Blog: Common mobile phone issues

Common mobile phone issues (and how to fix them)

Smartphones are now so common that we no longer call them smartphones – they're just phones! Yet they're used for so much more, and have become increasingly complex machines. What do we do when things go wrong? Obvously, read the manual! But in this post, we look at some common problems that affect our phones, and suggest some tricks and techniques that might help you overcome them.

Short battery life

Almost every phone on the market struggles with short battery life, even the newer models like the iPhone 12, or Google Pixel 5. This can be supremely frustrating when you rely on your phone for so many things!

Poor battery life can have many causes; primarily, it's the age of the battery, but running too many apps, or having apps running in the background, or even just setting your screen brightness high, can all cause a battery to drain very quickly.

If your phone is getting on a bit, you may notice that your battery charge drops by half in just a couple of hours. This suggests that your battery has degraded, and should be replaced. (Apple Stores will replace the battery on iPhones, for a cost of around £60). However, if your phone isn’t due for an upgrade just yet, there are a few ways in which you can maximize your battery life.

Firstly, it may be that just one or two apps are causing the battery to drain rapidly. The "Battery" menu on both Apple and Android devices should point you in the right direction here. If you can find a few key apps that are using a lot of battery, try removing them from your device – or just using them less! – and see if this helps.

To temporarily extend your battery life, dim the display brightness, turn on the "battery saver" or "low power" mode, and put your phone into "airplane mode" when you’re not actively using it. This feels drastic, and won’t really compensate for a degraded battery, but it should help. Location tracking (GPS) is also infamous for draining your battery, so only turn it on when you need it.

Apps freezing or crashing

App glitches can slow down your entire device, even if only one or two apps are causing a problem.

Before trying to fix this, first make sure that the apps you’re using are definitely compatible with your device. (Older devices in particular may not support newer apps very well, even if they claim to be compatible).

If that's not the issue, try deleting the "application data" used by those apps. All the temporary files and "cached" data stored on your device can become corrupted over time, and this can affect the smooth running of the app. Alternatively, it's always worth deleting and reinstalling a problematic app; often, this will clear out a load of useless data, but retain the important stuff (such as logins or "favourites"). Even so, it's always worth backing up your whole device before you start deleting things!

If none of this works, app developers are often very helpful. Contact them with a clear report of the problems you're facing, and they may well be able to suggest a solution.

Glitches with the handset itself

If glitches appear seemingly at random, across a wide range of apps, it can be much harder to work out what the problem might be. It could be down to simple hardware failure (although this is increasingly less likely with modern handsets), or a software update may not have installed correctly. Whatever the cause, it's almost always necessary to consult a specialist technician to resolve the issue.

However, there are some things to try before seeing professional (and expensive!) support. The age-old trick of "turning it off and on again" is often surprisingly effective. Most handsets have a "hard reset" option; on an Apple device, for example, you can hold down the "home" and "power" buttons simultaneously for three seconds. (Refer to your manual to find the correct combination for your device!) This triggers a full reboot cycle and can resolve a multitude of issues.

Unexplained crashes can also be caused by having insufficient storage space left on the device (ie, it's too full of games and photos), so always check how much free space you have. If it's not much, try deleting apps and content until you have a decent amount of space free.

Occasionally, and not often (especially not in this country!), a handset can simply overheat. Most devices will flash an alert if this happens, but do try to avoid getting tour handset too warm. If it often feels excessively hot when touching it, this might suggest that your charger is defective. In this case, the charger should be replaced.

As a last resort, before taking the phone to be serviced, you can try resetting your device back to its factory settings. (Again, consult your manual on how to do this). If the problem still persists after that, then you're probably looking at a hardware issue.

WiFi or 4G issues

If your smart gadget is having trouble connecting to WiFi, or picking up a mobile signal, then the fault might not be with your handset at all. Home WiFi connections are notoriously unreliable, and even mobile networks can go down from time to time; the big providers (Vodafone, O2 and so on) often have pages on their website that will let you know about local blackouts and faulty masts in your area.

If the problem lies with a local mobile mast, there really isn't much you can do, other than wait for them to fix it! However, if you’re at home, rebooting your router will often help. (Again, just turn it off and on again!). If your connectivity problems still persist, check the website of your ISP (Virgin, BT, Sky) and see if they're aware of any problems. Failing that, give them a call – but be prepared to spend quite a bit of time on hold!

If you can't face an hour stuck on the phone, try searching our site for your router's manual – or for more general help, Google the router's brand and model number. You could find solutions from other people who've had similar problems to yours. If it looks like a router problem (and if a reboot doesn't help!), then try updating the router's "firmware" if possible; this can resolve various known issues by installing patches and bug fixes from the manufacturer.

If after all this, you're still struggling to connect, then it's possible – although unlilely – that your SIM card is damaged. Chances are, though, that the handset is faulty and will need a repair.

Water damage

If your phone has suffered water damage in the past, then there's very little you can do. However, if you find yourself in a situation where the damage has just occurred (by dropping your phone in the toilet, for example!) then you need to act fast. Water damage can cause major damage to the insides of your phone, and in order to avoid an expensive repair bill, you need to dry the phone out as quickly as possible.

