If you’re holding your shiny new Android smartphone and are wondering how to get the most from it, then you’ve come to the right place.
Whether this is your first smartphone, you’ve just hopped over from an iPhone, or you’ve had a number of Android handsets, we’ve pulled together some of the best Android tips and tricks to help you get the most from your phone.
Android is an ever-changing beast with many faces. There are different versions of the software, there are plenty of different manufacturer skins layed over that Android core, like those from Sony, Samsung or HTC, and there’s a limitless level of customisation you can apply from Google Play, or other third-party sources.
That means that few Android devices are alike, but all Android devices have the same foundation. So, starting at the beginning, here’s how to master your Android phone.
Sort out your Google account
Android and Google are like peas in a pod. To use Android, you need to use a Google account. That means everything that goes with it – Gmail, calendars, contacts, YouTube, Google Maps and more.
Getting your account in order is something you can do from your PC before you sign into your new device, letting you use the big screen and keyboard to get things straight.
Google incorporates a contacts system which hides within Gmail on your desktop browser. If you have lots of contacts, import them into Google contacts and manage them there. Managing them on a computer makes it much faster to get everything correct before you get started.
If you have your contacts in another form, there are easy ways to import them to Google, as well as scan for duplicates and so on. As your Android life progresses, it’s worth popping back to your core Google contacts list to check that everything is still nice and tidy.
If you’re thinking of saving contacts to the SIM card and moving them over, it’s not worth the effort: better to find the software to import them from your old phone to your PC, to then feed them to Google. It will make your life easier in the future.
Master transfer tools, or just use Google
Many manufacturers offer transfer tools to help you move old content to new places. This might be a desktop app, but more frequently, it’s becoming part of the device when you set it up for the first time. Android now also has the option to restore a previous backup, or set up a device from scratch, as well as offering you the chance to transfer data wirelessly to setup things like your accounts and settings.
Generally speaking, if you’ve been using Android previously, those items associated with your account will move over without a hitch. However, for things like photos, you might wish to move them to a cloud service if you want to preserve them.
Google Photos is the obvious choice for Android users, because it’s associated with your account. You just have to install the app and sign in. You could also use OneDrive from Microsoft or Dropbox, as both offer photo backup options and are widely accessible across platforms. You could also save to a microSD card and move it across, if you have the hardware to support it.
Get to your settings faster
Swiping down the notifications bar will get you access to shortcuts for various hardware toggles. It’s here you can turn off things like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi quickly and easily. Many manufacturers edit this area, so Samsung, LG, HTC and Nexus devices all look different.
Android has a grid of quick settings shortcuts if you’re on one of the recent versions of Android like Lollipop or Marshmallow, which most new devices are. Swipe down with two fingers and it will take you straight to those toggles.
If you want to head to the full setting menu, tap the cog at the top of the notifications area when you swipe down.
Watch your data
Although some contracts give you unlimited data, it’s always worth looking out for how much you’re consuming, so that you can avoid an unwanted bill by making sure you don’t go over your data limit.
Head into the settings menu and in the top section “wireless and networks” you’ll find the option for data usage. This is where the phone keeps track of your data use and you can set an alert for your limits so you don’t over spend.
You can also see what is consuming data which is a quick way to spot apps that might be using a lot of data when they don’t need to be. You can then go to that app and tinker with the settings, perhaps set it to update on Wi-Fi only.
Data not working?
Smartphones are complex beasties and sometimes things just stop working. The bar says you have full reception, but nothing is moving, you can’t get that site to load or that tweet to send.
Try flipping the phone into Aeroplane/Airplane mode and back again. This will sever your connection and re-establish it, and hopefully things will start moving again. You can get to Aeroplane mode via the quick settings grid mentioned above, or with a long press of the standby button.
Wi-Fi will keep you connected and saves your data costs, but there’s an option in Android to alert you to open networks. When walking down a typical street, it will constantly ping you, asking if you want to connect.
Usually these networks aren’t open, they require log-in once you’ve connected. Head into settings > Wi-Fi > advanced settings and disable the feature to be left alone.
If you’re looking for the WPS option on Android, which is really handy to quickly connect to a router, you’ll find it in settings > Wi-Fi. It may appear with the WPS arrows, or be hiding in the menu.
Wi-Fi not working?
Just like cellular data, sometimes Wi-Fi goes on the blink. Often, just opening the quick settings and toggling Wi-Fi off and then back on again, will re-establish the connection.
