Getting Started on an Android Phone

Summary: Getting started on a new phone can be intimidating. This is our comprehensive Getting Started on Android guide.

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There are a lot of different Android devices out there right now from a variety of Manufacturers. As such getting started can seem intimidating or simply more hassle than it's worth. After going through the process of picking which match of hardware and user interface best suits you how does one set up the device in a way that unlocks its full potential? We've written this handy guide in order to help users get started on Android and figure out how to set their handset up in a way that is preferable.


Don't be intimidated by the number of steps. Most are very simple and take almost no time or thought. We've just included all of them on the off chance some of the wording is confusing to anyone. The whole process actually only takes a couple of minutes.

Your phone may also differ slightly in the way the steps are organised, or you may have less steps in your setup. This is an unavoidable side effect of the Android OS existing over so many different devices. We've included as many of the steps we could think of across as many Android handsets as possible.

Step 1: Insert SIM

For most folk this phase involves inserting your GSM SIM card (CDMA users will not have a SIM card unless the device is LTE enabled, this will generally only apply to some users within the US)

Step 2: Select Carrier

This one is pretty straight forward. If required just select whichever carrier you are with. Sometimes a phone can show more than one, but as long as you know who you signed up with (which you really should) then always go with that option.

Step 3: Select Language

In many countries there will be only one option here. If there are multiple then just choose whatever language you're most fluent in. Make sure that if there are multiple versions of one language (i.e. 'English: US' or 'English: UK') then you pick the correct option.

Step 4: Connection Type

Some phones will give you the option of connecting to a carrier network or using the phone as a WiFi-only device. Most people will want to choose the 'Mobile Network or WiFi' option. This will allow your phone to function on both a carrier network and over WiFi.

Step 5: Scheduled Syncing

This option asks whether or not you want your phone to automatically sync information or for you to perform the task manually. We prefer manual, as it gives us more control over the content in our device, as well as what information is stored in our Gmail profiles. However, this is purely a matter of personal preference.

Step 6: WiFi Setup

You can skip this step if you want and come back to it at a later time. WiFi setup is the stage at which you choose what WiFi networks in the area that you wish to connect to and save a password so that you will automatically switch to WiFi whenever within range of said network.

The phone should automatically detect all WiFi networks in the area and offer them to you. If you have a private WiFi network it may not show up automatically due to your privacy settings. If so just enter the name of your network and the type of privacy lock you are using, then enter the password.

Step 7: Google's Location Services

This is a step that can cause concern amongst users. The concept of allowing Google to track your location can sound worrying and if you want to switch this off then it's entirely up to you. However, many of Google's services, such as maps, will require access to your location in order to function.

If you still find yourself uncertain then switch it off. Any application that requires your location will inform you and offer you to switch the setting as soon as they are activated. As a result this step is easily revisited as soon as having it set to off mode becomes an issue.

Step 8: Allow Google to Collect Anonymous Data or Don't

This step can also sound concerning. However, allowing Google to collect anonymous data is one of the ways that Android can improve its services.

This data is collected and collated anonymously. Your identity will not be connected to the information that is saved.

Step 9: Allow Your Phone's Manufacturer to Collect Anonymous Data or Don't

This is the same deal as step 8. Once again the choice is up to you. There is also less likely that you will encounter any limited functionality by opting to not share information with your manufacturer than with Google.

Android Step 10: Syncing Accounts

Android will allow you to sync a large variety of accounts across multiple social media networks with your device. Accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and many more.

The most important account to sync is your Gmail account. If you don't have a Gmail account the setup process will ask you to create one on the spot. This is a necessary step and doesn't take too much time.

You can choose to automatically back up your phone's data with your Gmail account. Doing this will mean that your contacts will be backed up, as will other useful information such as the apps you have purchased and even photos you have taken (backing up photos is achieved via Google+ and requires an active Google+ account as well as the Google+ being installed on the device).

Accounts such as Facebook will prompt the user to sync their Facebook contacts with their phone contacts upon launch. Once again this is up to you. The phone achieves the merging of profiles and contacts easily, as mobile phone numbers are now stored in Facebook. Doing this will ensure that all of your contacts that have been synced will have corresponding photos, but once again it is totally unnecessary.

Step 11: Transfer Data from a Past Device

Many Android phones these days have services that allow you to transfer data from your old phone to your new one. In many cases this is unnecessary as Gmail backs up your contacts/your contacts can be stored on your SIM card and any apps you have previously purchased on the Android platform should still be available for a free re-download.

Step 12: Set Date & Time

The date and time should already be correct, but it's wise to check.

Step 13: Finish setup

Now you're done with the preliminary stuff. It's time to go to the Home screen and get customising.


Customising Your Phone

Now it's time to set your phone up so that it best reflects you. It's best to do this sooner rather than later, as it will still take the same amount of time whenever you do it but will noticeably improve your user experience.

Step 1: Downloading Apps

The Android Market app should be located on your primary Home Screen. Don't tap it just yet, if you're going to download apps like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ then there's a chance they're already on your device. Open up the applications folder and have a quick check first.

Downloading apps from the Android Market is simple. If you have a specific app in mind then do a search for it by pressing the search icon up the top that is shaped like a magnifying glass. If you're looking for something more general, like games, just pick that section and start browsing.

Apps that you have previously purchased should be available for free download from the Android Market, so long as you're using the same Gmail account as when you purchased them.