First of all (assuming you've already removed the device from the water!), you should remove the battery if possible. This disconnects the phone from its power source before it sustains serious damage – water and electricty don't mix! However, most handsets nowadays will have inbuilt batteries that can't be removed. At the very least, though, you should turn the device off.

Try to avoid pushing any buttons, or moving the device more than you have to, as this could force water further into the insides of the phone. To draw out the moisture, try submerging the device in a bowl of (uncooked!) rice overnight! Rice absorbs liquid extremely well, and twenty four hours in a bowl of rice will suck the moisture from the phone surprisingly well.

Do not attempt to dry your phone with a hairdryer. This can actually cause more harm than good, as the air pressure from the hairdryer will push water further into the device.

If you’ve tried the above steps and your device is still not working, you will have to take it to a professional. They will be able to assess whether your device is salvageable or beyond repair. In the latter case, they may be able to retrieve any information stored on the device, and help you to transfer this information to a replacement phone.

Cracked glass

Everyone, at some point or other, has surely experienced a broken screen. It's all too easy to do. On the plus side, it's also easy to diagnose! However, it's next to impossible to fix this issue yourself.

Official outlets, such as Apple, will replace a screen quite quickly, and the cost is not as high as it once was. Other smaller outlets (such as iSmash) will be cheaper, but beware that the standard of the replacement screen may not be as high.

It is of course possible to live with a cracked screen, but be careful. The broken glass can easily nick your finger, and it'll only get worse over time. Gradually the screen will crumble away, exposing the delicate LED beneath, which will very quickly become irrepairably damaged. It might be better to bite the bullet and get the screen repaired ASAP.

Smartwatch issues

Smartwatches (such as the Apple iWatch) are a relatively new technology, and are still exhibiting teething problems. In particular, synching data in between a phone and a smartwatch can sometimes appear to fail with no good reason. This can mean that you no longer receive notifications on your phone, which often defeats the purpose of having a smartwatch in the first place!

If you notice that your watch has stopped synching, ensure that Bluetooth is enabled on both your phone and your watch, and check that they're both connected. If not, try to "unpair" your watch from your phone, and reconnect them.

You should then go to the smartwatch app *on your phone* and choose to reset the sync data; this will start a new sync session, and clear out the one that’s "stuck". Search our site for your smartwatch manual for details on how to do this!

The headphone socket

It's common nowadays for people to use wireless headphones with their phone, rather than wired ones,. However, wired headphones are still very common, and the connection can be prone to failure. Common problems include poor sound quality, or a total loss of audio in one or both ears.

To accurately diagnose the problem, you should first plug the headphones into other devices. If the headphones are working properly, then clearly the problem is with the original device, and not the headphones.

If this is the case, then the most likely cause is the headphone jack itself (ie, the bit that the headphones plug into!). Often, it's just dirty, and clogged with dust and dirt. You can try using a vacuum cleaner to suck out this debris! Failing that, a paperclip inserted (gently!) into the jack might be able to catch and pull out any clumps of fluff.

If the headphones still don'tt work, you should check the settings on your device. It may be that a software update will resolve the problem, or – as always! – turning the handset off and on again might work. If nothing works, there could be a problem with the device itself.

Charging problems

Even if your battery is in peak condition, you'll probably still find yourself plugging your phone in more than you might like! It can be extremely frustrating to plug in an almost-dead phone, only to find that it refuses to charge.

If this happens, try using a different plug socket, to make sure that this isn't the cause. If it isn't, check USB socket on your phone; as with the headphone jack (above), this socket can often get clogged with dust and dirt, which prevents the charging cable from making proper contact. Again, you can easily clean out the dusty port using a vacuum cleaner (or better, a can of compressed air), but if this doesn't work, we'd advise you to go to a tech expert. They might need to straighten out some bent connectors in the socket itself, which is difficult to do yourself.

Sometimes, if you often use your phone while it’s charging, it might seem to be charging slowly – so avoid using the phone while plugged in, and close any apps that are running in the background. Also, if you notice that the charging problems started around the time you last updated your phone, then (as always) turning it off and on again can often solve the issue.

On rare occasions, particularly with older models, a software update can actually be the cause of the issue – because newer software might push an old phone too hard, and drain the battery so much that it becomes unable to charge properly. In this case, you might need to rollback to an earlier version of the software, if your provider allows it.

Face ID

The ability to unlock a phone by facial recognition is a relatively new feature that’s rapidly become ubiquitous, especially on higher-end models. However, many users have reported problems with it.

The most common reason for this is that the device simply fails to recognise your face in certain lighting condtions, or even at certain times of the day! If this becomes frustrating, resetting the Face ID completely (by resetting it and taking new photos of your face) can solve the problem. (However, please note that this will often disable your logins for various apps and services, until you re-enter your password or PIN).

Also, when unlocking your phone with your face, make sure that you’re facing directly towards the camera, and that your device is in portrait orientation. (Again, good lighting will always help!).

Popular manuals this week