Glorious displays … eat battery
The wonderful display on your Android devices is also the thing that’s going to eat the battery. Although it often looks the best at full brightness, that’s not very beneficial to your battery. Opting for auto brightness will often give you the best balance of brightness and the visual impact you’re after.
Some devices will then let you tailor auto brightness so you can increase or decrease within that scale. Bumping it down a notch on long days will help prolong your battery.
If you’re just not happy with the auto brightness, then try the app Lux Lite. This will take over the display brightness control, as well as letting you bump it up or down from the notifications area.
Also look at your display sleep settings. There’s no need for it to stay on longer than you need it, so head into settings > display > and look for “sleep” or “display timeout” and pick something shorter.
How do I take an Android screenshot?
Simply hold standby and volume down at the same time and you’ll get a screenshot of whatever you’re looking at. Not everything can be captured, however. Some protected content, such as video playing in some apps, won’t appear in your screenshot.
Screenshots are stored in the gallery in their own folder, but if you’re looking to share, you can do straight from the notifications bar once it’s saved.
What is the best Android keyboard?
Simple: the one that works for you. You don’t have to put up with the keyboard your device comes with. There are loads of options for the keyboard, from the manufacturer’s version that Samsung or HTC bundle in, through to the stock Android keyboard, or third party keyboards like SwiftKey or Skype.
First up, you might want to turn off the vibration feedback on keypress, which you’ll find in settings > language & input (or language & keyboard) where all the keyboard settings lie. Sometimes the vibrations get backed up and once your fingers start flying, they can’t always keep up, which is annoying. The buzzing of the vibration may also be really annoying to those around you. Some vibrations get hidden in the sound and notification setting. Again, less is more, as they say.
Although some of the manufacturer keyboards are pretty good, the stock Android keyboard (available on Google Play) is also good, but we’re fans of the advanced features of SwiftKey (pictured above), which is well worth a try too, because of the strength of its predictive suggestions. It’s also free.
Get some apps
Phones used to be for making calls. Now they’re for doing everything. No matter what you’re after, there’s bound to be an app perfect for the job, from shopping to banking, to reading to dating.
Apps are found in the Play Store. From here you can download a world of free or paid-for applications. However you don’t have to do it through your phone. Once signed in with your Google account, you can do it from a browser, pushing the required app through to your handset. Just head to Google Play in your browser to get started.
It’s worth noting that apps update regularly on Android. That’s not necessarily because there’s something wrong, but because there are constant changes to bring in refinements, optimisations or new features.
However, you’ll want to make sure you’re only updating those apps when connected to Wi-Fi. In Play Store, head to settings and you’ll find the option to control how your apps get updates.
You’re also free to install apps that aren’t on Google Play. This may include beta software direct from developers, or something like Amazon Underground. If you want to do this, you’ll have to enable that option. Go to settings > security and you’ll find the option to enable apps from “unknown sources”. Be warned, however, that you may expose your device to risks if you choose to do so.
Which is the best Android browser?
There are lots of browsers available for Android, with each offering a range of different options. The stock browser is Chrome and that’s the best Android browser.
However, when you’re looking at a new device, you might find that you have another browser, likely one that has been tinkered with by the device manufacturer. More often than not, you can ignore it and go straight for Chrome.
If your device doesn’t have it, Chrome is on Google Play, and if you’re a Chrome desktop user, you’ll find plenty of syncing through your Google account, including browser and search history, bookmarks and autofill details, which are really handy on the move.
Customise your Android home pages
The homepage is front of the queue when it comes to customisation. Your new phone will probably come with a range of shortcuts and widgets spread across a number of pages.
If you don’t want them, delete them with a long press and drag them to the trash can. You can also usually delete the pages they’re sitting on: there’s no need to have seven home pages if they’re all empty.
Different versions of Android and different manufacturers have slightly different approaches to home page customisation. Normally a long press on the background wallpaper, or a pinch on the background will get you started, but it differs from device to device.
Use Android folders
Folders are a great way to organise your apps on your home page. To be extra efficient, you can also place folders on the shortcut bar at the bottom of the display.
This means you can have lots of your core apps to hand without them cluttering up your home page, so that lovely wallpaper of your cat remains visible.
To create a folder, just drag one app shortcut over another and a folder will be automatically created.
Some devices will also let you make folders in the apps tray (menu) which is a great way to organise everything in there and make it easier to find your app. That said, if you’ve done a good job with folders on your home page, you’ll find yourself rarely using the main apps tray.
What Android Launcher should I use?
