We’ve covered plenty of topics for new Android users, including which apps everyone should install first and a complete newbie’s guide to making sense of Android.
If you just got your first device, you’ve probably heard plenty of advice on what to do, but it’s not often you hear talk about what not to do. To that end, we’re here to discuss big things to avoid both when buying an Android phone and after you get it unboxed. Understand these points along with the above articles, and you’ll be an Android pro in no time.
Don’t Buy Play Store Cards to Purchase Phones
If you’re unaware, the Google Play Store is the Android equivalent of the App Store on iOS. It’s where you’ll find all sorts of apps, music, movies, and more, but one thing you cannot buy on the Play Store is an actual device.
Those looking to buy the latest Nexus phones from Google need to visit the Google Store, not the Play Store (the names are similar and easy to confuse). Currently, Google doesn’t offer gift cards for the Google Store the way Apple offers cards that can be redeemed towards devices — you can buy both Apple Store gift cards (for devices) or iTunes gift cards (for apps/media).
Google Play cards can only be used for apps, music, magazines, etc. on the Play Store. So you’ll need to use a credit card online to buy your devices straight from Google. Of course, you have other choices for a phone, but…
Don’t Buy Phones That Never See Updates
Unfortunately, the Android ecosystem is poor when it comes to updates. Because there are so many hardware manufactures that change how Android runs on their devices, they introduce roadblocks to timely updates and keep your phone running outdated versions of Android. The Nexus devices mentioned above (see our review of the amazing Nexus 6P) come straight from Google and get software updates immediately, but if you buy a Samsung or LG device, you might be waiting months for the next big update.
Now, if you value the cool features that Samsung offers on their phones more than Android updates, by all means go with them — top-quality phones like the Samsung Galaxy S6 will surely get some Android updates, though it will take a while. Phones that are over a year or two old, or phones from a no-name manufacturer, are a different story, though. Buying a super cheap phone almost guarantees that you’ll never see a newer version of Android.
Again, this comes down to preference, but it’s something worth knowing before you buy a phone. If you just need a phone for basic Internet access and don’t mind using an older operating system, don’t sweat it. But if you’re excited to check out everything new in Android and hope to use your phone and explore updates for a few years, Nexus phones are your best bet.
Don’t Install Apps Without Research
Whenever you want to install an app, don’t blindly install it without looking at it thoroughly. This goes double for apps with tons of alternatives (such as flashlights) — don’t just install the first one you see.
— Ahmad Sakka (@asakka) March 30, 2015
There are a number of reasons to be cautious. For one, there are tons of scam apps in the Play Store to avoid that range from the annoying to the dangerous, and it doesn’t help that you can’t trust app ratings on Google Play, either. Users who don’t check to make sure the apps they’re using are safe might rate them 5 stars, making a dangerous app look useful to the untrained eye.
Not to mention, many apps ask for lots of unnecessary permissions. In order to touch anything sensitive on your device (such as the camera or your contacts), an app has to specifically request it. The newest version of Android, Marshmallow, makes app permissions more granular, but since few users are on it, you still have to be careful about the old system. Make sure you view what permissions an app wants and be sure they make sense in the context of the app.
— PewResearch Internet (@pewinternet) January 19, 2016
Flashlight apps are especially prone to this — the app Brightest Flashlight Free was using location permissions to upload users’ location data to advertising servers. This could have been avoided if people would have used an app that didn’t ask for these permissions.
Don’t Install Facebook Apps
Having social media apps on your phone means you can post fun statuses and more on the go, but it’s not all good news. Facebook’s mobile app eats up your phone’s battery like crazy, and even if you don’t care about battery life, both the main app and Facebook Messenger require an insane amount of permissions. Unless you absolutely rely on some feature in Facebook’s mobile app, you’re much better off installing a third-party replacement.
There are plenty of full-featured replacement apps for Facebook, but if you’re concerned for privacy, the best way to browse Facebook without all the permissions is to install a lite app like the basic Tinfoil, or try Metal if you need notifications.
These apps run Facebook’s mobile website in a sandboxed browser, so while the performance might not be quite as smooth, you don’t have to worry about the app constantly using battery. Try one out as soon as you get your phone — you’re really not missing anything in Facebook’s official app.
Don’t Use Task Killers or Battery-Boosting Apps
It’s almost beating a dead horse at this point, but you do not need to use task killers on Android. In the early days of the platform, these apps were extremely popular for killing “out of control” background tasks that supposedly used your battery, but Android is able to manage background resources just fine without your intervention. Joel has fully explained why task killers are bad for your Android if you’d like an explanation.
