Are you having trouble trying to figure out how to work your Android smartphone? In part one of this series, we covered the basics of Android for absolute beginners, including topics like the homescreen, using apps, and adding contacts. If you just received an Android phone and don’t have any idea what you’re doing, you should start with that article. If you’re not a beginner but still want some tips, check out the full Android guide, or check out this article if you’re looking for apps to install on a fresh phone.
If you’ve read through the first part of this guide for Android newcomers (we’ll assume you have going forward), you’re ready to master your phone. In part two, you’ll get acquainted with your phone even more, including understanding some settings — all in an easy-to-understand tone for amateurs. The disclaimer about Android differences in the previous article still applies here. Let’s get into it!
Using The Back, Home, And Recent Buttons
Before, we talked about how to use apps to access the basics of your phone, like calling and adding contacts. However, it’s important to know how to properly close apps and navigate between them. Most Android phones now have three virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen.
From left to right, they are:
- Back: Goes back one page in an app; for example, returns from an individual email to the inbox in Gmail, or goes back one page in the web browser. If this button is pressed in the highest menu of an app, it closes out of it.
- Home: Returns to the home screen from anywhere. Unlike the Back button, it does not close the foreground app when it is pressed. It remembers where the user left off should they return.
- Recent: Brings up a list of recent apps. By tapping on one in this list, you’ll switch to it, making this useful for jumping between multiple apps. You can scroll the list down to see older entries, and swiping from left to right closes any apps in the list.
These buttons work in harmony. Let’s say you’re in Chrome or another Internet browser app, and you find a phone number that you need to text somebody. You haven’t opened it recently, so you press the Home button to return to your home screen. After you open up the Messaging app and send the text, you can quickly jump back to your spot in Chrome by pressing Recent and choosing it.
It is not necessary to close every app the instant that you’re done with it, leading to your Recent menu being completely empty. These apps aren’t “running in the background” — they’re simply waiting to be used again. However, if you’re having issues with an app and want to close and open it again, go ahead and swipe it away in the Recents view.
Even if your device doesn’t have these exact on-screen buttons, the same principles still apply. The Samsung Galaxy S5, above left, has a physical Home button that performs just the same as the virtual one. The HTC One M7, above on the right, has no Recent button. If your phone lacks this button too, simply touch and hold the Home button to open the Recent menu.
For Samsung devices, a double tap on the home key will usually open your voice-controlled assistant (either S Voice or Google Now), and some older Samsung devices have a Menu button instead of a Recents button — all this button does it open whatever menu is available for the app you’re in. For devices with on-screen navigation keys, tapping on the home button and swiping up will generally open Google Now.
The Notification Bar
On your previous phone, you may have been alerted to missed calls or new text messages by a message on your wallpaper, or perhaps weren’t told at all. That won’t be so on your new phone. The Notification Bar is the central place for anything that happens in Android. It’s usually hanging out at the top of your screen, unless you’re in a full-screen activity like reading a book or watching a video. If you pull down on the shade with your finger, the bar will expand to its full size.
You may have different icons based on your phone, but the ones that won’t change, on the right side of the bar, from right to left are:
- The Time: This is fairly obvious; your phone’s clock is set by the Internet and is therefore accurate. Nothing else to say here!
- Current Battery Level: Some phones feature an exact percentage next to the battery, while others just have an icon showing the estimation. When your battery is critically low (around 15%) this will likely turn red.
- Signal Indicator: This shows how strong your connection to your carrier is. If this is low, you might have trouble making phone calls or sending text messages. If you’re not connected to Wi-Fi (see below), then a “3G”, “4G”, or “LTE” icon will appear next to this. That symbol means that you’re connected to your carrier’s mobile data network, as we outlined previously. The signal also represents your connection to those networks in this case — so if you’re in a dead zone and can’t call, you won’t be able to get online either.
- Wi-Fi: If you’re connected to Wi-Fi, this icon will appear and show you how strong the connection is based on the number of lit bars. Like the above, if this signal is weak, you’ll have issues with Internet speed. Note that if you’re in airplane mode, a plane icon will replace both this and the signal indicator, as all wireless functions are shut off.
