How to fix the most common smartphone problems

Totally debugging.

Phone problems
Phone problems? You might be able to fix them yourself.Adrien/Unsplash and Leovinus/Pixabay

No one likes a faulty smartphone: When you keep more or less your whole life on a device, you need that gadget to keep functioning properly. Unfortunately, bugs, crashes, and other issues are inevitable, especially as your phone gets older. On the bright side, many of the most common issues have relatively simple fixes—which you can perform yourself.

Before you get started, a word of warning: You won't be able to fix every problem yourself. If these solutions don't do the trick, you might have to take your handset to a professional repair shop, or upgrade to a new model. But while you shouldn't tinker with your finely-tuned smartphone the way you would with, say, a car engine, you do have options. Here are some of the most common phone problems you'll encounter, and how to fix them.

A couple faulty apps

Even when glitches are only hitting one or two apps, they can slow down your entire phone. So start by figuring out whether your issues are happening with a lot of different apps or just a few. If it's the latter, you might be able to repair the situation by deleting the data that the problem programs store on your phone.

On Android, open Settings, go to Apps & notifications, then App info, choose the troublesome app, and tap Storage. Here, you have two options. For a first resort, choose Clear Cache to erase just the temporary files that the app stores on your phone (when these grow too numerous or become corrupted, they can mess with the app's speed and power). Clearing the cache won't mess with the app's settings, but it may not be enough to solve your issue. If it doesn't help, then select Clear Data to erase all of the app's information and start again from scratch. Clearing the data offers a more comprehensive option, but you may have to re-enter your information afterwards: If you do this for a social media app, for example, it will forget your username and password, so you'll need to log in again.

On iOS, you don't get the same data-clearing options. Instead, you must uninstall and reinstall your app. Find its icon on the home screen, press and hold it, and then tap the x symbol to uninstall it. Then find it in the App Store and reinstall it again. This will wipe all the locally stored data, letting the app boot up again from scratch.

The old uninstall-reinstall trick will also work on Android phones, if the clearing-data trick failed: Open your app directory, tap and hold on the app's icon, and drag it up to the Uninstall button. This method has the added advantage of making sure you're running the latest version of the app, which will have all the updated patches and bug fixes. Before you jump into uninstall-reinstall, however, you'll need to back up the app data, whether it's documents or high scores, if you want to get it back. Most apps can now store data in the cloud, but it can't hurt to double check.

If you're still experiencing issues with an app even after uninstalling and reinstalling it, it might be time to contact the developer directly with the details of your issue. Remember to include a thorough description and note the mobile device you're using. Developer contact details can usually be found on the app's online listing.

Widespread bugs

If issues keep appearing almost at random in all kinds of apps, you'll find it harder to pin down one root cause. Perhaps a hardware component is failing, or the device is overheating too often, or an upgrade didn't work correctly. But you don't need to diagnose your phone to fix it.

The old fallback of turning your device off and on again can solve a variety of problems. This works because it clears out everything in your phone's temporary memory. If a couple apps are making the whole phone go haywire, that might be enough to get your device working again.

If the phone has frozen and you can't power it off in the normal way, try a special hardware reset combination. To figure out just what buttons to press and hold in order to force a reset, look up your phone's make and model online. For example, Google's instructions for the Pixel are here, and Apple's instructions for different iPhone models are here.

If the off-and-on-again fail-safe fails, it's time to indulge in some detective work. Unexplained crashes can be caused by an overheating phone, so monitor its temperature while you're using and charging it. If it's often hot to the touch, the issue might lie with a faulty charger or a battery that's on its last legs.

A lack of local storage space can also cause random bugs and crashes, so check how much free room the device has. On Android, open Settings then head to Storage; on iOS, open Settings then tap General and iPhone Storage. If overcrowding is an issue, you need to make some room: Check out our guide to freeing up space on your phone.

As a last resort, consider resetting your whole phone back to its factory settings. If the problem still persists after that, you're probably looking at a hardware fault. To deal with that, scroll down to the Troubleshooting section below.

