Task killers and memory cleaners can actually do more harm than good and you should stop using them

Ever since Android picked up, some 4-5 years ago, and both users and developers started flocking around its open platform of freedom, love, and pink, beautiful flowers, a certain class of apps started popping up that have since been popular for all the wrong reasons – namely, the auto task killers, memory cleaners, optimizers, et cetera shenanigans. You shouldn't really use these, neither should it bother you that your handset's RAM is constantly at 90% capacity. But let us explain why.

The whole myth comes from a misunderstanding of how and why mobile operating systems use RAM – usually, users make an analog between that and the RAM on a Windows-powered PC, where we've been taught for decades that more free RAM is always better. See, there's a difference between how PCs handle RAM and how mobile devices do, and these differences come from the developers' own idea of how the respective device should work.

How a Windows PC treats RAM

So, here's just the condensed basics, to help anyone who's hazy on the subject understand this argument better. RAM (random-access memory) can be viewed as a blazing fast temporary storage unit, which was introduced in computers back in the day, in order to help them keep currently running programs' resources easily accessible, rather than having to re-load them for every action the user takes. For example, if you open up a browser and add its first tab, this first process will be a bit slower. However, once booted, it will load the resources needed for new tab creation in the RAM and your second tab will open almost instantly. Furthermore, now that your browser is in the RAM, the PC's processor and hard drive have a lot of load taken off their back and you can freely open other programs, while the browser is still fully functional – either in a window, or minimized.

Since personal computers are supposed to be able to do a lot of multitasking, your PC will keep all of your currently open programs running at all costs, even if it runs out of memory. When you launch a program, which needs more RAM than what the system currently has free, Windows will start making a swap file on the computer's hard disk – unloading whatever information from the RAM it deems to be low priority in said file. Once there is some free room in the RAM, or if the user chooses to use one of the programs, whose data has been “swapped”, the OS will export the data from the swap file and put it back / replace it with something else in the memory.

Sounds slow and tedious, doesn't it? Well, that's why users try to keep their PCs' RAM high and unwanted usage to a minimum, killing unneeded processes, and keeping a keen eye on rogues. Ultimately, Windows will attempt to keep everything on your PC running, even if it slows it down to a halt, which is the reason why "close unused programs" is a PC user's mantra.

Android keeps RAM full by design

Now, Android deals with the situation differently. It is a platform that is designed to run quick-access, glance-friendly apps, most of which are supposed to stay in a semi-active state most of the time, in order to be able to receive notifications and present them to the user in a timely manner. Right from launch, Android will attempt to load up all the apps that it thinks you will want to glance at in its memory. So, if you set up your email app, Facebook + Facebook Messenger, Vine, Twitter, Viber, WhatsApp, Hangouts, Evernote, etc., try as you might to terminate them – you will not be able to. Sure, you may close the apps themselves, which will unload resources from the memory and cache, but you should not attempt to close, nor be bothered by, the ever-running processes behind these apps. By design, they can't, and shouldn't, be killed, unless you just uninstall them.

As far as resource management goes – you leave this to Android. As previously mentioned, Google's OS will fill up about 80 - 90% of your memory with whatever it deems worthy. However, if it happens to need memory (for example – the user launches a large game), Android will terminate the lowest priority processes without mercy – it does not matter whether an app is responding or not, it will go "bye bye" instantly, with its state nicely tucked away in a temp file, so the next time the user opens it, the app will (or at least – should) open in the same state it was when last viewed.

Android doesn't do swap files, it doesn't try to keep everything running, because it has limited space to work with, and because slowing down user experience on a smartphone is a big no-no. Therefore, a process on an Android-powered phone has two states – "running" or "sent to oblivion".

So, when you install a task killer, or worse – an auto task killer – what you are doing is stopping processes, which will immediately boot up again, because that's their job. An auto task killer will keep this cycle ever-going in the background, so while you think that you've freed some RAM and your device should be feeling free as a butterfly, it is in fact being choked by having to close and relaunch all of the aforementioned apps over and over again.

It's worth to mention that, yes, some lower-end smartphones will struggle to run certain large games or apps, and a deficit of RAM will force such processes to auto-close (a.k.a. crash, return to home screen). Opening up a task manager or app killer and stopping some processes in such situations will allow the user to squeeze out some extra 75 MB of RAM, allowing the game some wiggle room, giving the illusion that the plan to close apps has worked. But this does not make it a fix for the general issue – sooner or later, the phone will need its resources back and Android will do what it does. Low-end phones are not meant for memory-hungry tasks, just as low-end computers are not meant to play Assassin's Creed. Various hacks and mods may bring you close to a semi-desired result, but in the end – reality is what it is – a cruel mistress.

Now, there is the case of the random rogue app, which uses up resources for no apparent reason, and let's say you are put in a situation, where you don't have the option to delete said app (because of reasons) – killing the app might not help, as it may start itself up again at any random moment. You can try hibernating it with a tool like Greenify, which will disallow Android to open it at will.

So, how do I optimize my phone?

Ultimately, if you wish to keep your device optimized, just keep a good mind on how many apps you keep installed on the thing. Do you need all of them? Does your phone have the resources to deal with them? A 1 GB-equipped handset should only be loaded up with the very basics if you wish to ensure smooth play. Cleaning your cache (“junk” cleaning apps) once in a while may help too, but please keep in mind – only once every couple of months or so, just to make sure that any residue from old, unoptimized apps isn't lingering around. Otherwise, cleaning your cache often will bear a pretty similar effect to RAM cleaning – everything will be loaded back up in it in the matter of seconds.

