If you just bought a new Android phone, congratulations! You’re about to experience the world’s most popular mobile operating system. Android lets you customize nearly any aspect of your device that you like, has a beautiful Material Design aesthetic, and has millions of awesome apps ready to download.
But if you’re new to Android or haven’t set up a new phone in a while, you might be a bit lost on how to set it up correctly. Let’s walk through the setup process together, along with a few other tips you should consider when you’re getting your device ready.
Note that we’ve already covered the bare basics and essential beginner tips for using Android. This guide will cover the initial setup, while those guides on general use teach you how to master your device. As always, these steps may differ slightly depending on your device because of the ways hardware makers customize Android.
Walking Through the Initial Setup
So you’ve just come home with your Android phone and you need to set it up. Here’s what to do.
Step 1: Insert the SIM Card (and Battery)
The SIM card is what connects your device to your carrier’s network. Check the box for a tiny, thumbnail-sized card and look for the Quick Setup guide to find where it goes in your particular device.
Typically, you’ll find either a cover that pops off with your nail, or a pinhole that you have to insert a small tool into to open the SIM slot. Other devices may have the SIM inside the battery compartment if the battery is removable. Simply push the SIM card in until it’s secured (or drop it in the tray if that’s what your device has), and you’ve installed it!
If you purchased your phone from a carrier store, the SIM card might already be inside your device. Typically, you’ll have to insert it yourself if you buy your phone online or unlocked, like if you use Project Fi.
Your phone’s battery should already be inserted when you receive it, but if the battery is removable, it might not be. Pop off the back cover and insert the battery if needed.
Step 2: Power On and Get Connected
Now you’re ready to turn on your device and start setting it up. You’ll need to hold the Power button for a few seconds to turn on your phone. This button is typically found on the right side of your device near the top, or on the top of the phone. The battery will likely be half-charged, which is plenty for the initial setup. But you can charge your device before or during the setup if you like.
After a minute to power up, your phone will display the Welcome screen and ask you to choose a language. Pick that and press Get Started or Continue. Your phone might ask whether you want to use Mobile Network and Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Only to get online. Unless you have a very limited data plan, you’ll probably want to select the first option.
Next, you’ll need to connect your phone to a Wi-Fi network to get it online. Assuming you’re at home when you’re setting up, tap on the name of your home Wi-Fi network and enter the password. After a moment, your phone will confirm that you’re connected to the internet.
Step 3: Sign Into Your Google Account
After you’re online, the next step is to connect your Google account. While you can use Android without Google, you’ll miss out on lots of great features if you skip this step. Your Google account lets you easily back up data on your phone like Wi-Fi passwords, contacts, and photos. Sign into your existing account, or follow the prompts to create a new account if you wish.
Once you’re signed in, your phone will ask you about enabling some Google services like automatic backups and location services. We recommend leaving these enabled to get the most out of your phone, but you can always change these later if necessary.
Then, you’ll see a prompt to add a payment method. If you connect your credit/debit card or PayPal, Google will use this information when you make purchases from the Google Play Store, Android’s home for apps, games, music, and more. You can select No, thanks to skip this step and add a payment method later. This won’t prevent you from downloading free content from the Play Store.
If the Google Account that you signed into was used on a different Android phone, you’ll probably have the opportunity to restore your apps and settings from that device. This can make the setup a lot faster, but for the purposes of this guide, we’re assuming this is your first Android device and you don’t have a backup to restore.
Step 4: Configure Assistants
You’re getting close to the end of these setup menus! The next step depends on your phone’s manufacturer. On a Nexus or Pixel device, you’ll be asked if you want to use Google Now. You should absolutely enable this. Google Now is an awesome feature that brings you information before you ask for it.
It shows you when there’s an accident on your daily commute, when recent orders from Amazon will arrive, and finds web articles that you’ll enjoy. If you’re on an HTC or Samsung device, you may see information about services specific to those devices instead.
Step 5: Lock Screen Security
This next step is an essential one: you’ll want to add lock screen security to your phone. You can use your phone without any lock, but if you ever lose your phone, there won’t be anything to stop mischievous folks from accessing your information.
If your device has a fingerprint scanner, it will walk you through the steps to add your fingerprints. Fingerprint scanning is a great mix of security and convenience — resting your finger on the scanner is much faster than typing a password, and it’s difficult to spoof. You’ll have to add a few fingers at minimum, but we recommend adding a few extras (perhaps on both hands) so that it’s easier to get in.
On devices without fingerprint scanners (and as a backup for fingerprint-enabled phones), you can choose between a pattern, PIN, and password instead. Patterns aren’t too secure due to their limited number of combinations, and it’s tedious to type a long password every time you use your phone. We recommend a PIN for most people. You have to use at least four digits, but consider using six or more for increased security. Don’t use PINs like 1234 or 1379, or something obvious like your birthday.
Finally, you can choose how much notification information shows up on your lock screen. Show all notification content lets you see a preview of new texts, emails, and more, but anyone who has your phone can see these too. You can pick Don’t show notifications at all if you want maximum privacy, or Hide sensitive notification content. Android considers text messages “sensitive content,” while weather notifications aren’t.
