The soaring popularity of phones running Google’s Android system is undeniable. Analysts forecast that 80% of the world’s smartphones will use Android by the end of this year, meaning you or someone you know is likely to be buying one — maybe for the first time.
Smartphones are like tiny computers, and as such, they can take a little getting used to. Knowing the location of popular tools or settings is essential to using a phone effectively, but from all of the feedback we’ve received over the years, it seems Android is more difficult to master than an iPhone.
Follow the prompts
Regardless of which company makes your Android phone, the first few minutes with your new handset are pretty much the same. After you turn the phone on for the first time, you’ll be guided through a series of questions to help set up your new phone.
We recommend you connect to a Wi-Fi network when prompted; the phone may need to download updates and you don’t want to spend your valuable mobile data on these downloads.
Your Google Account
Having an active Google account (or Gmail Account) is an essential part of the Android experience. The email address you enter during this set up process will become the default account for your phone, and it is difficult to change it to a different account later.
Make sure you enter the Gmail account you use most. A lot of data will be associated with this account in future, including app purchases, movie rentals, books and music, plus important user settings.
If you don’t have a Google account, or you’d like to create a new one, you can register an account during the set-up process.
A virtual tour of Android
If you are familiar with a Windows PC, you’ll notice some similar concepts in Android. The main screens you’ll see are the ‘Home Screens’ which serve the same function as the Desktop in Windows.
You can put shortcuts to apps on the Home Screens, create folders to group similar tools in a single place, and position Widgets — interactive app shortcuts that display important information, like the weather or calendar entries.
To move between Home Screens, swipe horizontally across the screen.
If Home Screens are like a Windows Desktop, then the Apps Drawer is like the Start Menu. This is the place where all of your apps are stored — both the ones that came with the phone and the ones you download.
The icon for the App Drawer may look a little different on your phone, but it is often a small cube or circle filled with dots — like the one pictured.
If you want to put a shortcut to an app on the Home Screen, simply press and hold down on the icon in the App Drawer. Keep holding while the Home Screen appears and then position it where you’d like before letting go. If you make a mistake, press and hold the icon again and move it again.
One of the key features of the original Android’s design, that has since been copied by Microsoft and Apple, is the Notifications Panel. A one-stop location for all your incoming messages, reminders and app controls.
From the Home Screen, you’ll see a black bar across the top displaying the time, your network signal strength, battery life and a number of other icons. To access the Notifications Panel, swipe down the screen starting from the black notifications bar.
From the Notifications Panel, you can launch apps by selecting any messages there, or you can dismiss the reminders by swiping horizontally on them.
One of the great advantages of choosing an Android phone is the level of customisation available through the System Settings. These tweaks might include changing your wallpapers, adjusting the screen brightness or volume of your ringtone.
Some important tools are tucked away in the Settings too, like the ability to share your mobile data over Wi-Fi with a laptop — known as a ‘portable hotspot’.
There are way too many bits and pieces to go through here, but it is worth your time going through the settings and familiarising yourself with some of the options available.
To access System Settings, pull down the Notification Panel and select the icon that looks either like a small cog or like a person standing in a box.
The Core Apps and Tools
Phone, Messages and People
OK, this is the absolute basics, but we would recommend that if you are unfamiliar with Android that you make sure shortcuts for these frequently used tools are front-and-centre on the first screen you see when you turn your phone on.
You can also place a ‘Direct Dial’ or ‘Direct Message’ widget for a specific contact on the Home Screen too. In fact, you could create a folder containing Direct Dial links to a number of contacts — close family and friends — so they are easy to find when you need to get in touch.
This is your one-stop shop for new apps, movies, books, magazines and music. To use it effectively, you’ll want to associate a credit card with your main Google account (the one you used to sign in during the set up process). If you’d prefer not to use a credit card, you can purchase Google Play gift cards from a number of retail stores.
Gmail and Google Calendar
These apps are pretty self explanatory, but both are a good example of how your new Android phone connects to your Google Account via the cloud. By default, the Gmail app and Calendar will automatically sync with their counterparts on the web. This means that if you sign in to Gmail on your computer and add a new contact, the same new contact will automatically show up on your phone. The same goes for new entries in your calendar — if you create a meeting on your phone, it will sync with Google Calendar on the web.
Even better, if you begin writing an email in Gmail on your phone, the draft for that message is automatically available when you sign in to Gmail on a PC, and vice versa. It is all interconnected and it makes things much easier.
Transferring Music and Videos to your phone
If you have a collection of media you want to take with you on your phone, the process of getting it from your PC to your Android phone is probably much simpler than you think.
Unlike iPhone, Android doesn’t need an annoying iTunes-like app. Instead, you plug your phone into your PC and wait while it connects the memory in your phone to the computer — similar to what happens when you plug in a USB memory stick.
Once connected you can drag and drop your media files into the phone’s memory, and once it has finished transferring, you’re good to go.
Well, that's the basics, folks -- your beginner's guide to Android. Below is a list of other articles we've written that will help advance your knowledge of Android, when you feel ready.
- Great Android battery saving tips
- What is Google Hangouts?
- How to turn on Wi-Fi internet sharing
- How to change your Android keyboard