Dealing With Safe Mode On Android

Man using a smartphone on a city street
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Safe mode is a way to launch Android on a smartphone or tablet without any third-party apps that might ordinarily run as soon as the operating system finishes loading. Normally, when you power on your Android device, it may load a series of apps automatically like a clock or calendar widget on your home screen. Safe mode prevents this from happening, which is great if your Android smartphone or tablet is crashing frequently or running incredibly slow. However, it is a troubleshooting tool rather than an actual cure for the problem. When you launch an Android smartphone or tablet in safe mode, third-party apps cannot run at all -- even after the device boots up.

So what good is Android's safe mode?

First and foremost, it narrows down what might be causing the device to crash or to run abnormally slow. If the smartphone or tablet runs fine in safe mode, it's not the hardware causing the problem. The good news here is the device doesn't need to be repaired or replaced. But we still need to figure out what app is causing the problem.

The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Try Turning it Off and Turning it Back on Again

Before putting the device into safe mode, you will want to try simply rebooting your smartphone or tablet. This simple procedure will solve most problems, but it must be done the proper way. When you click the power or suspend button on the side of the device, it only goes into 'suspend mode', which doesn't actually power down the device. Let's properly reboot:

  1. Hold the suspend or power button down until the power menu appears on the device.

  2. The power menu may have a Restart option. If so, tap Restart. The device will power down and power back up on its own.

    Restart button, OK button on Android
  3. If the menu doesn't list Restart as an option, choose Power off.  

  4. It may take several seconds for the device to shut down. Once the screen is completely dark, hold the suspend or power button down until you see a logo appear on the device.  

  5. Once the device has powered up, test it to see if you still have problems.

Reboot into Safe Mode

While rebooting will solve many problems, it won't solve all of them. An app that automatically launches when you boot up the device can become a culprit. Safe mode is the easiest way to find out if this is happening.  

  1. Hold the suspend or power button down just as we did when rebooting the device.

  2. Instead of tapping the Power off or Restart option, hold your finger down on the Power off option. You should be prompted to Reboot to safe mode. 

  3. Tap OK to reboot. 

    Power off button, OK button, Safe mode screen on Android
  4. When the system starts up, you will see the words "safe mode" on the screen. This lets you know the smartphone or tablet successfully booted into safe mode.

What to do if you don't get the safe mode option: Not every Android device is created equally. Some manufacturers like Samsung have a slightly different version of Android than the "stock" version released by Google. Older devices may also operate a little different because they have an older version of Android. So we have a couple of alternative ways to get into safe mode on Android:

  • If holding the Power off button in the Power menu doesn't prompt you to enter safe mode, try holding your finger down on the Restart button. Older versions of Android used this method to enter safe mode.
  • Many Samsung devices such as the Samsung Galaxy series use an alternative method. This method can also work on some older Android devices. Reboot the device using the above instructions and watch for the logo to appear on the screen when the device powers back up. While the logo is on the screen, press the volume down button on the side of the device. The words "safe mode" should appear at the bottom of the screen once it fully boots up, which lets you know that you are in safe mode.

Third party apps won't run in this mode. This includes any widgets you have installed and any custom home app. You can still run apps like Google Chrome and Google Maps to see if the device is functioning normally.

What to Do While You Are in Safe Mode

Managing Apps in Safe Mode on Android

If your smartphone runs faster or your tablet stops crashing while in safe mode, you've narrowed it down to an app that is causing the problem. Now you just need to uninstall the app. But which app? This is where techs make their money because there's no easy way to find out which app is the culprit. We can, however, look at some likely suspects:

  • Apps that automatically start when you boot up the device. This includes widgets, which are those apps that show up on the home screen like the clock or calendar, and custom home screen apps.  
  • The most recent apps you've downloaded. If you just started noticing the problem, is likely either an app you recently acquired or one that was recently updated.
  • Non-essential apps. If you've scrubbed your device of apps that load at boot up and your most recent apps, you can start narrowing down the problem by uninstalling apps you don't use on a regular basis.

You may not be able to run apps in safe mode, but you can uninstall them. Always uninstall the apps in safe mode and then reboot to test the device.

If you've uninstalled the most likely apps such as those that launch automatically and don't want to take the time to uninstall apps in batches until you fix the problem, you can always try resetting the device back to factory default. This uninstalls all apps and erases all data, so you want to make sure you have a backup, but it is the quickest way to fix the problem.

How to Exit Out of Safe Mode

You can exit safe mode by simply rebooting your device using the directions above. By default, Android will boot into 'normal' mode. If you find yourself in Safe Mode without expecting it, you may have accidentally entered it. Rebooting should do the trick.

If you reboot and you are still in safe mode, Android has detected a problem with an app that launches automatically at boot up or one of the base Android operating system files. First, try deleting apps that launch on startup such as custom home screens and widgets. After uninstalling these apps, try rebooting again. 

What Happens When You Still Have Problems in Safe Mode?

If you boot into safe mode and still run into problems, don't run out and buy a new phone or tablet just yet. Safe mode narrows the problem down to likely being caused by either the operating system or the hardware. The next step is restoring your device to its 'factory default' state, which basically means deleting everything including all personal settings.

If you reset the device back to factory default and it still has problems, it is time to either repair it or replace it.