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Android for beginners: Tips and tricks for your new smartphone

If you’re holding your shiny new Android smartphone and wondering how to get the most from it, then you’ve come to the right place.

Whether this is your first smartphone, you’ve just hopped over from an iPhone, or you’ve had a number of Android handsets, we’ve pulled together some of the best Android tips and tricks to help you get the most from your new phone.

There are different versions of the software, there are plenty of different manufacturer skins layered over that Android core, like those from Samsung, LG or Huawei, and there’s a limitless level of customisation you can apply from Google Play, or other third-party sources.

Few Android devices are alike, but all Android devices have the same foundation. So, starting at the beginning, here’s how to master your Android phone

Android and Google are like peas in a pod. To use Android, you need to use a Google account. That means everything that goes with it – Gmail, calendars, contacts, YouTube, Google Maps and more.

Getting your account in order is something you can do from your PC before you sign into your new device, letting you use the big screen and keyboard to get things straight.

Google incorporates a contacts system which hides within Gmail on your desktop browser. If you have lots of contacts, import them into Google contacts and manage them there. Managing them on a computer makes it much faster to get everything correct before you get started

Things looked shaky for Android in its first year or two, but it has overtaken Windows as the most popular computing platform in the world. Android gained traction with device makers because it’s open source and free, and users grew to love Android for the lovely features and customization options. Google is always making tweaks and coming up with new features for Android, and OEMs like Samsung and LG can add their own stuff on top of that. It can be hard to keep up, so we’ve gathered the 25 best tips for your Android phone right here.

Choose Do Not Disturb settings

Android’s notification settings are a bit confusing right now. Not only do OEMs often change the terminology, but Google itself has revamped it a few times in recent updates. You’ll find the settings for this feature either in your volume popup when you hit the toggle or by going into the system settings for notifications (usually Sound and Notification). It will be called Do Not Disturb on most devices. In this menu, you can choose when DND is toggled on automatically, what is blocked, and if any contacts are allowed to ring through anyway. On Pie devices, Do Not Disturb defaults to hiding your notifications as well. Make sure to change that setting if you still want to see what’s going on in the notification shade.

Find my phone

We have all occasionally lost track of a phone. Maybe it was hiding in the couch cushions or sitting on the kitchen counter. Don’t go crazy looking for your phone next time; just use Google’s “Find my phone” tool (previously known as Android Device Manager). You can access this via the web on a mobile device or computer. Simply log into your Google account, and choose your missing phone from the drop down menu. Google reaches out and shows you where it is. You can also ring the phone, even if it’s in silent mode. If worse comes to worst, you can remotely erase the phone to protect your data.

Make sure your photos back up automatically

There’s nothing worse than losing or breaking a phone only to realize your photos aren’t backed up. You can avoid this by simply opening the Google Photos app and following the prompts to enable auto-backup. The default mode is “high quality” and unlimited space. This compresses your photos, but they look surprisingly good. If you want to save the original image, you can opt to use your Drive storage space. You get 15GB free and can buy more.

Try a different home screen

Most Android devices have a custom UI created by the device maker (eg. Samsung’s TouchWiz). That includes the home screen. This is an important part of the experience, and the default home often isn’t very powerful. Installing an alternative like Nova Launcher or Action Launcher can make your device much easier to use. You can use these apps to change the icons, assign navigation gestures, organize apps, and so much more. Any time you want to change between your installed home screens, just go to the Home menu in the system settings.

Use screen pinning

If you need to hand your phone to someone else, you don’t necessarily want them snooping around in other apps. This is easy to prevent — just pin the screen. This should be enabled by default on most devices, but if it’s not, check the security menu. Tap the pin icon on any app in the multitasking interface and you can lock the screen to just that app. In Pie with the horizontal app switcher, you need to long-press on the app icon in the overview interface to select “Pin.” If you have a secure lock screen, you can require that unlock method to leave the pinned app.

Use power saving modes

All Android phones have power saving modes of some sort — sometimes two or three of them. Head to the battery menu (usually just Settings > Battery) on most phones to see these settings. For example, Samsung offers a regular power saving mode that reduces screen brightness and slows the CPU, then there’s also an ultra power saver that locks the device to just a few essential applications. Most phones, like those from Google, offer basic power saving modes like the former that can be turned on automatically when the device reaches a certain battery level. This is definitely something you should set up.

