September 23, 2014

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.

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