Poor battery life

Every smartphone owner struggles to some extent with battery life. But when your charge drops by half in just a couple of hours, you're in trouble. This can happen when a battery suffering from old age starts degrading fast. In this case, if you have an older phone, you should look at getting the battery professionally replaced. Or, if you're do for an upgrade, consider buying a new phone model and recycling your old one.

However, before you start researching new phones, try a few tricks to maximize your battery life. First, figure out if you can lay the battery drain blame on one or two apps. In Android or iOS, you can check this via the Battery entry in Settings. If you do identify a few energy hogs, remove them from your phone to see if the problem clears up. While you're poking around the Battery menu, you can access the special battery saver mode (called Battery saver on Androids and Low power mode on iPhones). Turning this on won't fix your underlying problems, but it can give you a bit more time between charges.

To extend battery life even further, at least temporarily, dim the brightness of the display or put the phone in airplane mode periodically. Location tracking can also drain your battery—switch it off in Android in Settings > Location and in iOS in Settings > Privacy and Location Services.

Poor reception

Don't blame your phone if it's having networking issues that make it difficult to connect to Wi-Fi or catch a cellular signal. The culprit could be external. Are you in a notorious dead spot where no one can get any signal? If you're at home, are other devices struggling to connect to the web? You might need to focus your troubleshooting on something other than your handset.

A call to your carrier or Internet Service Provider—if you can bear it—could be the next step in trying to get everything working again. They will know more about the issues specific to your phone and service. Alternatively, try a quick web search using the make and model of your phone, and the name of your carrier or internet provider. You might well find solutions from people who've had the same problem as you.

If you've determined that your phone is truly at fault, then start with a simple reboot. This resets all your phone's wireless connections and establishes them again from the beginning. If you'd rather not turn your phone off and on again, try putting it in airplane mode and then turning the mode off—this will have pretty much the same effect.

For persistent issues, make sure you're running the most recent version of your mobile operating system. This will have the latest bug fixes and be ready to work with the latest settings from your carrier or router. If you've been putting off an operating-system update, then deal with it now.

If both the reset and the update fail, you've exhausted your home-repair options. Connectivity is one of those features that should "just work," so if it doesn't, then you may be looking at a faulty phone, a damaged SIM card, or a problem with the network itself. If the issue started suddenly, and not because you altered any settings on your phone, it's more likely that it's not your phone to blame. In this case, you'll definitely want to call the experts at your phone's manufacturer or your service provider.

Troubleshooting other issues

If you're having problems that aren't specifically mentioned here, you might be able to dig up some solutions online. Just be sure to choose specific keywords that include your type of phone and the exact problem that's plaguing it. Otherwise, you'll encounter thousands of results of varying relevance.

Beyond that, your last resort can be a full reset of your phone. This process returns your phone back to its original factory state, so if it's still buggy after that, then you're probably looking at a faulty or failing hardware part. Resetting a phone isn't too difficult—just be sure to back up all your important information first, because the reset will wipe all of it. Our guide to backing up data should help you here.

On the most recent versions of stock Android, you need to head to Settings, then tap System and Reset. Hit Factory data reset then confirm your choice. You'll see a brief summary of what's going to get wiped before the process starts. For more details, including some tips on back-ups, look at Google's official guide. If you're using a non-stock version of Android, then the procedure might vary slightly, but the reset option should be easy to find in Settings.

On iOS devices, you need to open Settings, go to General and Reset, then tap Erase All Content and Settings. You'll need to enter your passcode or Apple ID and password to confirm your choice. Apple has a comprehensive guide here another one here if you want to reset your phone using iTunes on a computer.

Remember ,you'll need to know your Google or Apple account details to set up the phone from scratch again. And if you've enabled two-step verification on your accounts, you'll need a backup method for verifying your identity—something that doesn't involve your recently-wiped phone. It might sound like a fiddly process, but it won't take too much time. Ultimately, the factory reset is the most comprehensive option for fixing a range of persistent device bugs and issues.