Split-screen apps

If your phone runs Android 7.0 or higher, you’ll be able to bring up two apps in split-screen mode. To do this, all you need to do is long-press the overview button. Your current app will shrink into the top half of the screen (left half in landscape), and you can choose another app from your recent list. The divider between the two apps can be dragged to change the amount of screen real estate allotted to each one. When you’re done, just long-press the overview button again or drag the divider all the way to the top or bottom. Split-screen mode is a stock feature of all devices running Nougat or higher. On Pie devices with the new horizontal app switcher, you may need to long-press on the app icon at the top of the preview to select split-screen mode.

Turn on Developer Options

Google hides some of the more advanced tools in a special Developer Options menu that you’ll have to enable to get at things like animation speed, USB debugging, and app standby (which I’ll get to momentarily). To turn on Developer Options, open the “About phone” menu at the bottom of the system settings and find the build number. Tap on that seven times and you’ll get a message that you are a developer. The dev options will now be at the bottom of your main system settings.

Manage apps on the Web Play Store

Google includes the Play Store client on Android devices, but there’s also a version of the Play Store accessible online. For some people this is a no-brainer, but not everyone thinks to use the web-based Play Store. You can do all the same things here that you do on your phone, but faster. Apps and games can be purchased and pushed over the air to Android. You can queue up multiple installs in a fraction of the time it takes on Android. If you’ve got more than one device on your account, you can pick where the app goes.

Customize quick settings

The quick settings are the settings toggles visible at the top of the notification panel (most devices) and in the fully expanded quick settings UI. On most devices, you can access them by swiping down twice. Customizing these is something everyone should do when getting a new device, and the process is much more consistent than it used to be. Google added customizable quick settings in Android 7.0, and OEMs are now required to use the standard implementation. Just open the quick settings and hit the edit button. Then, long-press and drag to rearrange. The first few settings toggles you have in the list will be accessible at the top of the notification pane prior to opening quick settings. App developers can also add tiles that show up in the editing interface. For example, Twitter apps have tiles to start a new Tweet and VPN apps have on/off toggles

Use (and remove) factory reset protection

Way back in version 5.1, Android added factory reset protection, which is nice should your phone ever be stolen. The thief won’t be able to reset and log into the phone without first knowing your Google password. However, you might also accidentally lock the new owner out of your phone (or even yourself) if you sell it. Factory reset protection is enabled automatically when you have a secure lock screen enabled. Make sure you don’t reset your phone less than 24 hours after changing your Google password, or you’ll trigger a 72-hour anti-theft lockout. To disable reset protection for a new user to log into the phone, just disable the secure lock screen, enable OEM unlock in the Developer Options, or manually remove your Google account in the Accounts menu (this also factory resets the phone).

Many manufacturers offer transfer tools to help you move old content to new places. This might be a desktop app, but more frequently, it’s becoming part of the device when you set it up for the first time. Android now also has the option to restore a previous backup, or set up a device from scratch, as well as offering you the chance to transfer data wirelessly to setup things like your accounts and settings.

Generally speaking, if you’ve been using Android previously, those items associated with your account will move over without a hitch.

For things like photos, you might wish to move them to a cloud service if you want to preserve them. This has the added advantage of being a backup if you lose your phone.

Google Photos is the obvious choice for Android users, because it’s associated with your account. You just have to install the app and sign in if it’s not already on your device. Head to the menu to settings > backup & sync and you’ll find all the options to backup photos. It’s good to have backup turned on all the time, so your photos are always there, even if you lose your phone.

You can also install Google Photos on the iPhone, again providing a way to backup photos on your iOS device. This will immediately backup local photos, but if you have been using iPhone for some time, you might have to download photos from iCloud – for which you’ll probably have to use a PC and additional software.

Another option for photos is OneDrive from Microsoft or Dropbox, as both offer photo backup options and are widely accessible across platforms.

You could also save to a microSD card and move it across, if you have the hardware to support it – but again, moving to the cloud means you have a backup off your phone and you can access photos via browser on your PC.

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