Get to Know Your New Smartphone - Android One oh One

One of the reasons to own a smartphone in this fast paced but nevertheless ‘customizable’ day and age is that it allows for quite a bit personalisation. Some of the new operating systems allow you to creatively tailor a handset, purely from a superficial stand point as well, to your preference. Very recently I had a few friends switch over to Android from other platforms like Symbian S60 (non touchscreen editions), S40, Java based OS’ and even BlackBerry’s and were not really sure how to get the ball rolling with this UI. I was quite surprised that I was even asked such ‘noobish’ if you’ll excuse the term, questions but I figured, since I was asked so often about functionality recently, I might offer an ‘Android One oh One’ sort of introduction for new users.

So only for those not really sure how to get started, here’s a quick start guide on Android and a few simple ways to spruce up your new device and customize the UI to your liking and the best part is, they’re all free!

Start up
Since Android is a Google based platform, you’re naturally required to have a Gmail account. On startup you’ll be asked to enter Gmail address and password and this will set take care of your Android Marketplace sign in as well as your Gtalk, YouTube and of course Gmail accounts. You’re obviously welcome to use and sync other accounts later on with Android including Microsoft Exchange accounts. The Wizard, like with most smartphone platforms these days is quite easy to follow. You can’t go wrong, especially since tutorials for some specific apps like special onscreen keyboards like ‘Swype’, if you haven’t heard of it are part of the start up process.

Multiple Desktops, shortcuts and Widgets
The Android platform offers the use of multiple desktops. What that means is, like the iPhone, which I’m sure we all know by now, it allows you to have many home screens with shortcuts to apps we would use most often. You can choose just how many you wish to have from the settings menu that can be accessed by touch sensitive keys found below the display. In rare cases these are actual physical keys. A return key takes you back to previous menus, a Home key back to your primary home screen and a search key that allows you activate an option to look for anything and everything on your phone and the net.

To access wallpapers, widgets, folders or shortcuts, just ‘long-press’ any desktop for a pop-up menu. Shortcuts can also be added by simply pressing and holding on to an app icon from the menu. Moving apps around on the desktop is also via the same method – press, hold drag. To remove a desktop shortcut drag and drop it onto a little ‘Garbage Can’ icon that will show up at the bottom centre of the display.

Key placement

‘Widget’ isn’t a term that’s affiliated with just the Android platform. For those coming in to the smartphone segment just now, it refers to quick access ‘shortcuts’ that can be placed on your phones homepage/desktop. However these aren’t merely shortcuts to applications but are actually mini apps themselves. They can provide information or allow certain amounts of access to the corresponding app directly. For example, the Facebook widget allows you to see current updates from your friend’s right on the desktop and also allows you to update your own status without having to open up the dedicated application.

The same goes for other social networking widgets etc. The Google Search widget saves you time by allowing you to start a search from the desktop without opening the browser, waiting for the Google home page to load and then typing in a search subject. Essentially they're designed to make things simpler and more accessible. To move or remove widgets, use the same methods as you would for shortcuts. Keep in mind some widgets could take up a whole homescreen/desktop, while others are smaller. Some even have multiple sizes to choose from.

Shortcuts, widgets, wallpapers oh my!

Facebook and Twitter are apps you may need to download (available for all versions off the App market) and with them come corresponding desktop widgets. Some widgets can be downloaded separately for various functions and others are built in to preloaded interfaces and are different from Google’s preloaded variety.
Live Wallpapers and Ringtone Makers
This is pretty self explanatory really. As I mentioned earlier, keep a homescreen pressed and a menu box pops up. Android 2.1 and above most certainly offer Live Wallpapers which are essentially animated images that run in your background. From smoke that moves around with your touch to simple coloured LED lights moving in patterns across your screen and more (preloaded or downloadable) the list goes on. They do consume a little more battery so keep that in mind. Or you could opt to use an image stored in your gallery. The image will need to be adjusted to fit the display and the system allows you to use multi-touch to make the adjustments.

Free downloadable Apps like ‘Backgrounds’ and ‘Zedge’ allow you to get wallpapers and even ringtones for your handset. Apps like MP3 Ringtone Maker allow you access to plenty of pre-created ringtones of your favourite songs or even use a file stored on your card to be trimmed for a customised ringtone. Of course even the native Android player allows you to select any track as a ringtone through the settings in the player itself.

Interfaces, Notifications
Not all the preloaded User Interfaces would suit most users. I even know a few users who found HTC’s Sense UI quite a pain to use. Other than the going with Google’s native option, a few others are also available to help make things more interesting. Launcher Pro, that we covered in an earlier article and can be download off the App Market for free, is ever popular. It’s simple yet extremely customizable even if you don’t purchase the full version. It helps make access to frequently used apps easy without cluttering up your desktops with too many shortcuts/widgets. If you’re like me, then you’d prefer your wallpapers being clearly visible without some icon possibly covering a portion of someone’s face or obstructing the view of some landscape or anything else.

A few other widget-like interfaces like Circle launcher allow you to assign a few frequently used apps to the widget that can be placed anywhere on your desktop. Tapping the widget pops up the assigned shortcuts for easy access.

Drop down notifications

At the very top of your homescreen is the Android Notification bar that will display details like missed calls, unread emails, messages, some apps that are highlighted and running in the background, apps being downloaded etc. By simply sliding this portion down with your finger you can access all of this information. In some UIs you can also control power consumption by switching off the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth etc. Android also has a native Widget for this called Power Control incidentally. 

Setting up Your Address Book
The Android platform, as quite a few others are these days, is very social networking friendly. While each manufacturer’s unique interface offers convergence with the likes of Facebook and Twitter, Google remains the primary syncing option. It’s also a simple (but not the best) way to back up your contact data base. After copying your phone book off of your SIM card (it’s recommended you save your most important contacts there) you can sync them with corresponding contacts you have on your Facebook Friends list and even access the entire list.

Some interfaces are able to match and join existing FB contacts with your phone book contacts but will still require a bit of manual editing. FB profile pics will also show up as your contacts call photos and in some cases updates they make to their various profiles can show up in your phone book itself. FB and Google can also sync with your calendar which will give you access to birthdays, anniversaries and other scheduling you may have created on either front. 

Syncing away your precious contacts

I’d recommend finishing this process and then syncing your new database with your Google account. Although FB and Twitter details won’t be retained, at least the numbers, new and old are safely stored online and accessible anytime.

These are the first steps to making any truly your own Android handset your own.  Most touch screen platforms allow for similar if not the same functionality with very similar ways to go about setting up as well. Android powered tablets offer almost identical ways to get started. If you’re curious about other things before your switch, this is the place to ask your questions and we’ll do our best to answer.

For those experienced users out there, feel free to offer new users your ideas on further customization of the platform, and for new users check out these links here to give you more information on enhancing your Android experience and updates on the application front.

Published Date: Feb 10, 2011 01:05 pm | Updated Date: Feb 10, 2011 01:05 pm