage,” Carmitchel says. “We sometimes receive cases where people say, ‘I know that all of my pictures are on the card,’ but then we’ll perform the recovery and realize that the card’s nearly empty. The phone stores everything on its internal memory by default.”
That’s especially important with pictures and videos, which can quickly eat up a phone’s free space. The process for taking pictures straight to your external memory varies by phone and Android OS version, but here’s the gist for Samsung phones: In Camera, click the Settings icon (the gear on the left side of the screen), then scroll to Storage Location and select your memory card. From now on, your phone will prioritize the external memory.
You can also move some apps to your memory card. To do this, head to Settings, tap Apps, then tap on the app you’d like to move. Tap Storage, then select the option to move the app to the memory card (this isn’t an option for all apps; some need to be installed to your phone’s internal memory in order to function properly).
In any case, get into the habit of checking your phone’s storage regularly. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your SD card—after all, you paid for it. To get an overview of your storage, head to Settings and tap Device Maintenance. Tap Storage, and you’ll be able to easily see how you’re using those precious gigabytes.
Here, you can also clean your device’s cache, which can quickly free up quite a bit of storage on some phones; on Samsung phones, tap the “Clean Now” button to reclaim that lost space.
7. You’re keeping your old phone around after you’ve upgraded.
Remember all of those stories about Samsung Galaxy phones exploding? That’s a rare occurrence, fortunately; modern smartphones have features to prevent lithium-ion battery explosions, because of course they do.
But if you’re keeping your old phone in your junk drawer, you may be taking a risk. Neglected phone batteries can catch on fire under certain (exceedingly rare) circumstances, and if you’re not regularly checking on the phone, you won’t notice the warning signs.
Typically, a battery will expand considerably before exploding, sometimes pushing the phone’s casing apart; if you ever see a phone do this, contact your local waste handling facility immediately. Don’t handle the phone until you’ve received instructions from someone who knows what they’re doing. For batteries that have only expanded slightly, you can remove the battery and place electrical tape over the contacts to prevent it from shorting, but if you’re at all apprehensive about handling the battery, don’t take the risk.
Again, this type of battery fault is rare, but if you’re truly done with that old phone, sell it online or donate it to charity. If you’re fairly sure that nobody will want it, contact your local recycling center; don’t just toss it in the trash. According to USA Today, in 2017, 65 percent of waste facility fires in California began with lithium-ion batteries, and when multiple batteries catch on fire, they can cause serious explosions.
⭐️ If you have an old cell phone laying around, please donate it to your local domestic violence shelter.
— TheQuietOne (@ShyHoodieGirl) September 4, 2016
In March of this year, investigators identified discarded lithium-ion batteries as the source of a five-alarm fire at a New York recycling facility. That fire burned for two days and eventually shut down four branches of the Long Island Rail Road.
In fact, the state of California has launched a public awareness campaign to tell consumers that they can’t just throw their phones away. We’re happy to do our part—hey, consumers, don’t just throw your phones away.
8. You’re using cheap, off-brand wall chargers.
As we mentioned earlier, wireless chargers offer some significant advantages over wall chargers, but they’re not always practical, and wall chargers can supply your phone with much more juice over a short period of time. Just make sure that you’re using a charger that’s properly rated for your device.
Many generic chargers have limited insulation, which prevents them from evenly distributing electricity to your phone. They’re shoddily built and more likely to damage your phone—or worse yet, start a fire.
That doesn’t mean that you need to overpay, of course, but look for well-known brands. AmazonBasics chargers work well, they’re cheap, and they’re capable of providing enough current for a relatively fast charge. Anker’s Elite series is another option, and its built-in PowerIQ feature allows you to send appropriate amperage to each connected device to charge as quickly as possible without overcharging.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t trust products that cost more than 50 percent less than branded wall chargers. It’s worth the extra few dollars for the added peace of mind, and you’ll still be paying much less for your accessories than an iPhone user.
While we’re on the subject, make sure you’re using high-quality cables. Cheap knockoffs could potentially damage your phone’s charger port, and if they’re poorly insulated, they could pose a real threat of electrocution. If you’ve got any cables that are frayed, resist the urge to attempt an at-home repair; throw them away immediately and invest in a new cable.
If your phone uses micro USB, consider cables from Maiten or AmazonBasics, both of which use high-quality cabling to protect you from current while delivering a reliable charge to your phone. For phones that use USB-C, BrexLink offers an inexpensive (and attractive) option for about $10.
And if there’s one crucial takeaway from this article, it’s this: If an accessory seems extremely cheap, it’s probably poorly made. Do your research before picking up accessories—after all, if you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a smartphone, you can certainly spend a few extra bucks to protect your investment.
9. You’re buying your phone from your cellular provider.
In some situations, an unlocked phone, or a phone that will work with any carrier, might be less expensive than what you’d pay for that same phone through a provider’s plan. That’s not true with every phone—and it’s rarely true with the iPhone, by the way—but it’s worth consideration if you’re in the market for a new handset.
Granted, you’ll actually have to get the cash together to purchase your phone outright, but depending on your provider, you might save a considerable sum by purchasing an unlocked phone. Plus, if you ever decide to resell your phone, you’ll often get more for an unlocked device than a locked one.
So, what’s the difference between an unlocked phone and a carrier-locked phone? There’s not really much of a difference at all, although some carriers pre-install a bunch of software. Buy an S8 from AT&T, for example, and you’ll have a few AT&T apps pre-loaded, some of which allow certain features to work more efficiently (Wi-Fi calling, for instance). Some of the apps, however, are bloatware—arguably useless programs that take up precious space without providing any useful functionality.
For the vast majority of users, an unlocked phone is essentially identical to its carrier-locked counterpart. Do a bit of research before you buy to make sure your new phone works properly with your carrier, and you could save some serious dough on your next upgrade.
If you’ve already purchased your phone from a carrier and you wish you’d grabbed the unlocked version, don’t fret: Thanks to the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, once you’ve paid for your phone in full, you’re allowed to unlock it yourself.
10. You’re sticking with the apps that came preloaded on your phone.
One of the major advantages of the Android operating system is its open design; anyone can make an Android app for virtually any purpose. While Apple users are stuck within the confines of iOS, that’s not true for Android folks.
Of course, if you move from iOS to Android, you might not realize that certain phone features can be changed. For instance, the Galaxy S7 and S8 feature a “Bixby button,” a physical key that brings up Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant. That’s all well and good, but Bixby is…well, pretty awful. It doesn’t work nearly as well as alternatives like Google Assistant, but out of the box, there’s no way to remap the button to trigger other apps.
Download an app like bxActions, however, and you can make that button trigger Google Assistant, turn on your phone’s flashlight, activate silent mode, or basically perform any other action.
The Android operating system opens up a lot of powerful features for users adventurous enough to find them. Download Tasker, and you can set up actions that trigger under certain circumstances—for instance, your phone can automatically turn WiFi off when you leave the house, or play a certain song when you leave work.
“iOS is arguably a more stable operating system, but Android is certainly more powerful for advanced users,” Carmitchel says. “But the vast majority of phone users only install a few third-party apps, so they miss out on those features.”
To get even more out of your Android, check out all our tips and tricks here.