New To Android? Make Your Smartphone Work For You, Not Against

Ben Stegner 28-07-2014

If this article’s title caught your attention, I’ll bet you have received your first smartphone recently and have no idea what to do with it. Perhaps your children convinced you to finally upgrade from a feature or “dumb” phone, or maybe you were curious about what an advanced device could do for you. If this doesn’t quite describe your situation, we have a complete Android guide The Android Beginner's Guide: How to Set Up Your First Smartphone If you're just getting started with your first Android smartphone, this in-depth guide has everything you need to know. Read More for your reference, and Simon has covered the most important tasks to perform 5 Things You Should Do With A New Android Phone Small features can make all the difference in day-to-day use and cool apps will tailor the device to your needs. Read More when getting a new phone.


However, if the above links are completely over your head and you feel as if you can’t do anything right on your new phone, read on. In this piece, the absolute basics of owning an Android smartphone will be covered. You’ll learn some fundamental terms, as well as how to fix some common problems you might run into. You’ve taken the first step and chosen Android, which is a fantastic choice 5 Reasons to Choose Android Over iPhone If you’re looking at buying a smartphone, you’re probably going to buy an Android device or an iPhone (sorry, Microsoft). What’s the difference, and which should you choose? We recently gave the pro-iPhone side of... Read More ; now it’s time to be in control of your device.

About Manufacturer Differences

Before we begin, a common source of confusion for Android users needs to be brought up. Depending on what company manufactured the device you own, the menus and everything you do on-screen may look a little different. Common smartphone producers, like Samsung and HTC (pictured below with Samsung on the left and HTC on the right), all put their own spin on Android Android Skins Explained: How Do Hardware Makers Change Stock Android? Hardware makers like to take Android and morph it into something that is entirely their own, but is this a good or a bad thing? Take a look and compare these different Android skins. Read More before the phone reaches you.

Some people like these skins and prefer to stay with one company. Others think that they’re unnecessary and stick to devices that keep Android in its stock form, like the Nexus 5 What Is Special About the Nexus 5: Five Features Other Phones Don't Have What exactly makes the Nexus 5 so special to the average user? Read More .


As you’re just starting out with Android, you likely don’t care about these differences. They’re mentioned, though, because instructions given here may vary slightly based on what phone you’re using. As much as is possible, directions will be device-neutral, so you shouldn’t have any trouble applying what you learn to your device. Just be aware that wording may be different in some menus for various devices.


Meet Your Phone

Calling and Texting

On your old phone, you could probably make phone calls The Ultimate Guide To Making A Call Using Your iPhone When it comes to making phone calls on your iPhone, you're not just limited to the built-in apps and features. Read More , send text messages, and maybe take and view pictures. Upon starting with Android, though, it isn’t very clear where you go to perform any of these tasks. Let’s dig in a bit.

The core of any smartphone is apps. You’ve surely heard a lot about apps — we keep a list of the best Android ones The Best Android Apps on the Google Play Store for 2019 Looking for the best Android apps for your phone or tablet? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for Android. Read More  — and you might think of them as fancy tools that are used to perform all sorts of complex actions. But did you know that nearly anything you want to do with your phone is accessed through apps?


My home screen Decorate Your Android Home Screen In Style With These 3 Wallpaper Apps Get past your phone's lock screen, and the first thing that catches the eye is your wallpaper. Read More is on the left in the above screenshot. See the phone icon near the bottom? That’s what you open to make calls. Once you touch it, the Phone app pops up. Inside, you can make calls, access voicemail, and view your call history. That doesn’t sound too scary, right? Almost anything you need to do that’s related to calls can be accessed through this app; once you use it a bit, you’ll know your way around.


Let’s look at another basic app, this time for text messaging.


This one, depending on your phone, might be called Messages or Messaging. On the newest phones, the Hangouts app can also handle text messaging. Once you’ve opened the app, look for a plus icon, a symbol like the one in the top-right above, or “New Message” to send a text message. To send a text, however, you’ll need to have a recipient!

Contacts and Typing

To access your contacts, open up the People app; it might also be called Contacts on your phone.



Here, you can view your contacts and add new ones. If you bought your new phone from a service provider, they may have transferred your contacts for you. If not, you’ll likely have to sit down for a while and transfer them manually. Look for the “plus person” icon to add a new contact, and you’ll be able to set them up.


Once you have some people in your address book, you won’t have to worry about remembering their numbers when you want to text them or call them. Start typing their name into a field, and your phone will display matching names.



Here’s a little tip based on something that I observe: there’s no need to add multiple contacts if a person has more than one number, as it’s just a waste of space. For instance, as shown below, you don’t need to have “Cindy Cell” and “Cindy Home” as two different contacts; add their alternate number to their contact entry and you’ll be able to contact either easily. It’s much cleaner that way.


