The Android Beginner’s Guide: How to Set Up Your First Smartphone
So you got your first Android phone? Congrats! Having a smartphone is going to open up a whole new world of videos , articles, social networks, educational content , and interest groups . The possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait for you to explore all the interesting stuff out there.
But this world can be a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who’s new to it. So I’m going to walk you through how to setup and use your new Android phone.
First Let’s Add a Google Account
At the center of your Android experience is a single Google account. It’s going to sync everything: your contacts, your email, your YouTube subscriptions, all your apps and app data, your photos, everything. So it’s really important that the Google account you’re using on this device is yours and yours only, and not shared with someone else.
Your phone should’ve prompted you to add a Google account during setup. If you didn’t, or you want to create a new one, open the Settings app, choose Accounts, tap on Add Accounts and then select Google. From here, you can either login with your account or create a new one.
Once the account is connected, you’ll be able to select what you want to sync with it. We recommend that you enable all the available services.
Exploring and Understanding the Android Interface
Every Android manufacturer puts their own little spin on the classic Android look . But it’s usually just an extra coat of paint with a few features changed here or there. Underneath, the layout stays mostly the same, especially if you’re using a phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher.
When you hit the power button, you’ll first see the lockscreen. This is where you’ll see notifications. Double tap on a notification to interact with it. To unlock your phone, swipe up. If your phone has a fingerprint sensor (and you have it set up), just put your finger on it to unlock your device.
You’re now on the homescreen. This is where you’ll find app icons, folders, and access to a list of all your installed apps.
You can swipe left or right to move between pages. Tap and hold icons to move them around. Move one icon onto another to create groups. The 4 or 5 icons at the bottom of the screen are fixed — this is called the dock. In the middle of the dock, you’ll find the icon that shows you a list of all your installed apps — this is called the app drawer.
If you’ve never used a smartphone before, you might not know what a notification is. A notification is like a little message any app can send you. It can be as important as a message from your spouse, or as vain as a new sale at a shopping app you’ve installed . All the notifications are bundled up together in one place, sorted in a reverse-chronological order.
Swipe down from the top of the screen, and you’ll see all your notifications. Swipe all the way left or right to dismiss a notification. Tap on a notification to open the relevant app.
At the top of the notification panel, you’ll see toggles for things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or the flashlight. These are Quick Toggles . Swipe down from the notification panel to reveal a larger list. Tap once on a tile to toggle the functionality. Tap and hold to reveal the detailed item in the Settings app.
If you’ve installed an app that’s sending you way too many notifications, tap and hold on that particular notification. You should see an option to block notifications from the app. If you don’t find this option, you can always go to Settings > Notifications and individually turn off notification access for apps there.
Other than touching app icons and buttons, there are three permanent buttons you’ll use to navigate your Android phone. These three buttons, known together as the navigation bar or navbar, are your homebase. No matter how lost you are, you can use these buttons to find your way back.
On most Android phones, the buttons are Back, Home, and Recents. Some manufacturers like Samsung reverse the order, so it’s Recents, Home, and Back.
The Home button will take you back to the homescreen where you’ll find your icons and widgets.
The Back button will take you back one step every time you tap on it. It is a very reliable way to trace back your steps.
The Recents button will show you a list of your most recently used apps, with the most recently used app at the bottom, and apps that you used a long time ago at the top. To quit an app, swipe left or right on the app preview to dismiss it. If you feel like you’re so lost in an app that you can’t even retrace your steps, open the Recents menu and swipe the app’s preview away. Then open the app again. You’ll be back at the app’s homescreen.
Create or Import Contacts
If you’ve logged in with your existing Google account, all your saved contacts will sync over. It’s also possible to sync contacts from an old Android phone, or from a different Google account to your current phone. It involves exporting contacts from one account and importing it in another (either via the web or using your Android phone). For detailed steps on doing this, check out this guide.
If you’ve never had an online contact book , it’s time to start loading up your contacts. On your Android phone, you’ll find a Contacts or People app. The name of the app might differ from phone to phone, but it usually has an icon that looks like a contact book.