What Android Doesn’t Help You With
After these steps, you’re all done with the initial setup. You might see a brief tutorial on changing your wallpaper, using widgets, and other basic operations. But after this, you’re left to your own methods to find out what you should do next — and that’s where we come in.
Here are a few aspects of your phone that you should tweak during setup.
Depending on your phone and carrier, you could have anywhere from zero to dozens of pre-installed apps that you don’t want. This is more of a problem on phones that don’t run stock Android, like HTC or Samsung devices. Carriers also love to add extra pre-installed junk to their devices.
Unfortunately, you can’t remove some of these apps because they’re installed on the system partition of your phone. The best you can do is disable them so that they don’t appear in your list of apps. To do this, head to Settings > Apps and have a look through the list. If you see one that’s junk, tap it and hit the Uninstall button on its information page. Apps that don’t have an Uninstall button won’t let you remove them, but you can tap Disable to prevent them from running.
For a more advanced method, check out how to remove bloatware without rooting.
Once you’ve gotten rid of the garbage apps, you should check for updates on the pre-installed apps that are actually useful (like Chrome). Open the Play Store app, then slide out the left menu and tap My apps & games. If there are updates available, you’ll see them listed at the top of the Installed list. Tap Update All to download the latest versions.
After this, make sure your apps are set to update on their own so you don’t have to do this constantly. On the left menu, tap Settings. Choose Auto-update apps and make sure it’s set to Auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only. Choosing Auto-update apps at any time will also update apps over mobile data, which will cost you if you’re on a limited data plan. App updates aren’t that urgent, so we recommend avoiding this option.
You can also check for system updates when you do this. Your phone will prompt you when there’s an update pending, but you can check manually too. Navigate to Settings > About Phone > System Updates to find new updates.
Tweak a Few Settings
Android has a lot of settings, and explaining them all is beyond the scope of this article. While many options are based on personal preference, there are a few you should tweak on a new phone:
- If you’re on a limited data plan, you can enable Android to notify you when you’re getting close to your limit. Visit Settings > Data Usage, then tap Data warning to set a threshold. Note that your carrier may measure data used different from your phone, so be careful with this measurement. You can also enable Data saver here to prevent some apps from using data in the background.
- Should you find the automatic brightness annoying, go to Settings > Display and turn off Adaptive brightness. You can manually set the Brightness level above this option, or by sliding down from the top of the screen at any time.
- You can set up times when you don’t want your phone to notify you of anything at Settings > Sound > Do not disturb.
- By going to Settings > Users > Emergency information, you can add vital info about yourself as well as emergency contacts. If you add this, anyone can access it by pressing the Emergency button on your lock screen. This could help someone return your phone if you lose it, or provide important medical info in case of an emergency.
- Sick of typing your PIN or scanning your fingerprint when you’re at home? You can disable your phone’s lock in trusted places by going to Settings > Security > Smart Lock. Android offers five options, including keeping your device unlocked when it’s at a certain location, on your person, connected to a certain Bluetooth device, or when it detects your face or voice.
Enable Photo Backup
Google Photos has a great feature that automatically backs up all the pictures on your device. You can choose between unlimited high-quality storage, or keeping a limited number of photos at their full size.
Install the Google Photos app if it’s not already on your device. Open the app and slide out the left menu, then tap Settings. Choose Back up & sync and make sure the slider is enabled. You can choose the Upload size on this page too.
With this setting enabled, every screenshot, camera photo, and downloaded image gets sent to your Photos account. You don’t have to ever manually back them up, and Photos can even delete the pictures from your device to save space. They’re always safe and viewable in your Photos app.
To go deeper with Google Photos, check out the best features you might have missed.
Install Some Awesome Apps
You’ve performed the setup and fixed some initial annoyances. Now it’s time to make your device way better by loading it up with the best apps.
- G Cloud Backup is a solid free backup tool to supplement Android’s built-in options.
- Google Opinion Rewards offers you small surveys that pay in Play Store credit, letting you download paid apps for free.
- Nova Launcher is one of the best alternative launchers that lets you customize so much more than the default launcher.
- Pulse SMS is our favorite alternative to the stock Messages app. It’s free, doesn’t have ads, and even lets you text from your PC if you pay a small fee.
- Pushbullet lets you instantly move files and content between your Android and PC.
- Swipe is the best way to use Facebook on Android, because the official Facebook app sucks.
- Zedge lets you download thousands of ringtones, wallpapers, and notification sounds for free.
While these apps are awesome, there are several popular Android apps that you shouldn’t install.
Android Is Ready to Go
That’s about all you need to have your Android phone completely set up! We didn’t cover some of the other topics, like adding home screen widgets, setting your default apps, or making your ringtone awesome with video game sounds. Those are topics for another time, as they aren’t essential to getting your phone in a usable state. Continue to experiment with your phone and find new ways to make it yours — that’s the beauty of the Android platform!
If you’ve just purchased an Android phone, which model did you get? Please share your tips for other newcomers in the comments!