Step 2: Backgrounds, Lock Screens and Ringtones

If you're switching from a relatively recent Android device to a new one then your old background should transfer and activate automatically. If not then it's pretty easy to set up a custom one yourself, or use one of the stock backgrounds that comes with the handset.

Stock backgrounds are really easy to set up. Most phones will have a Wallpaper option if you press the Menu button while on a Home Screen. Just click it, pick a background that you like and you're done.

If you want to a custom background, such as a photo you've taken or a pic that you've downloaded from the Internet then you'll have to go in to your Gallery. The Gallery is not always found on a Home Screen by default, so you may have to go in to your applications menu to find it.

Locate the picture you want and tap the screen once it's opened. There should be an option called something along the lines of "Set As". Click this and your options should be open to you. If it's possible to set a separate Lock Screen image on your device to whatever the Wallpaper is set as then this should be visible here.

Should a Set As option not appear just by tapping the screen then hit the Menu button and it will be located in the options that pop up.

Setting a ringtone or message alert tone is similar. On the Home Screen, tap the Menu button and then hit Settings. Click Sounds then choose whatever option you wish (i.e. Notification Ringtons or Phone Ringtones etc).

To set an MP3 or song file as a ringtone it should be almost exactly the same as setting a custom pic as a background. Open your Music app then open the song that you want. Click the Menu button and then choose Set As.

Now, most alerts will trigger your alert notification sound. If you want to silence some, such as Email, or differentiate between Facebook, Email, SMS etc then that is done from within the app. For instance, to change your Gmail notification settings you'll need to open up Gmail, press More, then press Settings. These settings are specific to Gmail or whatever other app you are in and shouldn't affect functionality across the rest of your device.

Step 3: Customising Your Home Screens

Once you've done prettying up your background and alert tones we suggest grabbing whatever apps you think you'll be needing from the applications menu and transferring them to a Home Screen. It's a good idea to check if apps like the Music app are the basic Android one, or one provided by your provider. Often the stock Music app will be hidden away in the app menu. We suggest using these rather than a carrier's version, as we've never had a problem with a music app made by Google or by an Android manufacturer.

It's also a good idea to explore your Home Screens and play around with whatever widgets are on there. Give each one a decent go and see if you'll find it useful down the track. If not then it can be beneficial to get rid of it, as Widgets can be huge battery hogs. You don't have to do it right away, but if you think you'd prefer a bit more battery power after a few days of use then this is a great way to do it.

Removing widgets or apps from the home screen is easy. Simply hold down your finger on any of them and in a moment a trash-can or 'Remove' area should pop up. Still holding your finger down, drag the app or widget in question to that area and release. This is not a permanent delete; it merely moves the offending icon from the Home Screen. Whatever you delete in this manor will remain in your applications menu or widgets folder.

Loading up Music and Video on to an Android Device

The experience of syncing an Android device to a computer can differ slightly depending on which Android handset you've chosen, what Android version it uses and which user interface it employs. However, the general overall mechanics remain the same.

First connect your phone to your computer via the USB cable that should have been included in the box. You should then be prompted to download a syncing program. This program will be different for different manufacturers (HTC, Samsung, Motorola etc), but will serve the same basic purpose. That purpose being easy communication between your phone and your computer.

Once the download and installation is complete you can opt to set your device up with whatever manufacturer-specific services you wish, but it's rarely necessary.

From now on your Android handset should simply appear as an external hard drive for your computer. Some devices, such as HTC phones, will offer the option of either merely charging from the computer or acting as a USB storage device while charging. However, other devices will have different connection methods, such as Samsung which requires the user to press the home screen button and then leave the phone idle. Basically just make sure that you've connected properly, otherwise your phone may not show up as a USB device or external drive.

Once it's visible that's usually most of your work done as far as loading music on goes. Android supports a large amount of media formats. As a result it's usually just a matter of copying whatever files you want and pasting them in to your device. We recommend making a folder labelled "music" within your phone in order to make life easier and more organised for you later.

After the file transfer is done disconnect your device in the same manor that you would eject any USB device or external hard-drive. Once disconnected your phone should immediately detect the new media and add it to your music library.

Video content can be a bit more tricky. While Android does still support a wide range of video formats, there are still some of the more popular ones such as .avi and .m4v which an Android device cannot play. Thus any unsupported files must be converted. This can be achieved in two ways.

By downloading and utilising a 3rd party conversion program. We suggest doing a web search for a program that specifically converts the file you have to a supported file. For example "convert m4v to XviD". This should almost always provide satisfactory results.

Some Android phones will actually offer to convert the files for you when you attempt to transfer them initially. The phone will recognise that this is an unsupported file type, notify you and suggest conversion. This is generally just as fast or faster than using 3rd party programs and we suggest using this option whenever possible. Remember, not all Android devices have this service, so don't go in expecting your Android to provide this.

It's important to remember that you don't have to convert a file to a supported type if you only wish to use the phone to transfer the file between two locations as you would with an external hard-drive. It will only be necessary to convert if you actually want to watch the video file on your Android handset.

Once again the phone should automatically realise that it has new media on it and add it to whatever section of the UI it plays videos from. This can vary from device to device, but it's usually very straight forward to find out.

This approach to the loading of media content on to a device offers more freedom to the user than other, more restrictive syncing methods.

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