Making yourself at home on Android
Welcome to Android. At first it may seem strange and unnerving, but you’ll soon get used to it. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you get your feet under the table and start to feel at home.
Finding your way
Navigation is a little different on Android. You’ll be used to the almighty Home button on iPhone. Generally, you’ll find three buttons beneath the screen on Android (or onscreen). They are:
- Home: This will always take you to the Home screen. If you want to get back to the Home screen in a hurry then press Home. Hold down Home and swipe up to launch Google Now. It’s always in the middle.
- Back: The Back button is exactly as it sounds. If you want to go back one page, one level, or one screen, to what you were just looking at, then tap the Back button. You can also use it to back out of apps. It’s usually on the left.
- Recent Apps or Multitasking: The recent apps menu shows recent apps, predictably enough. If you want to jump back into an app you were just using, this is how you do it. You can also shut down apps from this menu by swiping them away. In Android 5.0 Lollipop and above, you’ll also find Chrome tabs in here, and some apps can have multiple cards. It’s usually on the right.
On some Android devices, particularly older devices, you may also find:
- Menu: Though it’s an old option, some manufacturers, like Samsung, retained the menu button after Google dropped it. This button will bring up a menu of options for the screen that you are on, or the app that you are in. Whenever you feel lost and you’re not sure how to get the option you want, there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.
- Search: You’ll find this on older Android phones and it simply allows you to search for whatever you want via Google. You can also hold it down to launch Voice search.
Instead of defaulting to the home screen, like an iPhone, your apps on Android will be tucked away in the app drawer. You can have multiple home screens in Android, and you simply swipe left and right to cycle through them. There will be an icon labeled Apps on the bottom row of all of your home screens, contained in an ever-present dock with the other usual suspects like Phone, Contacts, Messaging, and Internet. If you want to add an app shortcut directly to your home screen, just find it in the app drawer, then tap and hold on the icon until it comes loose and your home screen pops up underneath, and then drop it where you want it.
Everything important that happens on your phone will spark a notification (and they work a lot better than iPhone). Simply drag down the notification bar from the top of the screen to check up on your latest notifications. You can click on them for more detail, or to take action. You can dismiss them by swiping them away, or tap the clear icon to get rid of everything at once.
Customization and widgets
One of the big attractions of Android is the ability to customize your smartphone and use widgets. To customize the look of your phone, you can just tap and hold on an empty section of home screen to get a pop up menu allowing you to set the wallpaper (including animated “live” wallpaper if you like). On a lot of Android devices, you’ll also see the option to add widgets, apps, and folders. On stock Android, you’ll find the widgets in a separate tab in the Apps drawer. You can drop one app icon on top of another to create a folder. You can also change the wallpaper for your Lock screen or Home screen via Settings > Display > Wallpaper.
Widgets are small windows into individual apps that can update automatically to bring you new information. This means you can see the latest weather, sports scores, or tweets, without having to enter the actual app. Not every app has a widget, just tap and hold on an empty portion of the home screen and select widgets to review your options, or go into the apps drawer and scroll over on most newer phones.
If you’re really keen on personalizing the aesthetic of your smartphone, then you should explore the world of launchers. There are all kinds of different looks and styles available, often completely free. A couple of popular launchers to get you started are Nova Launcher and GO Launcher EX.
Even though the Play Store has overtaken Apple’s App Store when it comes to sheer numbers, there’s no denying that there are more high quality, polished apps and games on iOS. Due to the potential profit margin for developers (which, on average, remains higher on iOS because people spend more money on apps) most new apps and games will launch on iPhone first. The good news is that the gap is closing, and the vast majority of the big apps and games that you knew and loved on your iPhone will be available for Android. You’ll also find that apps and games are generally cheaper, and a higher proportion of them are free, on the Android platform.
To get you started, why not check out our best Android apps and best Android games roundups? With Android you’re not forced to use a set of default apps. In fact, you’ll typically find duplicated functionality in pre-installed Google apps, and manufacturer or carrier apps. You can simply select the one you like best, or install another third-party option to do the job. When you have more than one app capable of performing a task, you’ll get a pop-up window asking you which one you’d like to use (you can tick Always to make it the default).
When you want to check your complete app list, you can go to Settings > Apps. You can choose to uninstall apps, Clear cache or Clear data, and review the apps’ permissions on this screen (you can also disable bloatware that you don’t use). You’ll find app updates will appear in your Notifications bar from time to time, or you can enter Play Store, tap Menu and choose My apps to update everything at once.
Alleviating your worries
Every criticism of Android refers to the same potential problems. There are things that may make you reticent to leave Apple’s walled garden, but these issues are sometimes exaggerated. There are also ways to dispel those concerns.
Fragmentation: A great deal is made of the fragmentation issue, but is unlikely to impact on your Android experience. There is a huge choice of Android devices running different versions of the platform, and the main issue comes into play with updates. Unlike Apple, Google can’t just push an update out for every Android device. The manufacturer and the carrier have a say, and sometimes they hold things up. There can also be issues with manufacturer UIs like Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense. In practice, the top phones get updates fairly quickly. If you want guaranteed fast updates then opt for a Google device, like the Nexus 6P or Pixel. In terms of apps, the Play Store doesn’t allow you to install incompatible apps.
Malware: Every day there’s a new article raising the spectre of malware on Android. As the most popular mobile platform it is inevitable that Android will be targeted, but it is relatively easy to stay safe. Consider installing one of the top Android security apps, and you can forget about malware.
Stability: Early Android versions were prone to crashing and lag. Couple that with the fact that you can buy Android smartphones with fairly low specs (for a fraction of the price of an iPhone), and you can see why there was some chatter about stability. You have to compare apples with apples, or in this case, a top of the range, comparably priced Android smartphone, with the iPhone. The latest versions of Android are fast and smooth, and the latest Android smartphones can match, or even occasionally best, the iPhone when it comes to performance. Google has also done a lot of work to improve stability and performance on lower end hardware.
Extra options: Rooting and other tips
With Android, you have the option of rooting, which basically gives you deeper access to your device. This enables you to tweak absolutely everything about your phone. We discuss the pros and cons, and how to do it, in our how to root your Android phone guide. We have a top ten apps for rooted Android phones roundup as well.
If you buy one of the latest Android smartphones, then you’ll want to check out our tips for Android 7.0 Nougat and Android 6.0 Marshmallow to uncover some great features. We also have a wide range of other Android guides including everything from how to block calls on your Android phone to how to shut off Android notifications. You’ll also find a lot of tips and troubleshooting articles for popular Android devices, so take a look.