In the screenshot below, observe how you can add multiple emails and phone numbers. You can actually add as many as you like to every contact, such as Home, Fax, or the generic Other category. It’s changeable even once a contact is created; just find them in your list (you can use the magnifying glass to search), and click Edit to change an existing contact.


So the essentials of how to operate your phone have been covered, but many of these instructions have called for typing or entering text. Let’s discuss how this works on Android.

On nearly every smartphone today, text is entered through an on-screen keyboard; that is, you don’t actually press any physical keys. Keyboards are another aspect that phone developers like to customize, so yours might not look like the one in these example screenshots. Once you’ve gotten used to the keyboard you’ve been dealt, you may want to exercise your freedom on Android and try a different one MakeUseOf Tests: What Is The Best Android Keyboard? In this follow-up to our post from 2011 featuring 6+ fantastic Honeycomb keyboards, I’d like to take a good hard look at four of the most popular and well-regarded sliding keyboard. Call it a “keyboard... Read More . I use SwiftKey and I would fully recommend.


However, most keyboards will look something like it. To type a letter, simply touch its key. If you’d like to enter a special character, like @, you hold the key that it’s placed on for a few seconds — the letter A in this case. For caps, use the arrow on the left side, and to access more symbols with a full number pad, the bottom-left button changes the layout.

Once you’re on the new layout, pictured on the right side above, you can touch “abc” to go back to the standard layout you were just on, or hit the “{&=” key for even more obscure symbols. The left-facing arrow functions as a backspace key, and the magnifying glass (or check mark) in the bottom-right is the enter key.


Hopefully you’ve been able to follow along to this point! We’ve covered a lot so far; try to go back through these instructions a few times to familiarize yourself with the apps and entering text. Don’t be afraid to click around and explore, and don’t beat yourself up if you type slowly at first. It takes practice! Once you’re ready, move on to the next section, where we’ll discuss the Home Screen and how to get around.

The Home Screen And Navigation

Before, I showed you shots of my home screen. Yours, however, won’t look like that at first. It’s important that you set up home screens How to Make Your Own Uniquely Gorgeous Android Home Screen Here's a detailed look at the whole process. If you follow it step by step, you can get the same eye-catching home screen for your device and learn to experiment with design recipes. Read More in a way that makes sense to you, as you’ll waste time looking for apps and content on your phone otherwise.

As we established, apps are the core of your phone. To see all the apps that are installed to your device, touch the “all apps” icon seen below. The resulting screen is usually referred to as the app drawer.


To place an app onto your home screen for easy access, all you have to do is hold it with your finger and “pick it up.” After you’ve grabbed it, you can place it anywhere on the home screen that you’d like, which you can see below. This will create a shortcut, which can be moved or deleted without affecting the actual app.


So, if an app icon ever disappears from your screen and you don’t know how to get it back, don’t panic. Just open up all of your apps by touching the icon, and find it from there. An app on your home screen is just a shortcut.

You should also know that you can change the number of homescreens on your device. Maybe you like to keep lots of shortcuts handy and so need more space. If this happens, on most devices, pick up any shortcut and hold it toward the edge of the screen. Eventually, a new home screen will be created and you can fill it up however you like.

If you want to remove a home screen, simply take all the apps off it and it will disappear — or you can try pinching the screen to see an overview of all your homescreens and delete them from there.


When you pick up an app shortcut, besides moving it around, you’ll also be able to remove it. Just look for the X at the top, and then drag the icon to it. Remember: you won’t be deleting the app off your device, just taking its shortcut off your home screen.


Besides app shortcuts, you should also become familiar with widgets. A widget is a broad name for a simple interactive tool. It allows you to access parts of an app or service without having to leave your homescreen.

On Android, many apps include these widgets to enhance their functionality. You’ll have to play with some apps to see what widgets benefit you, but let’s see how they can save you time. With weather, for example:


If you simply place a weather app on your homescreen, you have to open up the app to view your weather. But with a widget, you can view the most important weather info at a glance. Not every app will have useful widgets, but a large amount of apps do. Other beneficial widgets might include those for stock trading, upcoming calendar events, recent email, or a music player – for more, check out Matt’s list of the best The 11 Best Widgets for Your Android Home Screen With so many widgets for Android, which are the best? Here are the best Android widgets for weather, notes, and more. Read More .


The way you access widgets depends on your device. On some, you simply need to open up the app drawer (remember, just tap the icon and it will pop up) and scroll all the way to the right. After your last page of apps, you’ll see your available widgets. Note that these will depend on apps you have installed, so to use the widget for Yahoo Mail, for instance, you need to have its app already on your device.


If you can’t access widgets in this way, then your phone uses a different method to access widgets. Head back to your homescreen and hold your finger on an empty section of the screen — that is, where there are no app icons or existing widgets.