If you’re new to Android, the term launcher might be confusing. The launcher is basically the home pages, the apps tray and the shortcut bar at the bottom.
Your device will come with a stock launcher in place, that of the manufacturer. If you don’t like it and want a different look to your phone, it’s really easy to switch to an alternative and there are loads in Google Play. From Android 4.4 KitKat upwards, it’s easy to manage the different launchers you have installed for easy switching.
When you install a new launcher, the original stays on the phone so you’re not losing it, you’re just telling the phone to use a different launcher instead, meaning you can escape from the looks of HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz if you don’t like it and have something a little more unique.
We’re big fans of Google Now Launcher. It give any Android phone a simple stock Android look and feel, with Google Now only a swipe away.
How to backup your Android photos
To address the age-old problem of how to make sure your photos travel with you, no matter what device you’re using, there are lots of options. This used to be dependant on a third-party app, but now it’s handled by Google Photos.
Google Photos was formerly integrated into Google+, but has been split out in the past year as a standalone app and service. It’s the stock gallery on Android devices, although many like Sony and HTC will supply something different. All devices can access Photos, however, and it has backup integrated into it.
All you have to do is head into the settings and choose which Google account you’d like to backup. That means you can, for example, save all your device photos to a personal account rather than a work account you might lose access to in the future. You get the option of selecting to backup a smaller version or the full thing.
If you want to escape from Google, you can do the same with other apps, such as Microsoft’s OneDrive or Dropbox. Both will offer to backup your photos and videos. Check your settings though, as you probably don’t want to be backing up over phone data, just when on Wi-Fi.
SD card or not?
If you’re lucky enough to have a microSD card slot on your device, there are a few things you should know about it.
MicroSD is a great place for storing additional content for your device, or to expand the storage you have. If you have a device that’s running Android 6 Marshmallow, the latest version, you might have access to something called Flex Storage. Flex Storage lets you use the microSD card as expanded internal storage. The microSD card’s capacity will be assimilated and used for everything the phone wants.
Flex Storage is a great option for those with a low storage device, like 8GB, as it means you can expand it and accept more apps. If you opt not to use Flex Storage, you can’t use it for installing more apps – it will only be used for storing files, like music or photos.
Importantly, if you’re opting to use microSD, you should buy the fastest card you can to ensure that you’re not slowing the phone down when it comes to accessing the data you have on it.
Managing Android music
Google’s own music service (Play Music) will let you upload your music to the cloud from your Mac or PC, effectively backing it up on Google’s server. You’ll then be able to stream or download this to your device.
If you’ve been an iTunes customer, that’s no problem. The Music Manager you download for PC or Mac can find your iTunes music and upload it, but beware, it will take some time and will possibly be quite a lot of broadband data.
But once done, it’s all available to your Android device(s), or through any browser. Note, however, that music you download to your Android device through Play Music can only be listened to with the Play Music app.
If you’ve bought music from Amazon MP3 in the past, the Android app will let you stream or play songs from that service too and there are plenty of other options for players and streaming services.
Alternatively you can just load all your content onto your phone’s memory, and as we mentioned, using microSD for this job is likely to be the best option, if you can.
Moving files to and from your phone
Android is great in that it gives you so much flexibility for carrying and using all sorts of files. Embracing the cloud is preferable to using wire and you have plenty of options to get access to those PDFs or whatever else you want. You can use Google Drive to move files easily and you can then access these through any browser, or on any Android device, or with apps elsewhere.
Google’s apps will let you edit them easily and there are free applications for things like Docs and Sheets, ideal for working on your documents on the move. Alternatively, Microsoft offers free Office apps for Android, although some features are only available to Office 365 subscribers. It works in cohoots with OneDrive, again.
Alternatively, Dropbox will do much the same thing. Install the app and you’ll be able to move files through the cloud over to your device.
If you do want to use wire – and that’s sometimes better for larger files like video – then you have several options. Many manufacturers bundle software with devices, although this tends to focus on photo and music syncing and is often more trouble than it’s worth. Instead, you can just access the device through Windows once plugged in via USB, so you can just drag and drop files.
On a Mac, you’ll need to install an application called Android File Transfer. Once in place, you can again drag and drop directly to your device’s memory.
Note however, that there are various settings on your phone to handle USB connections. You’ll be given the choice of what you want to do, but these days, using cloud syncing is often the fastest option.
Want to know more?
You can check out our full Android 7.0 Nougat tips and tricks to really get to know what Android can do.