Once you open the Contacts app, look for a + (plus) icon. Tap on it to create a new contact. If you’re doing this for the first time, you’ll be asked to choose a default place to store all new contacts. You’ll get an option to save it on the phone memory, on the SIM card, or on your connected Google account. You should select the Google account because the contact will then be saved on Google’s servers. Even if you lose your phone or reset it, you’ll never lose your contacts.
From the next screen, save the person’s name, their phone number, and any other details about them that you want. Tap on the checkmark (or done) button to save the contact. Repeat this until you have all your contacts saved to your account.
Use the Phone App to Make Calls
As this is an Android phone, you’re probably going to want to make phone calls with it .
First, make sure you’ve installed a SIM card in your phone. Then turn it on, and as long as you see the network details when you swipe down to reveal the notification panel, you’re good to go. If it shows No Network, there’s something wrong with the way the SIM card was installed, or with the network. If the problem persists, you should contact your carrier.
After you unlock your phone, you’ll be at the homescreen. Most Android phones puts the Phone icon in the dock along the bottom row. Locate the icon that looks vaguely like an old-timey blue phone, and tap on it.
By default, the phone app shows you your recent calls. You’ll find two tabs for a list of all your contacts and your starred contacts. The actual keypad though is usually tucked away. Tap on the icon that looks like a miniature number pad to reveal the classic T9 dialer layout, and key in a number to call it.
As this is a T9 dialer, you can usually search for contacts by keying in the relevant numbers. So if I wanted to search for John, I’d just tap on the numbers 5,6,4, and 6, and then tap on John’s name to place the call.
The action for accepting a call differs slightly from phone to phone. If your phone is locked when you get a call, you’ll usually have to swipe right or up from the call icon to accept the call. To decline, swipe in the opposite direction. If you get a call while using the phone, you’ll probably see a notification card at the top of the screen that shows you who’s calling.
You’ll see Accept and Decline buttons below it. Here, you don’t need to swipe; instead, just tap on one of the two buttons.
Install Some Apps
Now that you know how to navigate around Android, let’s start installing apps. The only way to officially install apps on Android is by using Google’s Play Store . You’ll find the Play Store icon on the default homescreen (or in your app drawer).
If you’re not logged into a Google account, you’ll be prompted to log in. The Play Store will show you the trending and recommended apps on the app’s homescreen. Tap the Search bar at the top (it says Google Play) to start searching for an app to install. Or tap on the Top Charts or Categories buttons to start exploring top free and paid apps.
Once you find an app you like, tap on Install. The app download and install process will start. To check the progress, swipe down on the notification panel. Once the app is installed, you’ll find the app icon on the home screen. If that’s not the case, it will be in your app drawer.
Things To Note When Installing Apps
The Play Store has a system for detecting malware and other malicious apps and ejecting them from the Store, but it’s not always perfect. So when you’re installing apps, make sure you trust the app you’re installing. There are a couple of ways you can do this.
Top Developer: When you’re installing well-known apps, you’ll find a blue diamond like icon which tells you it’s from a “Top Developer”. These are definitely trustworthy.
Downloads: If you know that an app is popular , looking at the download stats for the app can be helpful. A fake copy of a popular app won’t have millions of downloads.
Reviews: Swipe down on the page and read a couple of reviews before downloading an app you’re not familiar with. While not always helpful, they’ll give you an idea if the app is safe to download or not.
Don’t tap on ads: Android has a bit of an ad problem . You’ll find all kinds of them — popups, banners, full screen ads, video ads. Try not to tap on ads because it’s possible that they’ll lead you to unverified websites, or prompt you to download spammy apps. But ads are notorious for popping up right when you’re about to tap on something. In this case, quickly tap the Back button to go back to the previous screen or app.
Don’t believe ads: If you see ads that tell you something is deeply wrong with your phone or offer to speed up your phone exponentially, don’t believe them — they’re probably just trying to get you to download their spamware or malware.
Apps to stay away from: While we’re on the subject, you should stay away from most antivirus, system cleaner, and performance-enhancing apps. Usually, they end up doing the opposite of what they promise .
Understanding Common Android Apps
For a first time smartphone user, interacting with apps themselves can be overwhelming. But a majority of “good” Android apps follow Google’s guidelines for creating a consistent user interface. This means that once you understand how a couple of things work, you’ll be able to figure out any app.
