What is Bloatware and why is it bad? Bloatware are apps that come preloaded onto your phone, that you not only did not ask for, do not need and will not use, but that you also cannot remove. You might think that bloatware is benign, but you would be incorrect. Bloatware can load when you start your phone. It runs in the background sucking up precious processing power, disk space, phone memory and battery power. These innocuous apps can drag the performance of your phone down to its knees, making your phone laggy and unresponsive. Bloatware can also introduce security holes into the phone, risking the owner’s personal information. Lenovo found this out very recently. From any owner’s viewpoint, bloatware is bad.
How much Bloatware is on my phone? You can remove bloatware from your phone but usually this is only possible for the technically savvy. After debloating three smartphones, 2 LGs and 1 Samsung, I estimate that up to 1/3d of all preloaded apps are bloatware. Take a 2 year old phone, debloat it, and it will perform better than new. As there are virtually no moving parts in a smartphone, this is desirable and possible.
wireless service provider
|Phone owner||Free advertising, subsidized phone, phone runs slower, phone is less secure|
|Phone Cost||phone owner||Phone manufacturer, wireless provider, 3d party app companies||Phone is cheaper to buy, subsidized by advertising|
|Phone Performance||Phone owner||Phone runs slower|
3d party app companies
|Phone owner||App always present, Owner cannot delete app|
|Security||Phone manufacturer, 3d party app companies||Phone owner||Personal info at risk, cannot delete app|
|Planned Obsolescence||phone manufacturer, wireless phone provider||Phone owner||You’ll need a new phone in 1.5-2 years|
Smartphone manufacturers and their Bloatware: Most but not all phone manufacturers include bloatware. Google’s Nexus line is renown for producing clean phones. Motorola also has minimal bloatware, most of which can be removed. Motorola apps can also be downloaded from the Google Play store. Samsung, LG and Lenovo are very famous for copious amounts of bloatware loaded on their phones. Know what you are buying with these manufacturers. Bloatware is such an important issue that all phone reviews include their views on the subject. Recent reviews of the Asus Zenfone 2 show a technically impressive phone but loaded down with bloatware. Despite the technical advantages, these are nullified by the inclusion of bad software. The phone is not worth buying.
Preparing to Remove Bloatware: Smartphones are, in general, locked down to prevent tampering by owners. For most people this is an advantage because “A little knowledge is dangerous” that could damage your phone. This makes bloatware removal difficult. I’ll discuss the process of bloatware removal for Android phones.
Locked Phones: Phones on contract are often locked by the wireless carrier. This prevents the owner from moving to another carrier. Locked phones are usually bought at a lower retail price but is made up for with a higher monthly bill. Carriers do not want you to take the phone to another carrier without paying for the whole cost of the phone, so they lock it. Unlocking the phone can be done by the carrier when you contract is up (You need to pay them to do this, ridiculous I know), or you can get an unlock code from the Internet for $10. Thankfully this scam is going away. Under no circumstances should you buy a locked phone from carrier or anyone. Locked phones cannot be rooted until they are unlocked.
Rooting a phone: While you might be the phone purchaser and owner, the phone has safeguards in place so that you do not inadvertently disable or maim it. For most owners this is important. In contrast, a Windows-based machine does not have these safeguards. An inquisitive owner could inadvertently delete a critical file and kill his machine. This does not happen on an Android device. Rooting the phone gives the phone owner the ability to do self-harm. With this responsibility comes the advantage of more control over the phone’s software. Rooting will include an app called SuperSu, which can grant other apps special powers to change the phone system. You can also unRoot a phone. If you are a tinkerer but often screw stuff up (you know who you are), then do not root your phone. Rooting your phone will usually invalidate your warranty, but you can always unroot it.
Installing a Recovery tool: So you’ve rooted your phone. The next step is to install a recovery tool. This tool is a tool that, with the right combo of button pressing, will start before your usual phone software, thus interrupting the usual phone booting process. This tool allows you to do backups, restores, amongst other important jobs. All phones do not come with this tool. For Android the options are ClockWorkMod (CWM) or TeamWin Recovery Project (TWRP). I use CWM. Starting with a phone that is off, with the right combination of Vol- and Home and Power, CWM will start, instead of the phone’s normal boot process. Before you mess with the OS of the phone, you need a backup, so if you make a mistake you can restore your backup. CWM also allows you to change Read Only Memory, or ROMs. You can change the complete OS of your phone, if you wish, by changing the ROM. ROMs are available all over the internet, for free. There are people out there that enjoy making their own changes to their ROM, and if you like it, you can load these onto your phone. Of course there are increased risks to doing this, but also much fun to be had. If you have a backup of your original phone ROM but wish to play with another ROM, with CWM you can always switch back to your original without any problems.
Removing Bloatware: Once your phone is rooted, you’ve installed a recovery tool such as CWM and you’ve done a backup, you can remove bloatware. The technically simplest solution is to download the Titanium Backup app and pay $6 for the upgraded version. This app will allow you to freeze and unfreeze an app. When frozen the app will not load or run, thus reducing your bloatware.
Tips on Buying a New Phone
- Separate your wireless phone provider from your phone purchase. Find a wireless plan and then buy a phone from someone else. This prevents your wireless carrier from loading on their own bloatware. With this step you eliminated a source of bloatware.
- Find out what radio frequencies work with your wireless provider, then find a phone that uses those radio frequencies.
- Phone manufaacturer preferences: Google Nexus and Motorola load the least bloatware. Samsung is renown for lots. LG and Asus have their good share as well. You will need to root, CWM and debloat these phone manufacturer’s phones. This takes time and expertise. Do an internet search on how much bloatware is on the phone you want.
- Research how hard it will be to root and CWM a phone before you buy it. Some are harder than others. If the phone model comes with a locked bootloader, consider looking elsewhere. It can be a lot of trouble to unlock the bootloader, and may be impossible.
- Take a CWM backup and debloat if you can. After you debloat take another backup. Save this backup to a PC for safe keeping. If something bad happens you can do a full restore.
- Enjoy your phone.
ROMs Everywhere: ROMs are plentiful and numerous. In fact all phone manufacturers put out multiple ROMs for each phone. When there is a phone update over the air (OTA), they are using a new ROM. If you did not like the new changes you could revert your phone back to the previous ROM. There are phone manufacturer ROMs for different world locations, such as Canada, US, Europe, Asia. On top of this there are different phone manufacturer ROMs for different wireless carriers.
Locked Bootloader Similar to the lock that the wireless carrier can add, the phone manufacturer can lock the bootloader. This prevents you from loading a completely different ROM onto your phone. ROMs from the same phone manufacturer are usually Ok to load. Unlocking this bootloader is fraught with risk. With a locked bootloader you can still root the phone, install a recovery tool and load ROMs from the same phone manufacturer for your exact phone. While you cannot go crazy and install any ROM you wish, the advantage to a locked bootloader is that it is more difficult to royally screw up your phone. Some way, some how, with CWM you can get your phone back to being functional.