Notice that these all stay on the right side of the notification area. The left, then, is reserved for individual notifications from apps. Anything you can imagine from your phone can show up here from voicemail, to new emails, to game alerts, or even shipping alerts from Amazon. If you want to make sure you don’t miss anyone trying to contact you or any important messages, keep an eye on that bar!
Once you pull the bar down, shown above right, you can see the full content of each notification. To open up an app and view a notification in full, just tap it. If you’re done with a particular entry, swipe it away just like in the Recent Apps menu.
Some apps, like Twitter and Gmail, allow you to take actions right from the notification. In the case of Twitter, as you can see above, you’re able to favorite a tweet without even opening the app. Finally, to clear all notifications away, push the 3-bar icon in the top-right corner.
How To Cut, Copy, And Paste
This is a smaller feature of your Android phone, but one that you’ll likely be thankful for after some time. From most places on your device, you can copy and paste text just like you’re able to on your computer. This can save you time, for example, when you want to copy a phone number to text somebody, or if you want to copy an address into Google Maps for navigation. To copy some text on your phone, first long-press on it. After a second, you’ll have some options.
When the handles pop up, you can drag either one to select the text you want to work with. At the top, you have a couple of options. The square on the left will select all text, while the two pages icon will copy the current text for later pasting. If you’re selecting text in a text box, like that of an unsent text message, you’ll also see a scissor option to cut the text. Later, long-press in a text box and you’ll be able to paste the selection as seen on the right below.
Once you get used to using this feature, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it on your previous phones.
Android has a lot of options to tweak to your liking. It would take an entire article to explain them all, and many of them beginners need not worry about. Here, we’ll go over a few highlights that you may want to tweak, and why.
To get started, simply open up all of your apps (remember how?) and navigate to the Settings app. Here, you’ll find a lot of options split up by category.
For this one, head to Display and then Brightness. From this screen, you can change how intense the brightness of your screen is. If it’s dark where you are, a lower setting is fine, but when you’re outside, you’ll likely want to raise this. Brightness is one of the biggest factors in how long your battery lasts, so be conservative here.
If you enable Auto Brightness, the phone will change based on how much light is your environment. You can try this setting and if you find it’s not to your liking, simply disable it and find your own sweet spot.
Inside your phone is a sensor that can detect the way you’re holding it. When you hold it sideways (landscape), it flips to match that position. Some apps, like YouTube, benefit from this as videos look much better in full-screen mode.
However, you might find this behavior annoying, particularly when you’re lying down in bed using your phone. Still in Display, if you uncheck the box for Auto-Rotate, your phone will stay in upright (portrait) mode.
You phone’s display will turn off by itself after a set amount of time. Since the screen being on is taxing for the battery, it’s wise to keep this setting as low as you comfortably can. 15 seconds is a bit extreme; 30 seconds or a minute depending on your needs is recommended. There’s no reason for this to be in the 5-30 minute range; if you forget to turn off your phone’s display and walk away, it could stay on all that time without you knowing!
Anyone with eyesight problems will appreciate this one. You can change the font size across your entire device. There’s a large and an extra-large setting to try, so if you find yourself squinting constantly while using your device, try adjusting the size here. Changing this is just one way that you can make Android more usable for the elderly. Here’s a sample of the Normal and Huge sizes:
By default, you simply need to slide on your phone’s screen to unlock it. There’s a lot of sensitive information on smartphones, however, and it’s smart to protect it with a lock. You have many options; let’s examine each briefly. Head into Security > Screen Lock and you’ll find:
- None means that no lock will be present on your screen; you simply need to press the power button and you’ll be brought back to what you were doing when the screen turned off. This is a poor option for everyday use, as there’s nothing to prevent your screen accidentally being turned on in your pocket and doing who-knows-what. Not recommended.
- Slide is the standard lockscreen. It doesn’t actually lock, but you must drag an icon to unlock your phone, which prevents shenanigans happening in your pocket. Anyone can unlock it, though, so it isn’t secure. If you choose to use it, but be sure to keep a close watch on your phone. It isn’t your safest option.
