Simple Bloatware Removal for Android

If you’re trying to trim out some of the bloatware apps that Samsung and your phone provider pre-install on your phone, there’s a nice free, open source app to do it.  It’s so straight forward it doesn’t really have a name; it’s just called /system/app remover by developer j4velin.

You need to have a rooted device, although even that may not be enough if you’re running something like Lineage.  The app converts the system app into a non-system app.  Normally, I wouldn’t mess with these sorts of apps but the phone provider and telecoms are getting really out of hand with the rubbish they install.  Texture, FibeTV, and TripAdvisor were all system apps on either my phone or tablet.

Once you’ve installed /system/app remover, you may be prompted to install the free Busybox, an app that provides hooks for apps with root permissions to accomplish some of what they do.  Once /S/A remover sees Busybox, you  are ready to go.  It will list all of your current user apps.  You can then select to see all of your system apps, and this is where you can clean up.

At this point, you should not only have a rooted phone but some spare time and a backup of your phone.  Removing the wrong system app will stop your phone working properly.  In my case, I was just getting rid of the ones I obviously didn’t need.

On an Android 4.4.2 phone (Samsung Core LTE G386W), the app just worked.  The steps were:

  • select a system app and click the red bar that says system.  It will prompt you, to confirm you want to convert a system app to a user app.  If you do, click ok
  • there will be a re-start prompt.  If you are going to convert a bunch of apps, you can click cancel on this prompt and go on to select the next app.

In some cases, it will prompt you to uninstall updates made to the app.  Then it will ask you to convert the app to a user app.  This is similar to the behavior you’d see if you entered the app manager and tried to uninstall a system app; you can’t, but you can roll it back to a default version.  In most cases, this causes the app to then update the next time it checks the app store.

I converted both apps I was planning to delete (like TripAdvisor) as well as ones that I wasn’t, but didn’t want left as system apps (Google Books, for example).  Once the app has been converted to a user app, it will update itself again if necessary.  Or you can remove it from the normal Android app manager.

On Android 7 (Nougat), I had a few problems with the app.  At first I thought they were permanent but then I stumbled upon a feature I hadn’t seen before.  After a system app was successfully converted to a user app, it would appear in the normal app manager list.  If I uninstalled it, the app uninstaller would say that it was uninstalled, but the app would continue to appear in the list, with 0 bytes.

Google Books uninstalled but says “Not installed” in app manager.

As far as I could tell, the app was gone.  The listing in the app manager was a bit messy and unsightly but not otherwise an issue.  I’d recovered the space without bricking my tablet.

Then I found the uninstall for all users option.  Click into the app that has 0 bytes and says Not installed.  Up at the top right corner, there is a 3 dot hamburger menu.  There is one option under it.

The “uninstall for all users” option is in a menu on the app info page of the app.

Once I clicked that, the app was no longer listed in the app manager.  I wish I understood what users the apps were still installed for, since I don’t use a guest account or have secondary profiles on the device.  But it fixed a quirky remnant of my attempt to remove apps.

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David Whelan
I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.