Three new year resolutions to keep your phone and tablet running like new

Mobile gear is best when it's functioning properly, and the new year is a good time to get it working smoothly.

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It's the time of year when thoughts turn to making life changes. While new year resolutions are usually aimed at lifestyle changes, it is wise to look at other areas that could make a difference.

It may not be obvious, but improving the experience of using mobile gear can make a positive difference, and doesn't require a big effort. These resolutions will get phones and tablets running in good order.

1. Get more out of the battery

Over time, any gadget with a rechargeable battery gets less run time per charge. This is the nature of batteries, and how they are used can play a role in delivering less battery life. A simple check will often show that one or more apps are draining the battery rapidly when running.

Fortunately, iOS and Android provide an easy method to find out if an app is grabbing a lot of power. In iOS 8 under Settings | General | Usage there is a Battery Usage selection that brings up a list of all apps and how much battery they are draining.

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Battery use per app -- iOS 8 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The list is in descending order, from most battery use to less, and it shows the percentage of battery used by each app in either the past 24 hours or the last seven days. It can be surprising that apps that don't seem like they'd hit the battery hard are often the biggest culprits.

Android has a similar feature in the settings. Exactly where you'll find it depends on the version of the OS your phone or tablet is running.

Once you find the apps that are sipping too often from the power trough, there are several things you can do to rectify the situation. For apps that are only mildly of interest, it may be worth deleting them and finding a similar app that is easier on the battery. Apps that are important and can't be replaced will require another solution.

Look in the app's settings and see if there is something you can change to make it have less impact on the battery. This often can be something to do with how the app runs in the background when it's not being actively used. Location services can be such a setting. On the iPhone or iPad you can turn off the ability to use location services (under the Privacy setting) while the app is not being used, for every app installed. Note that this may impact the experience of using the app.

2. Prune the apps

If you are like most people, the low cost of mobile apps makes it easy to install apps you want to try. You may have hundreds of apps you've installed over time, many of which you don't ever use.

Even if you have lots of memory on your phone or tablet, now's a good time to free up as much as you can. A good rule of thumb is to get rid of any app you haven't used in a month or more.

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(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

On iOS devices simply find the app you don't want and tap and hold the icon on the home screen. When the icons start shimmying and the 'X' appears, just tap it and then confirm that you want to remove the app when asked.

On Android go to the settings for applications and when the list of all installed apps appears find the one you want. Tap it and on the next screen find the control to delete it and tap it.

It may take a while the first time you do this, but go through all of the apps and uninstall them one at a time if they meet the 'month or more' criteria. Take note of the total storage memory that is free before and after the deletion session. How much memory you recover may be quite large.

3. Clean the screen

The first thing you do when you pull out your phone or tablet is tap the screen, and you keep doing that the entire time you use it. It doesn't take long until even the smudges on the screen have smudges on them.

If you are like most people, you can hold your device up to the light when it's turned off and see a black screen that is covered with the residue of thousands of touches. Even though you can't see them with the device turned on, these smudges do impact the sharpness of the display if it gets dirty enough.

Odds are there are lots of bacteria and microbes living in those smudges. You certainly don't want that.

Get a screen cleaning cloth which you can find almost anywhere, and get that display smudge-free. There's also cleaning spray that will make the screen sparkle. Your eyes will thank you.

For work or play

Now that you've gotten your phone or tablet in great shape, make an effort to do these simple things from time to time. That's the resolution part, to keep the gadget purring all year.

This is good for both personal devices and those used for work. It's like performing the scheduled maintenance on your car, it keeps things running smoothly. Once you do it the first time, subsequent maintenance is quick and easy.

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