Are you a tidy-as-Virgo RAM-cleaner? Try going for a week without the “optimization” apps, see how that affects your phone.



2. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

My 1 GB iPhone is fully loaded with apps and it has the smoothest play everytime I use it so I don't know what do you mean when you say load it with "very basics".

5. kozza3

Posts: 778; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

Good for you, we weren't talking about iPhones...

10. VigneshRaja

Posts: 49; Member since: Dec 17, 2014

He is basically a iSheep

38. saucexD

Posts: 62; Member since: Jan 20, 2015

Being a D wont make yours any bigger.

57. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I see no indication that this article is destined to Android only; if so, I apologize.

61. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

Its ok. There are areas where iPhone are better suited for some people. I prefer Android which give access to low level api so developer and user can play with memory optimisation in the first place. Come up with interesting way to custom their devices using things like launcher and floating widgets which are not available in iOS yet.

63. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I like those too but not on my phone.

11. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

iOS just has a much more agressive memory management system than Android. It pretty much kills eveything that is not running in the foreground after a few seconds, while Android trys to keep things on memory for longer, so you can go back to those apps faster. It's just a different approach on memory management.

41. varuntis1993

Posts: 49; Member since: Jun 13, 2012

I guess it doesn't kill them but pauses them in the background and use swap like feature of windows.

54. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

It actually kills them, and puts the status in some files to easily recover the later. That's waht TyrionLannister said: if you go back to Safari all pages need to reload, it still remembers what pages you were visiting (URLs were saved) but the application was kicked out of memory (killed). In Android the status is called as Destroyed.http://developer.android.com/training/basics/activity-lifecycle/starting.html The system calls this method on your activity as the final signal that your activity instance is being completely removed from the system memory.

58. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I have 50 apps in my multitask system. Every app I switch to instantly shows it's content so, either OS is very fast, getting the data out of the swap someone is talking about, or the data is already in it's RAM memory (because, I repeat, the app shows data almost instantaneously. edit: I believe Safari is suppose to reload pages because Chrome for iOS, for instance, doesn't reload.

70. nimd4

Posts: 9; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Not sure if comments can be edited, but I can tell you that data isn't (already) RAM memory. ;-P

13. TyrionLannister unregistered

Open 4 tabs in safari. Close safari. Open another app(say facebook) and use it for 4-5 minutes Go to safari again. Voila. Every page loads again. And that's why i got iPad air 2 as the 2 GB RAM is good enough for iOS.

17. refillable

Posts: 1071; Member since: Mar 10, 2014

Tl:dr. New '1GB ram' iPhones are still more or as expensive as the Android flagships.

71. nimd4

Posts: 9; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Ofc., it's a rip-off.

18. buccob

Posts: 2968; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

This article is about Multitasking capable phones...

26. wilsong17 unregistered

how many of those app just close on you without giving you a notice..

59. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Almost none. Let's say 1-2 /100 3rd party apps (never system apps - except in 8.0.X), once a month.

69. remsammi

Posts: 12; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Crossy Road does. Google Hangouts does. Goat Simulator does. Infinity Blade 3 does. The browser constantly unloads tabs. App previews will sometimes show thumbnails of things I was doing a day earlier (despite using the app plenty since then).

68. remsammi

Posts: 12; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

I have an iPad. With 1GB memory, it forgot I was playing Goat Simulator when I jumped out for a moment to respond to my boyfriend's message (even used the four-finger swipe). Low RAM blows chunks on iPads.

4. Mfa901

Posts: 291; Member since: Jul 14, 2012

Totally agree

7. phil2n

Posts: 519; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

I don't use task and memory cleaner, I only go to settings > RAM Manager > Clear Memory. end of discussion!

24. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3137; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

What happens if you forget to do so after a few days? For better or worse, all of us here are tech aficionados so we know how to use our phones properly. The average consumer doesn't, and shouldn't, have to know these things. All they know is that after a few weeks their Android is slow and laggy.

28. wilsong17 unregistered

A simple restart will fix that

29. sorcio46

Posts: 435; Member since: Jul 27, 2011

That is a built in task killer... so it's useless

8. tacarat

Posts: 854; Member since: Apr 22, 2013

I use clean master on my kid's cheapie phone. If you're rooted it gives some nice options like start up management and space clearing (before I finally got around to buying her a micro SD card). We don't use the RAM clearing option.

72. nimd4

Posts: 9; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Yeah, still missing from that OS: an application, or a way to (easily) manage start-up programs (w/o rooting, ofc.); like teh CCleaner, on PC, for example.

9. dy246

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 21, 2015

What about the problematic Google Services Framework? 75% of the time, nlp wake lock keeps my phone awake and drains battery while my Note 4 is on standby

12. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

I have been telling this in the comments for years. Glad to see someone explaining in detail why killing services in Android is not only a waste of time but it actually backfires.

14. mbp432

Posts: 50; Member since: Nov 13, 2014

What about all the crap Samsung puts on their phones, I use greenify for all the apps I absolutely will never use and can't uninstall because nobody has found a root for the Verizon Note 4.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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