Master your Android smartphone
So you have got your shiny new android phone, added all your contacts and setup a Gmail account. What's next? Here are my top tips for mastering your Android smartphone.
Back up your contacts
Just in case things go wrong, it's a good idea to back up your contacts. As long as you have a Google account set up on the phone, contacts will automatically be backed up to it. To be extra safe you can move your contacts to your memory card and back them up to your Gmail account by following these steps:
- Go to your contacts list and press the menu key
- Press import/export contacts (sometimes this is under the 'More Options' menu)
- Choose 'export contacts to SD card'
- You will be given a list of where your contacts are currently (Phone/Sim/Gmail account)
- Choose which of these you want backed up
- Press 'back up' and the phone will compile all of your contacts to one simple file on your memory card
- Repeat steps 1-3, but this time choose 'import from SD card'
- You will then be given the option to move contacts to either the phone or your Gmail address. Choosing your Gmail address will automatically sync all of those contacts with Gmail.
By doing this if anything ever does happen to the phone, or even if you buy a new Android handset in the future, just signing back into Gmail will bring back all your numbers right back.
Google the world with Goggles
Google Goggles is a handy little free app that ocassionally comes pre-installed on your handset, but if not you should go download it immediately. Using Google Goggles is like doing a Google search on the real world.
For instance, say you're browsing a shop and you find a DVD that looks pretty good. Open up Google Goggles and take a quick picture of the front cover. Your phone will scan and search for that movie online, giving you all the reviews, summaries and trailers you could need. Not sure what that business does? just take a photo of the logo and Google will instantly search for it online. And if you want to see it do something really cool, try taking a photo of a sudoku puzzle...
Save your photos online
It's not only contacts that Android will keep safe for you. Photos can be just as, if not more, precious than your contact list. Been taking pictures of your new kitten? The last thing you want is to lose them all before you can share them with the world.
Google has its own social network (much like Facebook) called Google Plus. But even if you're not interested in using that side of it, it can be really handy to have the app on your phone. Once you have it downloaded and signed in (anyone with a Gmail account already has access to a Google Plus account) every photo you take from that moment on is automatically uploaded online. Not only does this make it easier to share your photos than ever but it also means you will never lose a photo again. Importantly the photos are not shared with anyone unless you want them to be, they will only be backed up and only you will be able to see them. For those of you who are a little more camera shy instant upload can be turned off by going to the settings within the app itself.
Set up a quick contact list
Have a few people that you want to get hold of often? You can set up homescreen shortcuts that bring up contact info without you having to search through your list.
To setup a contact shortcut:
- Anywhere you have a space on your homescreen, hold down your finger for a moment, it will soon bring up a menu
- From there choose 'Shortcut' > 'Contacts'
- Choose the contact you want to add. You will have the option of whether you want the button to ring that contact straight away or just take you to to their information
- Add the contact to a spare space on your homescreen
You can repeat this as many times as you like. i would usually recommend keeping all your quick contacts on their own panel of your homescreen, just so you know where they all are and can get to them easily.
Sorting out your widgets
Widgets are basically small programmes that run on the homescreen. Anything from a clock to a twitter feed can be set so it runs automatically in the background, allowing you to check for updates with a simple tap.
To add a widget to your homescreen:
- Hold down your finger on an empty space on your homescreen, you should soon have a menu pop up
- Select widgets and you will be given a range of different calenders, clocks and other widgets to choose from
- Position the widget wherever you want it
If you find yourself running out of space, or just want to change how your homescreen looks, simply hold your finger down on any widget. You will then be able to drag that widget to the remove icon (usually a dustbin) to get rid of it, or simply reposition it.
Removing a widget from the homescreen doesn't remove it from the phone, and you can bring it back any time you like by repeating the steps above.
Finishing off your documents
You may not know it but once you sign up for a Google account you have access to a full document editing suite. Simply by signing into Google on your computer and clicking 'documents' you can start using everything from a spreadsheet creator to a presentation designer. The benefit of using these, over something like Word or Excel, is that every single time you type a word or make any kind of change to the document it saves it online for you to easily access later on any internet enabled device you have to hand. Android users can download the google docs app to their phones and make changes to their documents on the move. If you have a flash of inspiration on the move you can make a quick addition, or if you need a quick reminder of the figures you can take a look at the work you have been doing at home.
Android handsets come pre-programmed with not one but two fully functional map applications to help you find your way around. The first and most recognisable one is Google Maps, which a lot of people have used before on their home PCs. You will find it to be just as functional on your mobile - it will provide you with the best route to take whether you are walking, driving or taking the bus. Simply tap the menu button on the map screen and you will find the option to bring up directions to wherever you need to go.
The other app is 'Navigation', which acts much more like a car GPS system. It uses the same maps that Google Maps does but has the added option of voice guidance and shows the road in front of you as you move down it. This is much easier to follow than the birds eye view and can be a massive help even if you just need to find the nearest cafe in your city.
Get WiFi anywhere with 3G tethering
Almost all Android phones can be turned into a WiFi Hotspot. So if you need to give your laptop an internet connection and can't find anywhere to log on don't worry, just follow these steps to activate 3G tethering on your smartphone:
- Go to settings in your apps menu
- Choose 'Wireless & networks' > 'Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot'
- All you have to do then is connect your laptop (or any other Wi-Fi device) to your phone the same way you connect it to a wireless network at home.
This tip comes with a warning. I would only use this option if you have plenty of data available on your network plan. Laptops use a lot more data than a phone would and can quickly eat into your usage allowance so check with your network first.
Use your Android phone as a YouTube remote
Playing YouTube videos on your Android device is easy. The YouTube app is built right in and again anyone with a Gmail account has access to their own YouTube account. But what if you want to view those videos on the big screen? Well obviously you can just go to the YouTube website, but for added ease of use anyone who has an Android phone can control YouTube videos from the comfort of their couch using just the phone. The app you need is called 'YouTube Remote' and requires a little bit of setting up, but the app itself guides you through the process.
How to use YouTube Remote
- Download YouTube Remote
- Open the app > choose the gmail account you want to use it with
- Go to the website www.youtube.com/leanback on your computer
- Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, navigate to 'My YouTube' where it will ask you to sign in again
- Once signed into My YouTube, navigate to 'Pair'
- A barcode will appear on screen, press the picture of the camera that appears on your phone and you can scan the barcode, give the computer a name and press 'add screen'
- Choose which video you want to play on your phone, and watch it appear on your computer!
If you want to add more screens, simply press the 'Menu' key from within the app, then 'Screens'.
Save your battery life
Realistically most smartphones are going to need charging at least once every 24 hours, but Android phones have a quick and easy-to-use 'Settings' menu that can help you conserve some battery life for when it's most needed.
Remember the widgets we talked about earlier? One of them is called 'Power Control'. What this does is give you a selection of switches to turn functions of the phone on and off. They are, from left to right: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync and Brightness. Turning off any of these functions when you don't need them (particularly turning down the brightness) will keep the phone charged for as long as possible.
There are loads of different things you can do to enhance your Android smartphone and make it work better for you. Because the Operating System is completely open source you can change everything from the look and feel of your homescreen to the way the software works! Your phone is unique to you, so customise and play around with it to see what you can find.