Since working from home due to the global pandemic, I finally had the time to work on a project I've been thinking about for some time in the form of spring cleaning my Android smartphone, optimizing its performance and getting better battery life. With that being said, the tips below were tested on the T-Mobile variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro running Android 11 but many if not all features should be available if you're running Android 10 or 11.
- Sort your homescreen / app drawer alphabetically - While recent headway has been made into having better smart app sorting based on usage, I still find it faster for me to find and open an app if they're sorted alphabetically. I've also seen quite a few instances where people keep their apps wherever their phone sets the shortcut after installation then have trouble finding it when needed. In many cases, by pinching in or long pressing on your homescreen will get you to the Settings shortcut where the change can be made. If the option isn't available for your device, many 3rd party launchers like Nova Launcher offer this kind of sorting, especially for the app drawer so you can leave your homescreen free for frequently used apps and widgets.
- Spring clean your apps in winter - This goes without saying but uninstalling apps you don't use will not only help battery life but improve phone performance and reduce background syncing so internet performance should improve as well. My rule of thumb is to uninstall apps I don't use at least once every 2 weeks or so but if I haven't used it in around 3 months, then I really need to uninstall it. It of course goes without saying to save your login info if you plan to use the service at some point or end up using it in the future but deactivate it if you don't plan use it anymore.
- Change your default browser - While Google Chrome is a pretty good browser for maintaining bookmarks, password saving and syncing from your smartphone and desktop, many websites have lots of trackers, ads and a generally poor UI. While having ads isn't necessarily bad, if the load time is slow, a pop-up asks to approve cookie choices and ads get in the way of content, it steers me away from the site. To that end, the DuckDuckGo browser seems to have fixed that. While it doesn't block ads that don't track the user, it does block those that do along with blocking general site trackers which fix the issues I noted earlier. If you don't use Chrome to maintain your passwords and search history, then setting the DuckDuckGo app as your default browser is the end of the process. If you do use Chrome for such things, still set the DuckDuckGo app as your default browser but one has to remember to create accounts in Chrome so the login info can be saved. The benefit here is that DuckDuckGo recognizes saved logins in Chrome so trackers can continue to be blocked. I haven't tested this process with services like 1password or LastPast but I presume they should work as well.
- Setup DuckDuckGo's App Tracking Protection - A feature added in 2021 is a something DuckDuckGo calls App Tracking Protection to mimic an iOS feature for Android to block trackers across your device. It is currently in beta and I only got access to it on December 31 but seeing how many trackers it blocked over 3 days has been very eye opening. If you choose not to uninstall apps, this feature will definitely come in handy but using this feature along with uninstalling apps should yield some good results. I'm still testing potential battery benefits but so far I haven't noticed any additional battery drain by using this feature. From the screenshot for this post, by using this for only a couple days, it's blocked over 5,000 trackers. I recommend getting access to the beta test of this feature for the reason to test your apps to ensure they all work by the time it goes public but also get rid of any apps that are potentially really bad or you find have more trackers than you're comfortable with. For example, I'm in a bit of a conundrum with the FitBit app as I use it to sync my watch to the app but I rest easy now knowing that their trackers are being blocked.
- Setup a Private DNS - One of the easiest internet performance features I like using is the Private DNS feature introduced around the time of Android 9 at least. By setting this, internet speed feels more smooth and responsive compared to the default of whichever provider I am using that doesn't block this feature. To set it up, go into Settings, WiFi & Network, then Private DNS. First select 'Private DNS Provider hostname,' then select a DNS provider. I prefer Google DNS (dns.google) and CloudFlare DNS (1dot1dot1dot1.cloudflare-dns.com) but there are many others available if you want to use another one. Once you've selected the one you like, switch the mode to 'Automatic' so if a Wifi or mobile network allows a Private DNS, it will automatically use your preferred choice of DNS but if not, it won't use it. This way you as a user don't have to go in an manually change it every time.
Odds and Ends
One of the oddest things I found in my testing of App Tracking Protection is that it didn't find any Facebook trackers with Twitter yielding fewer than 10-20 over the course of a day. On the flip side, by uninstalling their apps and using their mobile websites in DuckDuckGo, I save about 7-15% of battery drain so it seems their official apps are bloated but their mobile app tracking isn't currently too bad. I've also turned of personalized ads and open linked sites in my default browser so I think that's a win-win for me. Additionally, using their mobile sites works nicely for me since I don't use a lot of their extra features like stickers and Spaces. I put this review here just because performance may vary for you but I like having my battery drain a lot less but also gain improved performance because doing a day over day test of using their apps vs mobile sites makes me glad I don't use their official apps.