If you're like us, you use your phone as a replacement PC, camera, gaming device, sat nav, iPod and more. Smartphones are tasked with storing your photos, music, contacts, calendars, emails, and plenty else besides. It's not surprising then that over time they can get sluggish and run out of storage space. Here's how to spring clean your smartphone in a few easy steps. See also: 20 best phones you can buy right now.
A spring clean is a good way to speed up your phone's performance, free up some space, or even change the look and feel. As the user interfaces on phones varies a great deal from model to model, we'll be using general principles rather than specific instructions, but you should find each one works on your device, be it an Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry or iPhone.
Spring clean your smartphone: Backup your data
Before you begin any clean up it's best to backup your data. Follow either this guide for Android, Windows Phone or this one on our sister site Macworld for an iPhone. Once you know all of your data is safely stored elsewhere you can get to work clearing out your phone.
Spring clean your smartphone: Remove photos and videos
The biggest space-hogger on many phones is the camera roll, especially if you take lots of videos. Even if you have your snaps synced to iCloud, Dropbox, Google Photos, OneDrive, or any number of online storage services, the chances are that you still have the originals on your device. To delete them navigate to the Photos or Gallery app, then it's usually a simple case of either a long press on an individual image, then tapping the Bin icon. Or for groups of images choosing Select (Windows, iPhone) or tapping the three dots option and then Select from the drop down menu (Android), then tapping each image and finally tapping the Bin icon.
Spring clean your smartphone: Clear out old apps
The app store can be a tempting place with its new games, useful tools, and various life-enhancing offerings. But, after a while those shiny apps can be relegated to the back pages of your phone, or moved into folders of seldom used distractions. Take the opportunity now to rid yourself of these space-sucking failures.
Even if you think you might want to use an app at some point in the future, remember that you can always download it again for free from the app store. Purchases are tied to your account, so you won't have to pay again.
To delete an app on Android open up your app menu then long press the app icon until you see an option at the top of the screen for Uninstall. Now drag the icon up to that option and let go. Windows Phone is very similar, only you don't have to drag the icon to the Uninstall option, but just tap it instead. iPhone users only need to long press the app icon until it starts to wobble, then tap the X that appears to delete the app.
Spring clean your smartphone: Clear your cache
When you visit a website on your phone's browser, data is cached so that the site will load quicker next time. Periodically clearing this can give you a little more space in the memory, and in some cases improve performance. On Android you can clear the cache by going to Settings>Apps>selecting an app and then tapping the Clear Cache option. For iOS you can try Settings>Safari>Clear History and Website Data. On Windows Phone open Internet Explorer, tap the three dots in the bottom right corner, then select Settings>Delete History.
Spring clean your smartphone: Check your Location settings
Battery life can deteriorate over the life of a phone. It's always best then to keep on top of what demands are actually being put upon your handset. Location services can be a power drain, not to mention privacy concern, so we recommend maintaining them every so often. On Android you'll find them in Settings>Location, but at the moment there is no granular control, so Location is either off or on for everything, which isn't ideal. The same is true on Windows Phone, but with both platforms you can always uninstall the app, reinstall it, and then refuse permission for location services when you are first prompted. On iOS you have the option to offer particular apps access to the location services. To find these go to Settings>Privacy>Location services, then choose which apps you want to access to this feature.
Spring clean your smartphone: Clearing out your downloads folder on Android
If you find you're running a little short on space, then a good place to look first is the downloads folder on Android. Whenever you tap on a link to a PDF file or grab an image you want to add as a wallpaper it usually goes into the Downloads folder. This can build up quickly, using valuable space as more things accrue. To empty the contents simply open up your app menu (usually tapping the grid of squares on the home screen dock) then select Downloads. Inside you'll find the various items stored on your device. Some devices will allow you to delete everything in one go (usually via the three dots menu option), while others will require you to long press on one item, then tap to select all the ones you want to delete, and finally tap on the Bin icon. Remember that if you're using a wallpaper, ringtone, or other file, then you will want to keep it, as it most likely isn't stored anywhere else on your phone.
Spring clean your smartphone: Try a new launcher on Android
If you are bored of the way your phone looks, then Android has a unique feature called launchers, which allows you to change the whole visual style of your handset. Visit the Google Play store and search for launchers (Google Now & Nova are our current favourites), then follow the instructions and you'll have a sparkly new oblong in no time.
Spring clean your smartphone: Reset your phone
If you really want to clear the decks and start again, then reseting your device is the most radical option. This will clear out all data and apps, taking you back to how the phone was when it first arrived. Obviously you'll want to ensure that everything is backed up before you begin this non reverseable process. On Android go to Settings>Backup & Reset>Factory Data Reset. For iPhone's you'll need to go to Settings>General>Reset>Erase all Content and Settings; while on Windows Phone the process is Settings>About Phone>Reset your phone. Once the reset is completed you'll be able to reinstall your apps, set up your accounts, and start again - hopefully this time with a smooth, fast, and spacious device.