Congratulations on your recent Android purchase! Now, where do you start.
The best feature of an Android is the ability to customize the device and make it your own. Unfortunately, that feature can also make the Android device a little overwhelming at first. This page is here to help you, the user, learn some of the basics of Android, the ins and outs and the tips and tricks for making your experience even better.
While Android is available on many different devices at this time, this guide will focus on cell phones for now, as that is the majority of Android devices in the market and in the world today. Much of the content of this guide is based off the myTouch 3G user’s manual because that is a non-customized Gen1 (V 1-1.6) Android OS. With Android 2.0+ there are some changes, but it’s fairly similar. Look for an updated guide an Android evolves.
How to use this Guide
To help the user understand the guide better, I will follow a set of rules when indicating an interaction with the phone. I will outline those rules here.
When referring to physical buttons on the Android phone, I will use CAPITAL LETTERS AND BOLD font.
When referring to on screen, soft buttons, I will use italicized and bold font.
I use the term tap to indicate a short duration touch to the screen with a finger. I use the term tap and hold to indicate a long duration touch to the screen. Sliding indicates touching the screen and sliding your finger across it as if to feel it’s texture. Dragging an item on the screen indicates touching the item on the screen with your finger and sliding it across the screen.
Physical Phone Features
Each Android phone is a little different than the next, but there are a few key features which are shared among all the devices. the main features are the four physical, or sometimes touch, buttons that are used to access Android. They are as follows; MENU, HOME, SEARCH and BACK.
The main source of interaction with an Android phone is via the touch screen. Most of the Android phones today utilize a capacitive touch screen, which provides a relatively easy interface that requires little pressure. Experiment with the amounts of pressure required for your device to become accustomed to interfacing with the phone.
Some phones also come with POWER buttons, CALL buttons and VOLUME UP and VOLUME DOWN buttons as well. See your phones users manual to determine what features your particular phone has.
You new phone comes with Android OS, the operating system that helps with placing phone calls, playing music, surfing the web and running all those great applications possible. This review will focus on a base install of Android OS and try and help make it easier to understand. Some phones, such as the HTC Hero and Motorola CLIQ, have been customized by the manufacturer adding additional features. Us Droids will try and point out the differences when possible.
Upon first turning on your Android, other than a setup screen, almost everyone is presented with the Home Screen. This can be thought of as a desktop for the Android. Here you can place widgets, links, applications, and change the background image to your liking. In the standard Android home screen, for Versions 1 – 2.01, you have three available sections of homescreen. By sliding your finger left or right, you can move from one section to the next. In Android 2.1, you have five available sections. Users with a Sense UI, you have seven sections. Think of it as a really wide sheet of paper that you can only view a little bit at a time and you slide it left or right as needed.
Each section of the home screen can be setup with it’s own widgets or links. You could, in theory, make then all identical by placing the same items on each section. Over time though, you will learn what widgets you like, what applications you like and what works best for you. For instance, I have one home screen section with social network items, a Facebook widget, my favorite Twitter application, Gtalk, Messages, etc. I have another with productivity, Calculator, Maps, Browser, etc.
For all Android versions, to remove an item from the home screen, tap and hold on the item, until you feel a short vibration. You will notice a slight change in the appearance of the screen. With your finger still holding the unwanted item, drag it down to the middle bottom of the screen and it will be removed from your home screen. This can be done to any folder, application icon, or widget on the screen. To replace or add a new widget or folder, tap and hold in an empty space on the home screen, which will bring up a menu for adding content. You may also accomplish the same task by pressing the MENU button while on a home screen and then selecting the Add button. That same method is used for changing your Android phone’s wallpaper. Tap and hold an empty space or press the MENU button and you can choose to Wallpaper from there or Add and then Wallpaper.
To access applications you can simply tap the application icon shown on the home screen for those applications found there, or open the application tray by either tapping on the gray tab at the bottom or dragging the tab up towards the top of the screen with your finger. Some phones, notably the Hero and Droid Eris with Sense UI, are slightly different and accessing the application tray is accomplished by tapping the small “up” arrow in the lower left corner of your home screen. From here, you can scroll through your applications and tap on the one you’d like to open.
To place a shortcut icon to any application on your home screen, such as the YouTube, Gmail, Browser and Maps icons shown above, first you need to open the application tray as described above. Then tap and hold on the application icon you’d like to add to the home screen. After a couple seconds the phone will vibrate and you will be shown the home screen and you simple drag the icon to where you’d like it places and remove your finger from the screen, dropping the icon in place. Likewise, you can press the MENU button and choose Add to Home and Shortcut and finally Program.
I would like to take the chance to mention that in general, if you are unable to find the action you’d like to do with either the main Android OS or any of the thousands of applications available for it, try pressing the MENU button. The context of the menu changes depending on what you are currently doing on the phone. For instance, if I am in the contacts/people application, pressing the MENU button brings up a menu that includes adding a contact, searching, deleting etc. The key here is, if you are lost, try the MENU button. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of Android, and hopefully more application developers will ignore the menu button and place all desired actions on the screen.
BACK versus HOME
I would like to highlight one other key area that can be confusing at first; the difference between the HOME button and the BACK button. At any point, when you are running an application you can return to your home screen by simply pressing the HOME button. When you press the HOME button, understand that the application you were in does not “close” or “shutdown” like some other smart phones. The application is still running in the background. If you were to click that applications icon again, it would re-open and you would be presented the last screen you were on when you pressed the HOME button. For example, let’s say you were in the Browser application and you were checking the scores of your favorite team. You decided to do something else, so you pressed the HOME button and went to the home screen where you changed your music. Then you go back into the Browser and you’ll have the same website with the scores for your team right there. Think of it like minimizing a program on your desktop computer. It’s not closed, just out of the way for a while until you want it again.
The BACK button works a different way. It can be setup to do a number of different things, depending on the application, but in general, the BACK button can be used to exit and close an application. If you know you are done with that application and you don’t want it running in the background using up memory and battery, you want to press the BACK button to close the application. Let’s say you are once again checking scores in the Browser application and the game finishes, so you decide to close the browser. You can press the BACK button to exit the Browser. It is now closed and not running in the background. If you open the Browser again, it will be a new session and the home page will be presented.
I mention this because with smart phones having multiple applications running at once can be a memory and battery hog. Choose wisely if you wanted to simple press the HOME button or the BACK button. If you get too many applications running in the background, things will get slow and your battery will drain quickly. With Android 2.0+, Google introduced a new section in the system settings page called “Running Services”. This allows you a quick view of what applications are running, just in case your Droid starts to get sluggish like a wet sponge. From that section, you can kill any application you no longer want.
Below are links to some phone user guides. They will have details that are specific to your device, which I’m not covering here. I will update this page as Android evolves.
We’d like to begin building a “Tips” database with hints and ideas on how to use your Android. An example hint might be:
We are needed your support to build our database. If you have a good idea, hint or tip, let us know and we’ll include it and make sure you get credit for the effort. Add a comment below.