Thursday, July 31, 2014

Make Your Smartphone Work For You

New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against

New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against

By Ben Stegner
If this article’s title caught your attention, I’ll bet you have received your first smartphone recently and have no idea what to do with it. Perhaps your children convinced you to finally upgrade from a feature or “dumb” phone, or maybe you were curious about what an advanced device could do for you. If this doesn’t quite describe your situation, we have a complete Android guide for your reference, and Simon has covered the most important tasks to perform when getting a new phone.
However, if the above links are completely over your head and you feel as if you can’t do anything right on your new phone, read on. In this piece, the absolute basics of owning an Android smartphone will be covered. You’ll learn some fundamental terms, as well as how to fix some common problems you might run into. You’ve taken the first step and chosen Android, which is a fantastic choice; now it’s time to be in control of your device.

About Manufacturer Differences

Before we begin, a common source of confusion for Android users needs to be brought up. Depending on what company manufactured the device you own, the menus and everything you do on-screen may look a little different. Common smartphone producers, like Samsung and HTC (pictured below with Samsung on the left and HTC on the right), all put their own spin on Android before the phone reaches you.
Some people like these skins and prefer to stay with one company. Others think that they’re unnecessary and stick to devices that keep Android in its stock form,like the Nexus 5.
01 TouchWiz vs Sense   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
As you’re just starting out with Android, you likely don’t care about these differences. They’re mentioned, though, because instructions given here may vary slightly based on what phone you’re using. As much as is possible, directions will be device-neutral, so you shouldn’t have any trouble applying what you learn to your device. Just be aware that wording may be different in some menus for various devices.

Meet Your Phone

Calling and Texting

On your old phone, you could probably make phone calls, send text messages, and maybe take and view pictures. Upon starting with Android, though, it isn’t very clear where you go to perform any of these tasks. Let’s dig in a bit.
The core of any smartphone is apps. You’ve surely heard a lot about apps — we keep a list of the best Android ones – and you might think of them as fancy tools that are used to perform all sorts of complex actions. But did you know that nearly anything you want to do with your phone is accessed through apps?
02 Phone App Dialer1   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
My home screen is on the left in the above screenshot. See the phone icon near the bottom? That’s what you open to make calls. Once you touch it, the Phone app pops up. Inside, you can make calls, access voicemail, and view your call history. That doesn’t sound too scary, right? Almost anything you need to do that’s related to calls can be accessed through this app; once you use it a bit, you’ll know your way around.
Let’s look at another basic app, this time for text messaging.
03 Texting App   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
This one, depending on your phone, might be called Messages or Messaging. On the newest phones, the Hangouts app can also handle text messaging. Once you’ve opened the app, look for a plus icon, a symbol like the one in the top-right above, or “New Message” to send a text message. To send a text, however, you’ll need to have a recipient!

