Getting Started with Android

So, you’ve just picked up a bright, shiny new Android smartphone. Now what? Many people are wary of the highly customizable Android smartphones (in favor of the ubiquitous iPhone) because of the rumored learning curve; however, you can learn the system and you can make it work for you, instead of you needing to work around it.

The Basics

Some simple things to understand are the gestures: everything on the phone is accessed through tapping, swiping (sliding a finger across), or long-pressing (holding your finger on for a second) the screen.

Here’s some terminology to explain the Android environment:

Application: A program on the phone, usually represented by a small shortcut in your App Drawer or on one of your Home Screens.

App Drawer: This is an icon on your Home Screen (located in the Dock) that opens an area where you can search through your installed Apps. Notice that there are two tabs at the top of the App Drawer: one for Apps and one for Widgets.

Back: This physical button can not only be used to navigate backwards through visited web and App pages, but will also take you entirely out of an App and back to your previous App or your Home Screen.

Dock: A static bar at the bottom of your Home Screens for the App Drawer and four customizable shortcuts.

Home: A hardware button on your phone which will take you to your Home Screens from any App. Use this if you want to quickly exit an App!

Home Screens: You can think of these like your computer desktop. You can customize the background image by long-pressing the screen, and add App shortcuts to the Home Screens by long-pressing an App’s Icon in the App Drawer. The App Drawer will close, allowing you to drag the icon across the Home Screens to the location where you want to drop it.

Notification Pull-down: What was that pinging sound that your phone just made? If you drag your finger from the very top of the screen down towards the bottom, the Notification Pull-down will open. From here, you can select a notification to open its parent App, or you can swipe across a particular notification from left to right to ignore it.

Recent Apps: Not every phone has this button!  This is another hardware button that will launch a thumbnail view of your recently launched Apps. Use it to switch quickly between Chrome, Webster’s Dictionary, and Words with Friends (wait, are you cheating?), or to jump back and forth between your texts and a web search for movie times.

Menu: This is another hardware button. The Menu button is context-sensitive, so it will do different things (or possibly nothing!) in different apps. Google now encourages Apps to have an in-app Settings screen, so this button will be removed from future Android phones in order to provide users with a more fluid experience.

Widget: This is an advanced Android feature. From the Widgets tab of the App drawer, drag and drop the Widget you want onto a Home Screen. Widgets are often interactive and will sometimes update depending on location, weather, or current applications, and can even launch Applications or web pages!

Now I know how to interact with it. But how do I use it?

Right out of the box, many popular Android phones (like the Galaxy S III and the HTC One series) include a simple tutorial to help you sign into Google—they may even explain some of the above vocabulary. This will give you instant access to your all-important Gmail, the generally ignored Google+, the misunderstood Google Talk instant messenger (and soon Google Babel?), and the powerful Play Store. Of course, there’s also a generic Email app so you can access Yahoo!, Hotmail, or whatever flavor of email you prefer (for those of you who have resisted the Google hive mind). Thanks to the Google integration, some things will be provided automatically.

Here are some ideas to consider when customizing your shiny new smartphone:

  • You now have access to all your contacts stored in the Gmail web client. Any time you add a contact, be sure to select Google Contact, as this will back up the newly created contact so you can’t accidentally lose it! You can see them from the Contacts or People app, depending on your phone.
  • If you like to send surprise pics to your lover, be sure to open Google Settings and turn off Instant Upload in your Google+ settings. Or don’t, if you’re into that sort of thing…
  • The Play Store allows you to download apps, music, e-books, magazines, and videos. You can search within each section or across the entire Play Store in order to find whatever you like!
  • One of the best features of Android is Google Maps, which you can download from the Play Store. Enabling location access from the Settings menu will allow Google to customize search results for you and will provide you with turn-by-turn voice navigation as an added feature for free.
  • Of course, it wouldn’t be Google without integrated Search capabilities. You can use the Search Widget to launch a Voice Search and simply speak your command or type in a search. If you have one of the newest devices, then the Search App becomes something more—Google Now. Google Now allows you to opt-in to all sorts of extra notifications (called Cards), from updates on your favorite sports teams to traffic warnings for events in your calendar.
  • Your Android can take pictures and videos, but it’s what you can do with those pictures and videos that’s really interesting! You can go straight from taking a picture to viewing the Gallery by tapping the image preview in the Camera app. From the Gallery, you can  Share that picture through email to a friend, upload it to imgur for a quick post to reddit (if you have the imgur app), or launch Facebook to share it with your social circles for immediate judgment.
  • You are always logged in. Unless, of course, you explicitly sign out. The upside is that you always receive information as it happens! That’s also the downside. Having every app logged in all the time will take your battery from 100% to 0% in no time flat (I’m looking at you, Facebook for Android). Stay logged into the important things, but if possible, set a less-frequent notification refresh interval for everything else in their settings.

Android’s myriad Apps and Settings can let you customize the exact experience you want from a smartphone!  Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on tech and Android from the UE. And post a comment if you have any questions!

Photo by Anastasia Heuer

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