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3 Free Technology Fix-It ‘Miracles’ and Why They Work

Slow device? Try these cures before heading for repairs

a computer and a magic wand
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If your phone or computer has gotten way too sluggish and you don’t know what to do, the good news is the easiest quick fix in the world won’t cost you a cent.

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And it works most of the time. Call it a miracle: Just turn the machine off and on.

If the problem doesn’t go away, reach for miracle No. 2: Delete stuff and make room on the hard drive inside your device.

Finally, the fix of last resort, miracle No. 3, is clearing the browser cache. If you don’t approach it with finesse, this one could sign you out of sites and get rid of stored passwords and other data you probably use daily. That’s why it’s last on the list.

1. Why rebooting a device works

Let’s start with why miracle No. 1, a restart, saves the day 9 times out of 10.

“There’s all sorts of code that gets backed up during normal usage,” and turning the machine on and off does a reset, says Tim Bajarin, a longtime industry analyst and president of San Jose-based Creative Strategies consumer technology research. He reboots his computers, both Windows and Macs, at least once every two weeks whether or not anything is wrong with them.

“I just like to reset the system to make them perform better,” he says. The same goes for a smartphone, really a supercomputer in your pocket that is way more powerful than the PCs we bought just 10 years ago.

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Ditto for your internet router at home. Most often, when you call your internet provider for answers to a problem, this will be the first thing the customer service representative will ask you to do.

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Leave it off for 30 seconds, then start it up again. If you still have internet problems, make that phone call.

2. Delete files, apps to create room to grow

With miracle No. 2, delete, the more storage you eat up on your computer or phone, the more likely it is to take up additional resources you’re using already and slow things down. The operating system needs room to operate, right?

Running out of room also prevents you from taking new photos or videos, downloading apps or documents, and autosaving documents. But how do you find out if you need to clean up your device?

smartphone storage
An iPhone, left, and an Android smartphone have similar ways of showing you how much space you have left.
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• iPhone and iPad. Find the Settings app on your home screen or search for it in your app library. Go to General | [iPhone or iPad] Storage and you’ll discover immediately how much room you have.

For example, if you have a phone with 256 gigabytes (GB) of storage and you see that you’ve used 250 GB, it’s time to start deleting. Most current iPhones start with 128 GB of storage, while the iPhone 11 had half that capacity. With high-resolution photos and videos and apps that may increase in size as they get updated for new features and security patches, space goes fast.

In Settings, Apple shows you where the culprits are, usually in photos and videos first, then apps and downloaded podcasts you never used or listened to. You can start deleting directly from the Settings app or open an app directly to send an item to the trash can.

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• Android phones, which include Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixels, have a similar tool. Go to Settings | Storage. From there, you’ll see how much room you have and what you need to get rid of. Many Android phones have a Free up space button to send you to the phone’s Files app, where you’ll see cleanup suggestions, such as deleting big attachments, screen shots and unused apps. Other Androids will show you duplicate and large files as you scroll down on the same screen.

• Macintosh computers direct you to the About This Mac section, which can be accessed by clicking the Apple icon on the top left of the screen, and selecting the third option, Storage. Here you’ll find broad categories to check on and clicking the Manage button lets you move files to iCloud and suggests ways you can delete files you no longer need by setting some rules going forward.

• On Windows computers, from the Start menu, select Start | Settings | System | Storage. Then open Cleanup Recommendations. Microsoft will suggest files synced to the cloud, temporary files, unused apps and unused files you might want to ditch. Then select Clean up to make room.

3. Clearing the cache gets rid of tracking info

Miracle No. 3 is a different method of deleting, cleaning the browser cache of your computer, phone or tablet. When we surf the Internet, we pick up “cookies” and other tracking data that follow us around.

At some point, these pieces of code start messing with each other and slowing us down. One way to get the system back to the way it was is by deleting the cookies and other data.

The most popular browsers have a Remove all button or its equivalent, which makes the task easy. But just remember that unless you customize your cache clearing, you will lose your stored passwords and history and you’ll be starting afresh.

In Google Chrome, the most used browser, this setting is in the privacy section. On a computer or Android phone, look at the menu under the three vertical dots  at the upper right corner of your screen; on an iPhone, look for the three horizontal dots  in the lower right corner. Then choose Settings | Privacy and security | Clear browsing data.

On the Safari browser for Mac computers, click the Safari pull down menu in the upper left of your screen | Preferences | Privacy | Manage Website Data | Remove All to delete stored cookies and data. You can’t do the same on your iPhone or iPad. Instead, go to Settings | Safari | Clear History and Website Data for a big cleanup.

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