Contacts and Typing

To access your contacts, open up the People app; it might also be called Contacts on your phone.
04 People App   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Here, you can view your contacts and add new ones. If you bought your new phone from a service provider, they may have transferred your contacts for you. If not, you’ll likely have to sit down for a while and transfer them manually. Look for the “plus person” icon to add a new contact, and you’ll be able to set them up.
05 Adding Contact   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Once you have some people in your address book, you won’t have to worry about remembering their numbers when you want to text them or call them. Start typing their name into a field, and your phone will display matching names.
06 Contact Autocomplete1   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Here’s a little tip based on something that I observe: there’s no need to add multiple contacts if a person has more than one number, as it’s just a waste of space. For instance, as shown below, you don’t need to have “Cindy Cell” and “Cindy Home” as two different contacts; add their alternate number to their contact entry and you’ll be able to contact either easily. It’s much cleaner that way.
07 Duplicate vs Complex Contacts   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
In the screenshot below, observe how you can add multiple emails and phone numbers. You can actually add as many as you like to every contact, such as Home, Fax, or the generic Other category. It’s changeable even once a contact is created; just find them in your list (you can use the magnifying glass to search), and click Edit to change an existing contact.
08 Editing Contact   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
So the essentials of how to operate your phone have been covered, but many of these instructions have called for typing or entering text. Let’s discuss how this works on Android.
On nearly every smartphone today, text is entered through an on-screen keyboard; that is, you don’t actually press any physical keys. Keyboards are another aspect that phone developers like to customize, so yours might not look like the one in these example screenshots. Once you’ve gotten used to the keyboard you’ve been dealt, you may want to exercise your freedom on Android and try a different one. I use SwiftKey, which we’ve covered and I would fully recommend.
09 Android Keyboard   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
However, most keyboards will look something like it. To type a letter, simply touch its key. If you’d like to enter a special character, like @, you hold the key that it’s placed on for a few seconds — the letter A in this case. For caps, use the arrow on the left side, and to access more symbols with a full number pad, the bottom-left button changes the layout.
Once you’re on the new layout, pictured on the right side above, you can touch “abc” to go back to the standard layout you were just on, or hit the “{&=” key for even more obscure symbols. The left-facing arrow functions as a backspace key, and the magnifying glass (or check mark) in the bottom-right is the enter key.
10 Thumbs Up   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Hopefully you’ve been able to follow along to this point! We’ve covered a lot so far; try to go back through these instructions a few times to familiarize yourself with the apps and entering text. Don’t be afraid to click around and explore, and don’t beat yourself up if you type slowly at first. It takes practice! Once you’re ready, move on to the next section, where we’ll discuss the Home Screen and how to get around.

The Home Screen And Navigation

Before, I showed you shots of my home screen. Yours, however, won’t look like that at first. It’s important that you set up home screens in a way that makes sense to you, as you’ll waste time looking for apps and content on your phone otherwise.
As we established, apps are the core of your phone. To see all the apps that are installed to your device, touch the “all apps” icon seen below. The resulting screen is usually referred to as the app drawer.
11 App Drawer   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
To place an app onto your home screen for easy access, all you have to do is hold it with your finger and “pick it up.” After you’ve grabbed it, you can place it anywhere on the home screen that you’d like, which you can see below. This will create a shortcut, which can be moved or deleted without affecting the actual app.
12 Placing App Shortcut   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
So, if an app icon ever disappears from your screen and you don’t know how to get it back, don’t panic. Just open up all of your apps by touching the icon, and find it from there. An app on your home screen is just a shortcut.
You should also know that you can change the number of homescreens on your device. Maybe you like to keep lots of shortcuts handy and so need more space. If this happens, on most devices, pick up any shortcut and hold it toward the edge of the screen. Eventually, a new home screen will be created and you can fill it up however you like.
If you want to remove a home screen, simply take all the apps off it and it will disappear — or you can try pinching the screen to see an overview of all your homescreens and delete them from there.
13 Removing App New Homescreen   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
When you pick up an app shortcut, besides moving it around, you’ll also be able to remove it. Just look for the X at the top, and then drag the icon to it. Remember: you won’t be deleting the app off your device, just taking its shortcut off your home screen.


Besides app shortcuts, you should also become familiar with widgets. A widget is a broad name for a simple interactive tool. It allows you to access parts of an app or service without having to leave your homescreen.
On Android, many apps include these widgets to enhance their functionality. You’ll have to play with some apps to see what widgets benefit you, but let’s see how they can save you time. With weather, for example:
14 App Vs Widget   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
If you simply place a weather app on your homescreen, you have to open up the app to view your weather. But with a widget, you can view the most important weather info at a glance. Not every app will have useful widgets, but a large amount of apps do. Other beneficial widgets might include those for stock trading, upcoming calendar events, recent email, or a music player – for more, check out Matt’s list of the best.
15 Lots of Widgets   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
The way you access widgets depends on your device. On some, you simply need to open up the app drawer (remember, just tap the icon and it will pop up) and scroll all the way to the right. After your last page of apps, you’ll see your available widgets. Note that these will depend on apps you have installed, so to use the widget for Yahoo Mail, for instance, you need to have its app already on your device.
16 Finding Widgets 1   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
If you can’t access widgets in this way, then your phone uses a different method to access widgets. Head back to your homescreen and hold your finger on an empty section of the screen — that is, where there are no app icons or existing widgets.
Once you hold your finger there for a moment (this is called “long-pressing,” as opposed to just tapping) a screen will pop up and ask what you’d like to add to your screen. We’re interested in widgets for now, so go ahead and choose that option.
17 Finding Widgets 2   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Just like adding app shortcuts, touch and hold a widget to pick it up, then drag it wherever you like. Widgets can also be resized on some phones. Simply touch and hold an existing one, place it anywhere, and you’ll be able to drag the ends to resize it. Most widgets can show more information at once by doing this, so if you can spare the space, try it! Note that tapping on widgets once they’re in place will usually open up the app they represent, so it acts as a shortcut, too.
18 Widget Sizes   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against

