Android: The Three Things You Need to Know First

Congratulations! You just became the proud owner of your first Android phone: an EVO 4G, a MyTouch Slide, or one of the dozens of others available. Using Android is fairly intuitive, but there are a few things to know that will help you get comfortable more quickly.

1. Android has its head in the cloud.

Open up the Contacts on your new Android phone for the first time, and you may be surprised to find your friends already listed there. Your Google contacts are your Android contacts, and you can manage them on your phone, in Gmail, or at Google Contacts. Either way, they’ll all stay in sync. Or–if you prefer–just sync certain contact groups with your phone. Install the official Twitter app and the official Facebook app, and you can keep contacts from those two sites in sync with your phone’s contacts, too.

And the cloud-connectedness goes beyond contacts. Pictures on your phone sync with Picasa Web Albums, and vice versa. So do voicemails in your Google Voice account, favorite places and custom maps in Google Maps, your agenda in Google Calendar, and your search history in the browser.

2. Pull down the windowshade for your notifications.

If you’ve installed an app, connected your phone to another computer via USB or received an email, text message, IM, or voicemail, you know that notifications show up in the little horizontal bar across the top of the screen. But did you know you can touch that bar and drag it down for more information on them? Then tap on an individual notification to go straight to the new email, to open the app you just installed, etc. And you can pull down the notification bar from anywhere, whether you’re on a homescreen or in an app– if you see the bar, you can pull it down to access your current notifications.

If you already know how to do this, you no doubt take it for granted and may think it’s silly to point out, but I’ve known folks who’ve gone weeks without knowing it’s possible. It’s a great way to handle notifications–but only if you know it exists.

3. When in doubt, press longer.

“Long press” is to Android like “right click” is to Windows. If you can tap it, you can probably also tap and hold for contextual options and more functionality. Don’t like the spot you dropped that app shortcut on your desktop? Press and hold for just a moment, and when you feel the haptic buzz, drag it to somewhere else. Press and hold on an empty spot on the desktop, and you’ll be rewarded with a menu that lets you create shortcuts, add widgets or folders, and change the wallpaper. It works in apps, too: long press on a message in Gmail to choose to archive it, star it, or perform another action. In the browser, long press on a link to choose to bookmark it, share it, or any of several other options. Also in the browser, you can long press the Back button to access your History.

Long press Home from anywhere to see and choose from apps you’ve used recently.

Long press Search from anywhere to bring up voice search.

Long press Menu from anywhere to bring up a virtual keyboard. Try it, for example, in your list of  contacts. Tap and hold Menu to bring up the keyboard, then start typing someone’s name. The list of contacts will instantly filter to those that match what you typed.

When in doubt, long press, and you’ll probably learn something else you can do.

Now, new Android owner, you know enough to be dangerous. Enjoy your phone and keep an eye on for more great tips and tricks.

  • Kyle P.

    Nice article, Chuck. Well written.

  • Casper Bang

    You're missing one critical point though: You never explicitly "quit" an application on Android. The Android OS takes good care of this for you leaving you to focus on what you want to do rather than what you do not want to do.

    I can't tell how many times I've seen a new Android user ask about task-managers and similar, revealing their past expectations and habits from desktop computing.

  • Also…

    4. The Menu Button is your friend. If you don't see what you're looking for on the screen, try hitting Menu. Chances are that will bring up extra options.

    5. Use the Back Button to "exit" or "back out of" apps. Most apps don't feature a close button, but by hitting the back button, you can usually exit an app, or at least get back to a home screen.

    6. The Home Button is useful. Multitasking is an Android staple, and by hitting the home button while inside an app, you are taken back to your home screen while the app remains running. To get back to the running app, simply relaunch it from its icon and it will load in its current state. Also, by long pressing the home button, you will get a popup window of the last 6 apps launched, making it super easy to switch back to one of them.

    • Don

      All of these tips have helped me get past the new-to-touchscreens wilderness. This type of information ought to be more up front in the getting started booklet. Thanks!

  • Paresh

    Don't forget the search button.
    It instantly searches for the apps you've installed, your contacts, calendar, text messages and internet. Once you get hold on this often over-looked or under-used button, you'll never go back. So powerful.

    You've got computer in your hand, let it do the work…

  • Anyone transitioning from Symbian will need to be told about the back button or they will be hideously confused by this.
    I live in Ireland and have been watching people puzzle over the interface when they need to go back for months. Lots of buttons make the phone easier to use, but understanding the back button is vital.

  • Awesome post. I think Point #1 is the most important. If you know how to take advantage of that, you can save lots of time typing on a small keyboard…

  • thx for info

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