The popularity of Android has been on a slow but steady rise. If you aren’t using an iPhone, then your options are pretty limited: Blackberry for the business folk, Android for the everyday iPhone equivalent, then Windows Phone for the rest. Of those 3 alternatives, Android is the most popular. So if you’re just starting off with an Android device, you probably have a few questions on how to proceed.
I’ll be honest–I was a latecomer to the world of smartphones. Yep, I was using an old Samsung flip-phone until Fall 2011 when my contract renewed and I was able to grab an Android phone for free. As a newbie, I had a ton of questions. How do I do this? Where can I get that? The learning process was frustrating, but fun.
Here are some common questions that Android newbies might ask. If you’re new to Android, the answers may help to ease your transition.
1. What is Android?
Android is an operating system based on Linux that has been designed for use in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The chief developer behind Android is Google, though they work in conjunction with the Open Handset Alliance, an organization that aims to develop and maintain standards for mobile devices.
2. Why Android?
There are a number of reasons why users could prefer Android over competing mobile operating systems:
- User choice. Android can be used on hundreds of handsets and tablets. Instead of being pigeonholed into a particular device, users have the option of choosing which device they would prefer to use.
- Customization. Because Android is an open source operating system, it can be modified by users. If you have the required expertise, you could very well change fundamental functions of the phone to fit your own desires.
- Google. As the number two largest tech company in the world, Google has proven itself as a competent business. It’s competitors–Microsoft and Apple–are also competent businesses, but some users prefer the way Google does business.
Of course, there are other reasons, too, but these are the main ones that often win users over. None of this is to say that Android is the best mobile operating system–that would be up to personal preference.
3. Where do Android’s version names come from?
You may have noticed a delicious trend in the way Android likes to name its versions: Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean. As I type them right now, my mouth is starting to water.
In essence, Android names each successive version after a dessert that starts with the next letter of the English alphabet. That’s all.
4. Do I need a Google account to use an Android phone?
Technically? No. The phone itself will work just fine without a Google account. However, if you want to take advantage of Google Play–to download apps–then yes, you will need a Google account.
Furthermore, Android actually uses Google accounts to sync phone data if you allow it to. This means that your phone setup is stored on Google’s servers in case something goes wrong and you lose all of your data or something, you’ll be able to go back to a previous version.
5. What are these buttons on my Android phone?
The majority of Android devices come with 4 hardware buttons that are built into the phone. These buttons are (in the sequence shown above):
- Back: This button will take you back one step to whatever you were doing before your current step. For example, in a web browser, it’ll take you back to the previous page.
- Menu: Depending on when you tap this button, something will happen. Usually, if you’re inside an app, you’ll be presented with a number of choices. For the most part, it’s used for accessing an app’s settings.
- Search: If you’re on the home screen, this button will show you a search bar that takes you to search results in a web browser. If you’re in a program, however, usually it will result in finding a specific phrase in that program (like the Find function in Word).
- Home: If you single tap, this button will take you back to the home screen. If you hold the button, however, it’ll show you a list of all running apps, allowing you to quickly switch between them or close them.
6. How customizable is Android?
The answer is, of course, very customizable. Once you get past the numerous choices of which device you want, you’ll then be able to ponder just which software you want.
Like other mobile operating systems, Android has app functionality. Through Google Play, you can download and install various apps that improve your phone in different ways. There are: games to stave off boredom; productivity apps to keep you sharp and punctual; themes and skins that change how things look; and more.
But unlike other mobile operating systems, Android gives you the freedom to install new ROMs. ROMs are basically other versions of Android. Each ROM is unique in that they are each designed for different purposes. Some ROMs are designed to be fast at the cost of features; others are designed to pack in as many features as they can.
If you know anything about Linux, you can think of ROMs as different flavors of Linux. One ROM might be a Fedora, another could be Red Hat, while another ROM could be Ubuntu. Each is Linux, but they’re all different in noticeable ways. Same with Android and its ROMs.
7. How can I customize my Android home screen?
You can customize your home screen by holding down on icons and moving them around or deleting them. There are three main ways to customize the home screen: wallpapers, app shortcuts from the app drawer, and widgets.
8. What’s the difference between “home screen” and “app drawer”?
This distinction is one of the big differences between Android and iOS. In iOS, when you install new apps, they are placed directly on the home screen. If you fill up your screen, the app icons overflow into the next page. If you want to hide those icons, you can’t–at least not without fiddling with your phone in ways that could void your warranty.
In Android, however, all of your apps are kept in the app drawer. The home screen, then, only contains shortcut icons to the actual apps. Think of it like a Windows PC: your programs are installed into various locations on your computer, but only the shortcuts that you want appear on the desktop. In the screenshot above you can see a home screen to the left (emptier), and an app drawer to the right (a grid full of icons).
9. And what are widgets?
Widgets are dynamic elements that operate directly on the home screen. Every widget looks different and can do pretty much anything that the programmer wants it to do. It sounds confusing, I know, but hopefully I can clear it up.
One widget that you might know is the weather widget. This widget sits on your home screen and displays the current temperature and current weather conditions. It updates over time depending on weather changes.
Another widget you might know is an email inbox widget. This one sits on your home screen and updates every time you receive a new email, allowing you to stay on top of your email as soon as it comes in.
Android comes with a few default widgets, but most of the popular ones are developed by hobby programmers and third-party developers. Widgets can be downloaded on Google Play.
10. What is the “notification bar”?
At the top of your screen, you’ll see a bar that stretched across. This bar will display icons for all of the services currently running on your device, as well as showing you WiFi signal strength, reception bars, time, and more.
If you press and drag the notification bar down, it’ll open up to show you a bunch of notifications (if you have any). This way, you aren’t bombarded by popups and messages every time an app wants to notify you of something.
11. How do I transfer files from my computer to my phone?
The quickest way is to connect your phone to your computer using a USB cable. Once you enable USB storage on your phone, you can freely transfer files back and forth just as if you were transferring files to an external hard drive.
There are other ways, such as through Bluetooth or WiFi, but they are more convoluted and would require an article onto themselves.
12. How do I add apps to Android?
There are two ways you can add apps to your Android device: 1) through Google Play on your phone, or 2) through Google Play on the web.
If you open the Google Play app on your device, you can search the market and find different apps, both free and paid. The operating system handles everything for you, so once you find an app that you want and you click “Install,” you won’t have to do anything else.
If you log into Google Play online using your Google account (the same one you use for your device), then you can actually install straight to your device through your browser. Very convenient.
There are other app-downloading services and markets, like Amazon App Store, but they are another topic altogether.
13. How do I install a new ROM on Android?
Our very own Ryan Dube actually wrote up a post detailing how you can install a custom ROM on your Android device. Be aware, however, that ROM installation is an advanced topic and doing it incorrectly could render your phone bricked.
What is “bricked,” you ask? It means your phone no longer starts up, making it no more useful than a paperweight. A brick, you could say. For more on Android-related terminology and jargon, check out this article with a mini Android glossary.
Hopefully these questions were pertinent to you and you have a better understanding of Android. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to ask it in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Image Credit: Apple & Android Via cio.com.au