When Google first debuted Android 4.4 KitKat on October 31st 2013 there was something extremely different about the operating system hiding beneath the surface. It’s called ART, which stands for Android Runtime, and below we’ll explain how to enable it to instantly speed up your Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, Note 3, or any other Android 4.4 KitKat device.
Android smartphones and tablets are pretty fast and fluid these days, especially ones with powerful quad-core processors and 2GB of RAM. However, users are always trying to get every last bit of performance from their devices, not to mention this quick change to ART could drastically improve battery life at the same time.
Below we’ll briefly explain what ART is and why it’s so important, what it will be replacing in Android 4.5 (or 5.0) L that was revealed last week at Google I/O, and how to enable it on the device you own right now to start reaping the benefits early.
Android 4.4 was the first version of Android to see ART although Google’s confirmed it will be the default system used in Android with the next release coming this fall. So what is it and why is this so important? It’s a bit technical but we’ll try to explain it in a simple fashion, then show you how to change to it on your own device.
Since the first Android smartphone was released back in 2008 Google’s been using what’s called ‘Dalvik’ and the JIT compiler. This stands for Just In Time, and is how an Android game or apps code gets compiled into a program that can be opened and used on your device. When you tap Netflix or Facebook the Dalvik JIT compiler converts the code into a usable app, then it opens. Every single time we open any app on our Android device it has to be converted and then launched using the Dalvik JIT. It converts “Just in time” to be used.
Read: How to Enable Developer Options on the Nexus 5 or Android 4.4 KitKat (needed for below)
In the next version of Android L coming this fall, or any Android 4.4 KitKat device that switches the system from Dalvik to ART, these apps will open nearly twice as fast, and save battery life. ART uses what Google calls an “ahead of time” compiler, and each apps code gets converted when it’s installed. This means when you tap to open Netflix or Facebook everything is already converted and the app instantly launches.
This gives users a better and faster experience, as that loading point or splash screen (that many iOS users may be familiar with) when opening an app will no longer be needed. ART in Android 4.4 and above will instantly launch the app. Our smartphones and tablets are faster, and as a result battery life could drastically improve as well due to less work being done the hundreds of times you open an app daily.
This does come at a small expense. Apps already compiled with ART will take up more space, as the process of compiling the code makes the installed app larger. However the increase is minimal and the speed/battery improvements are well worth it.
The new Android ART runtime isn’t enabled by default in Android 4.4 or even the latest Android 4.4.4 released last week. Google’s slowly been improving it over the past two years, and it’s now ready for prime time. All users need to do is head into Developer Options in the settings menu, go to “Select runtime” and change the device from Dalvik to ART, and let the phone or tablet reboot. It only takes a few seconds to find in settings.
First you’ll need to have access to the hidden developer options menu in Android. The guide linked to above explains that. Essentially head into settings (gear shaped icon) and scroll to the bottom and tap “About phone” (or software for HTC devices) and where it shows the “Build number” you’ll want to tap 7 times. This little trick will unlock the “developer options” menu.
It seems odd, but the developer options menu has tons of settings that the average user should not mess with, so Google has it hidden. However, ART is a safe setting to change, but as usual proceed with caution and do this at your own risk.
Once you’ve done the above and can access the “Developer Options” menu you’ll simply see “Select runtime” as the 3rd or 4th option on the list. Tap here, and change your Android 4.4 (or above) Android smartphone or tablet from Dalvik to “Use ART”. The changes won’t take effect until you reboot the device.
As we mentioned above changing the Android Runtime to ART will take up more space, but most users with a newer Android 4.4 device should be just fine. After changing this setting your device will need to reboot, and during this process you may have to wait 5-10 minutes as each app gets converted (one last time) using ART. This makes it fully compatible. There’s a progress meter, so don’t worry if it takes longer than expected.
All app data is completely safe, nothing will be lost, and you’ll be all set and able to feel and see the difference once rebooted.
Your smartphone or tablet will finish converting each app installed to the new Runtime, reboot, and that’s it. You’re all done! Now each time you install an app it will do the same, thus speeding up your device and improving battery life at the same time. Here’s the same settings on the HTC One M8.
For those new to Android this process may take more than a few seconds, but anyone familiar with the settings menu will be able to quickly enable the developer options menu, change the runtime to ART, reboot, and start enjoying the benefits in a matter of seconds.
Should You Do This?
Using ART is the future of Android. The next major update coming this fall will use ART as a default, and the old Dalvik every device uses today will be switched to ART. This may take an additional 10-20% of storage space on your smartphone, but users will greatly benefit from the speed and battery improvements.
That being said, some (few and far between) apps are NOT compatible with ART. So far out of over 180 apps I have installed on my smartphones and tablets, only one app hasn’t been compatible with ART. You’ll know this because it will simply crash while trying to open. If any users have apps they cannot live without and they don’t work, simply follow the steps above and convert back to the old Dalvik method.
Nearly all apps work wonderfully with ART, and considering it’s the future of Android we can expect all developers to make the appropriate changes if they haven’t already.
Give it a try today and enjoy the better, faster and smoother experience!