Once you hold your finger there for a moment (this is called “long-pressing,” as opposed to just tapping) a screen will pop up and ask what you’d like to add to your screen. We’re interested in widgets for now, so go ahead and choose that option.


Just like adding app shortcuts, touch and hold a widget to pick it up, then drag it wherever you like. Widgets can also be resized on some phones. Simply touch and hold an existing one, place it anywhere, and you’ll be able to drag the ends to resize it. Most widgets can show more information at once by doing this, so if you can spare the space, try it! Note that tapping on widgets once they’re in place will usually open up the app they represent, so it acts as a shortcut, too.


Toggles: Wi-Fi, Mobile Data, And More

On your old phone, you didn’t have to worry about your connection much, unless you were in a dead zone and couldn’t make a call. On Android, however, suddenly you’re hearing terms like Wi-Fi How to Get Free Wi-Fi Almost Anywhere Public wireless networks are becoming more and more popular as a means of attracting people to a particular business or service, and this is just one of the many ways in which free (or almost... Read More , 3G, Bluetooth 6 Top Uses For Bluetooth On Your Android Phone Bluetooth has been an impressive wireless technology to enable all sorts of cool functionality with multiple gadgets. While it was rather limited during the early stages of its life, Bluetooth has evolved to be capable... Read More , and LTE. What does all of this mean? Let’s go over what each type of connection is, and what it means for you on your phone.



Wi-Fi networks have a relatively short range; your whole house will likely be covered if you have Wi-Fi, but the signal will become weak outside. The closer you are to the source, the more reliable your connection will be.

  • Mobile Data or Data allows you to connect to the Internet anywhere through your phone company’s service. This is the data that commercials like the one below are referring to. As long as you have a decent signal where you are, you can connect to mobile data. You’ll likely connect to either a 3G or (4G) LTE network; don’t worry about these names beyond knowing that LTE is newer and faster.



  • Finally, Airplane Mode, which may have been an option on your previous phone, shuts off most of the above on your phone. When in airplane mode, you won’t be able to send or receive calls, texts, or access the Internet, but you can still play games or listen to music, for example. You could use it on an airplane, but it’s also useful when you want to conserve battery or when you don’t want to be bothered; perhaps when charging overnight.

For everyday purposes: It’s smart to keep as many of these networks off as you can. Everything that’s running on your smartphone consumes its battery, so it’s important to cut back where you can. Unless you use Bluetooth all the time with a headset or in your car, shut it off and save your phone’s battery 10 Proven and Tested Tips to Extend Battery Life on Android Suffering from poor battery life on Android? Follow these tips to get more juice out of your Android device's battery. Read More .

Wi-Fi is more battery friendly than using data, so make sure you get set up on the Wi-Fi at friends’ houses and your own. If you don’t know how to connect to a Wi-Fi network, see a guide; it’s easy and your phone will remember networks you’ve connected to for the next time. In addition, Wi-Fi will not use any of your data, so it’s wise to do your most data-heavy tasks, like watching videos or streaming music, on Wi-Fi.

Now You’re Equipped

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Android, but with what you’ve learned here, you should be capable of using your phone to make calls and texts and navigate around. If you would benefit from another beginner-oriented article on this topic, please let us know by leaving a comment or sending an email!

If you’ve read through these tips and decided that Android is just too confusing for you, check out Yaara’s excellent review of Wiser Android Too Complicated? This Launcher Will Simplify Your Life You may think Android isn't for everyone. You sometimes hear others say "it's too complicated", or "It might be good for techies, but not for me". We have good news. Read More , an alternative launcher app that makes using your phone as simple as can be. Or, if you want nothing to do with a smartphone at all, Matt has listed some dead-simple phones The 8 Best Cell Phones for Senior Citizens If you need a senior-friendly mobile device, here are some of the best cell phones for senior citizens. Read More that are great for senior citizens.

Did these tips help you? What confuses you most about Android? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Image credits: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier Via Flickr, TouchWiz via Flickr, Sense via Flickr, Thumbs Up via morgueFile, Phone Guy via morgueFile, Hat via morgueFile

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  1. M
    March 16, 2018 at 2:01 am

    Great article! Finally joined the masses and got a smartphone for the first time this year and I was having a heck of a time trying to decode the logic of it to even make a simple phone call, but you explained it very clearly.

    • Ben Stegner
      March 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      I'm really glad this helped you! This article is unfortunately a bit out-of-date with the version of Android it references, but the basics still apply : )

  2. sommer
    February 18, 2015 at 2:29 am

    My phone was fully optimized and my home screen had most of my apps. Wake up one morn and go to check it and all but one is gone. Nowhere to b found!! Where did they go, why did they dissappear, & how do I get them back or Restore them???? Plz help. I had alot on there. Much time spent for nothing....

  3. Grcoeeg
    January 17, 2015 at 1:33 am

    It is required reading in our house, the part one and two are great. Thanks.