- Face Unlock will make you feel like a secret agent: with it, your phone uses its camera to recognize your face and only unlocks the device if it’s you. Just in case you get beat up or become otherwise unrecognizable (like if there’s limited light shining on you), you’ll also be required to set a secondary PIN or password. It’s a cool novelty, but should not be considered a secure method of locking your device. Among other problems, it’s slower than other choices and won’t work correctly in the dark. To illustrate how weak it is, see for yourself how people have fooled it with just a Facebook picture.
- Pattern, unsurprisingly, allows you to draw your own pattern on a three-by-three grid of dots. You can make it as simple or complex as you’d like. Danny has put patterns to the test and found out that they’re not as secure as you’d think, though, so while patterns are better than nothing, they’re not the best option. Consider that somebody could simply look at a smear on the screen from your finger and know your unlock pattern.
- PIN, or personal identification number (don’t say PIN number!) allows you to set a number between four and 17 digits to protect your phone. The fact that they’re easy to type on the lockscreen combined with the ability to use more than 4 digits in the number makes the PIN an attractive option for lock screen security. It isn’t as foolproof as a password can be, but for most people, a PIN is the best balance of safety and convenience. Just be sure not to use “1234” or another easily guessable PIN.
- Password is an option that allows you to set a 4-17 character password just like the passwords you use online. You can use any combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Since it has the most possible combination, a password protects your phone better than any other option. However, typing on a phone can be clunky, and typing out a 10+ character password dozens of times a day will get old fast. Unless you need absolute lockdown on your device, a PIN is the better option.
If you do choose to use a password, make sure it’s a strong one. Ryan has covered methods to make a strong password you can still remember, and if those ideas aren’t enough, Yaara has also given some more tips on creating good passwords.
No mater which option you choose (except None), it’s wise to enable the Owner Info option. Still in the Security section, choose Owner Info. Here, you’ll be able to type out a few lines that will be displayed on the lock screen. Should someone find your device, even though they can’t unlock it, they’ll have your email or phone number to contact you.
It’s important to keep your phone volume at an appropriate level. While at home, you probably want the volume loud so you can hear incoming calls. But when you’re in a restaurant or a meeting, you don’t want to be the person who’s fumbling to shut off their blaring ringer. Managing volume on Android doesn’t have to be a hassle, thankfully.
The two volume buttons on the side of your phone can be used to adjust the volume whenever the screen is unlocked. If you press the volume down button when it’s at the lowest setting already, vibrate-only mode is enabled, and one level below that will set the phone to silent. Alternatively, pressing and holding your device’s power button will pull up a quick menu where you can select to have the ringer on, vibrate, or silent.
If you need more control, head into the full Volume settings on your phone, located at Settings > Sound > Volumes. This will differ on some phones, but Android keeps three different volume settings:
- Ringtone & Notifications controls your phone ringing, as well as notifications for texts, emails, and the like.
- Music, Video, Games, and Other will control pretty much any other sound your phone makes, like YouTube videos or music. Because these two can be on different levels, it’s important to double-check them in some situations. Your ringer could be on silent, but if you pull out your phone during a meeting to play a game (you would never do that, would you?) and its volume is up, everyone is going to hear it.
While you’re using an app that uses this volume setting, you can use the physical volume buttons to adjust it instead of the ringer volume; the icon will change from a phone to a speaker so you know the difference when you do so.
- Alarms simply controls the volume for alarms set on your phone. You wouldn’t want this to be set to silent when you’re depending on it to wake up!
You’re Up To Speed
Congratulations! You now know the essentials to operating an Android phone. Don’t feel bad if you ever need to ask for help or review something in this guide; once you use your phone for a while it will become even easier. Don’t forget to check out our list of the best Android apps for some ideas on what to install, too.
If you’d like to read more basic Android tips, Christian has written a simple how-to guide that will help you through other common activities.
Did these tips help you? What are your biggest difficulties with using Android? Have any friends that need to see this guide? Let us know how we did in the comments!