Toggles: Wi-Fi, Mobile Data, And More

On your old phone, you didn’t have to worry about your connection much, unless you were in a dead zone and couldn’t make a call. On Android, however, suddenly you’re hearing terms like Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, and LTE. What does all of this mean? Let’s go over what each type of connection is, and what it means for you on your phone.
19 Phone Guy   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
  • Wi-Fi is a wireless local area connection, which means you connect to the Internet without any wires. You’ve likely seen signs advertising free Wi-Fi at places like restaurants, malls, and cafes; at those places, anyone can connect without a passcode. Your home and your friends’ homes likely have Wi-Fi too; all that is required to have it in a location is an Internet connection and a wireless router to broadcast the signal. It’s great to connect your phone to your secured Wi-Fi at your house, but public sources, like coffee shops, are insecure, so don’t do anything sensitive, like banking or password changing, on those networks.
20 McDonalds Wifi   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
Wi-Fi networks have a relatively short range; your whole house will likely be covered if you have Wi-Fi, but the signal will become weak outside. The closer you are to the source, the more reliable your connection will be.
  • Mobile Data or Data allows you to connect to the Internet anywhere through your phone company’s service. This is the data that commercials like the one below are referring to. As long as you have a decent signal where you are, you can connect to mobile data. You’ll likely connect to either a 3G or (4G) LTEnetwork; don’t worry about these names beyond knowing that LTE is newer and faster.

  • GPS is the same technology that runs the GPS device in your car. This system allows your phone to be accurately located across the globe. It’s also independent of being connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Mobile Data, so you can use GPS capabilities on your phone even in the middle of nowhere.
21 Middle Of Nowhere   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
  • Bluetooth is a short-range connection used to transfer information between devices. You’ve certainly seen a person chatting away on an earpiece — that’s a Bluetooth headset that pairs with their phone. The sounds of the call are then transmitted through the earpiece instead of the phone. Bluetooth is also used in vehicles nowadays to stream music and calls right to your stereo system.
22 Bluetooth Guy   New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against
  • Finally, Airplane Mode, which may have been an option on your previous phone, shuts off most of the above on your phone. When in airplane mode, you won’t be able to send or receive calls, texts, or access the Internet, but you can still play games or listen to music, for example. You could use it on an airplane, but it’s also useful when you want to conserve battery or when you don’t want to be bothered; perhaps when charging overnight.

For everyday purposes: It’s smart to keep as many of these networks off as you can. Everything that’s running on your smartphone consumes its battery, so it’s important to cut back where you can. Unless you use Bluetooth all the time with a headset or in your car, shut it off and save your phone’s battery.
Wi-Fi is more battery friendly than using data, so make sure you get set up on the Wi-Fi at friends’ houses and your own. If you don’t know how to connect to a Wi-Fi network, see a guide; it’s easy and your phone will remember networks you’ve connected to for the next time. In addition, Wi-Fi will not use any of your data, so it’s wise to do your most data-heavy tasks, like watching videos or streaming music, on Wi-Fi.

Now You’re Equipped

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Android, but with what you’ve learned here, you should be capable of using your phone to make calls and texts and navigate around. If you would benefit from another beginner-oriented article on this topic, please let us know by leaving a comment or sending an email!
If you’ve read through these tips and decided that Android is just too confusing for you, check out Yaara’s excellent review of Wiser, an alternative launcher app that makes using your phone as simple as can be. Or, if you want nothing to do with a smartphone at all, Matt has listed some dead-simple phones that are great for senior citizens.
Did these tips help you? What confuses you most about Android? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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