    • Ben S
      January 20, 2015 at 4:32 am

      So glad to hear this has helped you. I love helping out newcomers to Android and hope you feel comfortable with your phones.

  4. suzybel
    December 11, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Ok so I have my new Android phone, absolutely love it. One thing I'm having trouble with is how to type a number when on a phone call like you would if "press 1 for English", then if you have to enter a series of numbers for a credit card number or such?? Where's the keyboard??

    • Ben S
      January 20, 2015 at 4:33 am

      When you're in a call, look for a little number pad icon. It's usually on the bottom of the screen, in the middle along the bottom edge. Tapping that will bring up the keypad, and then you can enter a number when a call prompts you.

  5. Ross McDonald
    August 2, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Great article! I have a problem with my Samsung galaxy note 3 maybe u can help! The memory keeps filling up rapidly and the phone comes to a halt!I have to run a memory clearing app to continue! Annoying! ! Is there a way to keep memory clear!

    • Ben S
      August 4, 2014 at 10:37 pm


      This is a bit more than I want to get into in the comments section. If you'd like, head over the MUO answers to ask the nice folks, or send me an email: ben [at] makeuseof [dot] com, where I'd be happy to help.

  6. suzybel
    July 31, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    I'm planning to upgrade to Android soon and I'm glad I read this. A lot of times I fumble my way through a new device, but I found your article clear and easy to understand, thanks for the tips.

    • Ben S
      August 1, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Good to hear you're coming to Android! I'm so glad this will come in handy for you; look for part 2 coming next week, too.

  7. Krish
    July 30, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Great Article. A new user can run in an hour or two. On our own it may take weeks to figure it out. Printed as PDF and shared with many of my friends.

    • Ben S
      July 30, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks, Krish! I hope your friends enjoy the guide, too!

  8. Sue
    July 29, 2014 at 6:18 am

    One more tip: if you have short, fat fingers, spend $5 and buy a stylus. Decreased my frustration level almost immediately.

    • Eva
      July 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      Sue, as you mentioned, a stills is a must for some people. I'm one of them. I have severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, so the stylus makes it easier for me to navigate the screens.

      One more thing, use a stylus with a knit tip rather than a rubber tip. It glides much more effortlessly across the screen.

    • Ben S
      July 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      My mom uses a stylus for her tablet sometimes. For me, personally, it would decrease my performance quite a bit, but I'm glad you hear that they've helped both of you! Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. Db
    July 29, 2014 at 5:57 am

    Mr. Stegner, thank you for the detailed and well thought through write up. I agree, this should be required reading, even for current android users. Good stuff and lastly, you sharing your knowledge with us is sincerely appreciated. Have a great week.!!!

    • Ben S
      July 29, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      You're quite welcome! This type of article is what I'm all about, so I really appreciate you letting me know that you liked it.

      There will be a part two coming next week : )

  10. Brandon R
    July 29, 2014 at 4:21 am

    i'm not new to Android but I read this article just for fun :P I must say I would definitely recommended this article to anyone new to Android. Great article !

    • Ben S
      July 29, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Thanks Brandon! I appreciate it.

    • Ben S
      July 29, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      Thank you, Brandon! I'm glad you think so!

  11. Tom S
    July 29, 2014 at 2:11 am

    Awesome, I think this article should be required reading. This is actually my second smartphone and I kind of figured things out as I went...but this is a great read, I feel more confident in how I use my phone. I am a bit confused on my own cell, a GS4. Let's say I open Google Voice, so I click on the app. I'm on Google Voice, I send a text. So, now I want to open the Play Store, what is the correct or smart way to do that? Do I click on the Home Button or the back button? I'm always confused about that? And do any of those actions affect the other app running in the background?

    • Ben S
      July 29, 2014 at 2:32 am

      Thank you, Tom! I wanted this article to be helpful for anyone just starting out, so I'm glad it was so for you.

      Well, it depends on what you want to do. Once you're done sending your message in Google Voice, if you're done in the app for now, I would hit the Back button to close out of Voice. Then just locate the Play Store on your homescreen.

      If you're needing to come back to Voice, simply push Home, head into Play, and then when you're done open the Recents menu and go back to Voice.

      There's really no right or wrong way to navigate like you're asking - it's all about how you prefer to navigate. Want to use one app at a time and close it when done? No problem. Prefer to keep apps open for a while so you can return right where you left off? That's fine too.

      The only thing I would say is that you should close high-usage apps when you're done with them. You don't want an online shooter game running in the background for an hour while you browse the Web.

      When you say "the other app in the background," do you mean Voice in the case of your example? Voice will stay right where it's at, as long as you don't use the Back button to close it or swipe it away from Recents. Those are the only two (easily accessible) actions that "kill" an app.

      Was that too much? Please let me know and I'll re-phrase it if so. I know it's confusing!