Android apps hide a lot of top level functionality in a sidebar to the left. If you’re not able to find the Settings page for example, or another section for the same page you’re browsing, tap the icon in the top-left that looks like it’s just three parallel lines (it’s often called a hamburger menu). This will reveal the sidebar.
The Floating Button
In apps like Gmail, you’ll find a big circular floating button in the bottom-right. This is a shortcut to performing the major action in the app. In an email app, tap it to start writing an email. In a social media app, tap it to write an update. In a notes app, tap it to start writing a new note.
Swipe To Change View
Android’s navigation structure is largely based on swipes. If you see four tabs at the top of the screen, swipe left or right to switch between them.
You should also try swiping elsewhere on the screen — don’t be afraid to tap and swipe away! That’s the only way to explore Android apps and learn about new things. You can always use the Back button if you want to go back, and if things really go south, close the app from the Recents page and start over.
The Menu Button
If you find a three-dot button in the top-right of a screen, tap it for contextual options for the screen you’re on. It’s called the Menu button, and it’s a relic from the days of Android past that has still stuck around in some apps.
Talk To Your Phone
Getting used to the virtual keyboard can be a task in itself. But you should know that typing isn’t the only reliable way to enter text on Android. And tapping around everywhere also isn’t the only way to make your Android phone do things for you.
Every modern Android phone comes with Google’s voice search capabilities, in some form. It can be called different things — Google Voice Search, Google Now, or Google Assistant . The important thing to know is that there’s a way for you to talk to your Android phone to have it perform certain actions.
To get started, tap and hold the home button, or tap on the Google search bar, then tap the mic icon. As this is the first time you’re using it, you’ll be asked to set up the Google voice assistant. Say Ok Google three times and the phone will know your voice.
From now on, just long-press the Home button to talk to Google. You can ask Google to call your friend or send a message to them. You can ask it to search for a recipe on Google or to look for a YouTube video. Ask Google to do anything you would generally do manually. Or better yet, what you can’t figure out how to do manually.
Even if you don’t have an American accent and even if you aren’t super clear, Google will probably know what you’re talking about. It works surprisingly well.
If you just can’t type on the screen, tap on the mic icon in the keyboard and start dictating . You can say Period to insert a period or New line to start a new paragraph. Google will understand all of this and do it. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be dictating long emails and messages in no time. And it will be much faster than typing.
Setup and Use Gmail
Your Android phone probably came with a built-in email app — Google’s Gmail app . If that’s not the case, go to the Play Store, search for Gmail, make sure you’re viewing the original Gmail app developed by Google, and install it.
Now launch the Gmail app and add your Google account. If you’ve already linked your primary Google account with your Android phone, the email will be added already. You’ll see all your email in the Inbox view. Tap on the hamburger menu to switch to a different inbox like Promotions or Updates or to access the Settings menu.
To view an email, simply tap on it. To reply to an email, tap on the reply arrow.
To send a new email, tap on floating red circle in the bottom-right. Type the email address you want to send it to, the subject, and the message. If you want to attach something, tap on the pin icon from the top toolbar. To send the email, tap on the icon that looks like a paper plane.
Awesome Apps You Should Install
You must already know of the Android app starter kit: Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and so on. If you go to the Top Free category in the Play Store, you’ll find these apps easily. But there are a couple of useful apps we think you should install to get started.
VLC Media Player: If you use VLC on your PC, you’ll be right at home in the Android app as well. VLC will play any video file you throw at it. Just copy the media files over to your Android phone, open the folder in VLC, and start playing.
Shuttle: If you don’t like the default music player on your phone, download the Shuttle app. The app’s interface is simple and easy to use.
The Next Level
Once you’ve got the hang of the Android basics, you should start exploring the unknown, and the far more interesting. Here are some of the next level things you should try once you’re comfortable with Android.
Customize the homescreen : Change the wallpaper, drag in some widgets, change the icon layout, and arrange it just the way you like it.
Google Photos backup : Start using Google Photos to backup all your photos to the cloud, for free.
Browse the web : The internet is the answer to all of your curiosities. So fire up the Chrome browser and start googling.
How are you getting along with Android so far? What are some of your biggest frustrations with your first smartphone? What’s something that you absolutely love? Share with us in the comments below.
Image Credit: maradon 333 via Shutterstock.com
Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.