Why do so many people use Task killer battery saving apps. Often processes Android needs get closed so Android will constantly restart them
— Kai (@kotarokun_jp) December 12, 2015
Along the same lines are battery saving apps like JuiceDefender, which promise to shut off your connections when you’re not using them to save battery. Besides the fact that some of these apps haven’t been updated in years, they still try to micromanage these tasks instead of just letting Android handle it.
If you’re having battery issues, you can find out which apps are killing your battery and utilize tips to squeeze more battery life out of your phone; just don’t install one of these counterproductive apps.
Don’t Constantly Swipe Away Recent Apps
A huge misconception on both iOS and Android is that you have to open up the recent apps menu every time you use your phone and close all the “running” apps to save battery. Similar to the task killer rule above, swiping away recent apps is actually harder on your battery than just letting them be.
Think of the Recents menu like a shortcut to get back to apps you’ve recently had open, not a list of running tasks you need to close. Whenever you leave an app with the Home button, Android remembers where you were in the app for a short time, until it gets pushed up the list by more recent apps. By swiping away all these apps, you’re removing the ability to jump right back to where you were; you’re also forcing the OS to open and close the app over and over instead of just letting it run.
The android "recent apps" button really bothers me. I have to have it empty of all things at all times. I compulsively swipe my apps away.
— Ellie W (@elliemw3) November 7, 2014
If you just exited a game that takes a lot of resources to run and you don’t plan on going back to it soon, go ahead and swipe it away. But don’t open your messaging app, send a text, swipe the app away, then re-open the app to text again 30 seconds later.
Think about if you closed your browser on the desktop every time you wanted to navigate to a new website; you’re basically doing the same thing when you swipe away apps that you’re using all the time. That menu is there to make navigating more fluid — you don’t have to be your device’s maid!
Don’t Save Your Contacts to Only Your Phone
Assuming you have a Google account on your phone, you can choose to save new contacts to that account instead of just the device itself.
You should absolutely do this, because it means your contacts are backed up to your Google account, are available to view and edit online, and will be restored in seconds when you get a new phone. This means no more posting “I lost everyone’s numbers!” statuses on Facebook.
"lost all my contacts" "got a new phone" lies. LIES. They are LYING to you.
— Ireland (@irelandbaldwin) January 19, 2016
To ensure this, go into your Contacts app and create a new contact. You should see a pop-up asking you which account to sync it to — just make sure it’s your Google account and not Device Only, and you’ll have it backed up. If you save the contact locally, you could lose it or have to manually transfer it to a new phone.
Don’t Leave Your Phone Unsecured
Your phone contains lots of personal information, ranging from emails and contacts to payment information on Android Pay and saved passwords. In this age, you should be protecting your device with some type of lock screen security. Leaving it unlocked so anyone can get into your device is not wise.
In part two of our Android beginner’s guide, I explained the differences between the different lockscreen passcode types. Now, many new Android phones are shipping with fingerprint scanners that are even more convenient. Many also have a Smart Lock feature to only lock some of the time.
If you have one, that’s a great option to secure your phone; otherwise, a PIN is more secure than a pattern and less tedious than a password, making it your best choice. Ensure your PIN isn’t something obvious like a birthday or “1234” and you’ll be set.
Don’t Root Until You Know What You’re Doing
If you’re brand new to Android, you don’t need to worry about rooting your device right away. Rooting essentially gives you administrator access to your device and lets you swap to a custom version of Android, change the system font, and more.
However, most people don’t need to root, as Android has become even better in recent years. Unless you have a specific reason for doing so, you’re better off using your device as is.
If you do decide you want to root, make sure you know what you’re doing before you start. Read our guide on rooting to understand the general idea, be sure you understand key rooting terms, and browse around to find specific guides on your device. Rooting is serious business and you could easily brick your device, making it unusable, if you screw up. While there are ways to unbrick, it’s better to just avoid doing it in the first place.
Why, When I get a new Android phone the first thing I want to do is root it & try out all the ROMs?. Bricked my Nexus 6 once already. (grin)
— Tarus BALOG (@sortova) May 16, 2015
Even without rooting, you can make cool tweaks to your Android and customize it exactly as you like. Your device will probably suit you just fine as is.
What Advice Would You Give?
Now that you know everything not to do with a new Android phone, here’s one thing to do: have fun with it! Android is a fantastic platform with tons of potential for customizing, and you’re going to love it. The above notes are simply suggestions from a longtime user so that you don’t run into avoidable problems.
Make sure to check out some of the best apps of 2015 to put on your new phone!
What’s another do-not tip you’d give to a new Android user? Share your best tips with us below!