Tools to keep your Android phone speedy and powered up

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by Kevin Purdy - Android phones, like Verizon's Droid, Sprint's Hero, and Google's own Nexus One, can pull off all kinds of unique tricks. Running multiple applications at once or in the background, translating your words to text, and navigating like a full GPS unit--they're all pretty amazing, but they take their toll on battery life and phone memory. These tools let you pull more life and speed from your gung-ho Android.

[ See also: 50 smartphone blogs: A whirlwind tour of iPhone, Android and BlackBerry sites ]

First things first, head to the Market application from your phone's application tray and install TasKiller Free. Head back to your application tray and launch it. You'll see a list of every process running on your system that you can theoretically live without. Hit the button up top with the red android-like icon, and TasKiller kills everything except itself. Want to keep your Music or some other app free from TasKiller's shoot-first temperament? When it's loaded, head to TasKiller, click and hold on its icon, and choose "Ignore," and TasKiller will spare it from future killings. For much easier access, press and hold on an empty spot on your home screen, select to add a Widget, and scroll down to select the widget simply labeled "TasKiller." It's a single icon that, every 5 seconds, updates with the number of apps running and the amount of memory left free, turning from white to green to red as more apps take their space. There are other, larger TasKiller widgets available, but keep that single, all-purpose de-clogger handy.

As far as battery life goes, unless you're an avid mobile gamer, the biggest drains on your battery are likely 3G and Wi-Fi data transmission. That can't be helped when you actually need your phone, but when you're heading into a stretch where all you really need is the ability to pick up voice calls, SMS, and maybe a rare picture message, you don't need a full data connection. APNdroid turns your phone's cellular net connection on and off, without killing your calls and SMS. Like TasKiller, APNdroid is best used through a small home screen widget that acts as a simple on/off switch. When you're heading into the office--where, admit it, you've probably got access to your personal email anyways--or need to squeeze out every last bit of life, it's a real performer.

Those are both really nice tools, but they require you to be a kind of smartphone custodial service. Locale automates almost every major on/off switch on your phone, in ways that make you feel like you're living in a small slice of the future. You first set up possible "conditions" for your phone, like being in a certain area (based on GPS or Wi-Fi triangulation), having low battery life, or it being a certain time. Now attach some settings to those conditions. When the battery gets low, you can dim the screen, turn off Wi-Fi and GPS, and even activate APNdroid. When you're not at home or the office and your battery's okay, have GPS turn right back on.

Dig through your Android phone's settings, especially the wireless & networks, sound & display, and accounts & sync sections, to find more options you might not need or can downgrade, like switching to 2G/EDGE-only or turning off data roaming to prevent your phone from wearing itself out searching for coverage in spotty areas. If that's a frequent occurrence, consider installing No Signal Alert, which tips you off to loss of cellular signal through a variety of means you can pick and choose. When it goes off and you're not expecting a crucial call, consider turning your phone off, or activating "Airplane Mode"--you wouldn't want to cut off your access to Retro Defense, after all.

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