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Google’s Digital Wellbeing software is meant to be a helpful, transparent tool for monitoring your smartphone usage habits and striking a healthier balance between tech and life. But over the last couple weeks, a number of Pixel owners have come to the conclusion that it has the unwanted side effect of slowing down their device. There’s a very active thread on Reddit right now that includes many reports of improved performance when Digital Wellbeing is switched off. Some say the “night and day” difference is apparent almost immediately. Others seem less convinced that it’s anywhere near that drastic. The theory was originally brought up just over a week ago by Reddit user Trueray17, who said it fully resolved performance issues with their Pixel 3.
Slowing down your phone isn’t supposed to be one of Digital Wellbeing’s features, mind you. By design it runs in the background and logs how much time you’re spending in apps and using a device in general. This data can be hugely valuable if you’re trying to make better choices and waste less time staring at a screen. You can set app timers or turn the screen grayscale to make your go-to apps seem less appealing at times when you’ve decided you want to avoid impulsively opening them.
But the idea that Digital Wellbeing might be hindering Pixel phones from being as fast as they otherwise could be is a little alarming. If these user reports of speed and frame rate increases are accurate, this gives people a clear reason to disable a resource they might otherwise find tremendously useful.
Digital Wellbeing was one of the major new features of Android 9 Pie, debuting first on Pixel phones before moving to Android One and a (still fairly small) list of other devices. Google is set to expand on it in Android Q with a new Focus mode. Does it make sense that an all-seeing background process like this might impact overall performance? It’s certainly possible. The Verge has reached out to Google for comment on whether it’s aware of any slowdown caused by Digital Wellbeing.
In the meantime, if you want to turn it off — even temporarily — to see for yourself if there are any noticeable improvements, here’s how:
- Go to settings on your Pixel phone
- Choose Digital Wellbeing
- Tap the three-dot icon at the top right and choose “Turn off usage access”
- Confirm that decision on the next “Usage access” screen by choosing Digital Wellbeing and toggling the “permit usage access” option to off.