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Tech Lab

Your smartphone, maximized

My new HTC One smartphone features a deliciously lean and sleek aluminum case. But inside I found a sloppy-fat collection of unnecessary software that eats into the phone’s limited supply of memory. With no slot for adding extra memory, I want to economize.

The same goes for battery power. Like Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the One uses an unswappable battery, so I’m learning to make every watt count.

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Too bad AT&T Inc. stuffed the phone with useless “bloatware,” like its turn-by-turn navigation program, priced at $10 a month. Since Android phones do this for free, I don’t need this app, but there’s no “uninstall” option. Also, the latest version of Android is no lightweight, and phone maker HTC Corp. added its own custom features. In all, about 20 percent of my new phone’s 32 gigabytes of memory were already occupied before I switched it on.

The 10 million people who have bought Samsung Corp.’s best-selling Galaxy S4 have it even tougher. The S4 comes with just 16 gigs of memory — and over half of it is consumed by Android and bloatware.

The Galaxy S4 includes a slot for plugging in an extra memory card. But its Android­ software runs apps only when they’re installed in the phone’s built-in memory. So the add-on card is only good for storing music, photos, and the like. For apps, you get a little over 7 gigs — no more. After the BBC ran a critical TV report last week, Samsung pledged it would offer a slenderizing software update.

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While the major cellphone companies love to cram bloatware onto their Android phones, Apple Inc. has banned them from doing the same to the iPhone. It’s a good argument for sticking with Apple.

But Android loyalists will get a break June 26. That’s when Google will begin selling a “pure Android” version of the Galaxy S4. You’ll have to pay the full price of $649 upfront. That buys you an “unlocked” phone that will work on either the AT&T or T-Mobile US Inc. networks, and won’t contain a trace of bloatware.

For a cheaper alternative, Google already offers Nexus 4, made by LG Electronics and priced at $299 with 8 gigabytes of memory or $399 with 16 gigs. It lacks 4G LTE wireless networking and other high-end features, but it’s bloatware-free.

The rest of us must make the best of the memory we have. Start by deleting apps you don’t really need. And clear the cache. That’s where apps stash files they download for temporary use, like photos displayed by the phone’s browser. You can save hundreds of megabytes by simply erasing this cache regularly. A free app called Clean Master does a fine job of this.

Clean Master and many other programs also offer a “task killer” function that shuts down unused apps running in the background. These products work, but it’s unclear how much good they do. Many background apps come back to life as soon as they’re killed, gobbling up the memory you hoped to save. Still, you can completely shut down many popular apps, like the Chrome Web browser. You can use a task killer for the job, but both Androids and iPhones have multitasking windows that show what’s running, and let you switch off unneeded apps.

Both Androids and iPhones have lots of options for boosting battery life. Most of the time you don’t need the GPS navigation function, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth networking, or even the 3G or 4G data service. You can easily switch off any or all of these features.

Android phones come with an on-screen “widget” that lets you do that instantly. Or you can use a handy free app called Quick Settings, that also lets you dial back the brightness of the screen, which saves a lot of juice.

Another smart Android app called Battery Doctor offers preprogrammed usage modes based on the time of day. The phone can switch off Wi-Fi during your morning commute, for instance, then turn it back on at the office.

Do you really need to download e-mail every 15 minutes? If not, set the mail software on the iPhone or Android to update less frequently, or just do it manually as needed.

And turn off the constant incoming message notifications for Facebook and Twitter. All that beeping and buzzing can wear a battery out.

After all, my HTC has just one battery and 32 gigs of memory to last for the next two years. I plan to make the most of them.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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