By Ari Driessen
Overcome with joy, you slowly pull your brand new Android phone out of its box, peel off the protective plastic, and pop in the battery. Your phone powers up, you go through the setup screens, and…at long last, you’re officially caught up on the latest mobile tech (for a couple of months, at least). You know it can do so many things, but where do you start, and how can you get the most out of your Android smartphone?
Have any tips, favorite apps, or customization ideas that we’re missing that you think your fellow Android users should know about? Let us know in the comments!
Your Android phone can’t wash the dishes just yet, but chances are if you want it to do just about anything else, there’s an app for that. You’ll find an icon in your application tray (and most likely on one of your phone’s homescreens) for the Android Market. The Android Market gives you access to tens of thousands of Android applications – many of them free.
You can search for any app you want, or sort apps by category and by popularity. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, there’s no shortage best Android app lists from across the web, including Wirefly’s own “Five Android apps that you can’t live without.”
If your device has an LED camera flash, consider making your first app download a flashlight app that’ll turn your phone into a powerful flashlight at the touch of a virtual button.
Up until recently, having a camera on your phone was in most cases thought of as a novelty – at best a last-ditch option if you forgot your regular camera. Many of the latest Android-powered phones, however, tout a camera that could go head-to-head with your point-and-shoot digital camera and even your camcorder.
Your Android phone likely snaps solid photos, and may even capture video in HD-quality. Try taking pictures of different scenes, adjusting the phone’s camera settings to see what works best. Your camera likely has pre-set modes to optimize the camera’s settings to take action shots or even take quality pictures in low light, for example.
If you find decide that your phone’s camera might serve as an alternative to your point-and-shoot in more cases than not, it may be worth investing in a higher capacity microSD card so you can be sure you have enough storage space for all your pictures and video.
Perhaps the most widely celebrated feature of Android is its virtually limitless customization options. Of course, you can make your phone your own by downloading apps, changing the background wallpaper (even choosing a “live,” moving wallpaper), and sorting apps any way you like. Android takes customization a step further, though.
While the number of customizable home screens you have to work with depends on your device and what version of Android you are running, however many home screens you do have can be customized with widgets (more on that later), shortcuts to apps and favorite contacts, and folders to easily organize your phone.
Beyond the customization options offered by personalizing your home screens, virtually any other aspect of the phone and its operation can be customized beyond recognition. If you don’t like the way your phone handles text messages, for example, you can download any number of different text message interfaces for free from the Android Market.
Many apps are available that offer even further customization options. An app called Tasker, for example, allows Android users to set their phone to launch applications or change settings depending on their current GPS location. If you want your phone to automatically switch into silent mode when you arrive at work, no problem.
Naturally, your Android phone touts powerful on-the-go email solutions. No matter who your email provider is, you can receive and send emails on your phone – and choose how often your phone checks for new email, and how you’re alerted to new messages. You can setup and use multiple personal and corporate emails accounts simultaneously on your Android phone.
Your Android phone serves as a great digital music and movie player as well as, of course, a gaming platform. You can choose to transfer music, videos, and photos directly to your Android phone, or opt to use a third-party software package that makes it easy to organize and transfer all your media files to your device. A third-party application called DoubleTwist is widely regarded as the best desktop to Android syncing solution, and will sync music, pictures, movies and even Android apps. It can best be thought of as Apple’s iTunes for Android.
Using your phone for turn-by-turn, voice guided GPS directions may be nothing new to you. What may be new, though, is that this formerly pay-per-month service is now completely free on your Android phone by way of Google Maps with Navigation. With Android’s multitasking abilities, your phone can truly be a viable replacement for your dash-mounted GPS system.
In addition to rear-facing cameras, some of the latest Android phones are equipped with front-facing cameras explicitly for video chat. There are a number of apps out there that bring two-way video chat to your Android device, and even let you broadcast live video for anyone with an internet connection to see. Be sure to check out Fring and Qik – two of the most popular free video chat apps available from the Android Market.
The Android platform has always been known for its ability to be controlled by voice – allowing users to perform Google searches and even write out entire text messages without typing a single character. Now, thanks to Google’s Voice Actions for Android, Android users (2.2 Froyo required) can get directions, call contacts, go to websites, listen to music, send an email – and much more, using only their voice. For a video demonstration of Voice Actions in action, click here. If your Android phone hasn’t been able to taste the frosty goodness of Froyo just yet, a great app called VLINGO provides much of the same functionality of Voice Actions and will work with whatever Android version you happen to be running.
Widgets have arguably come to define the Android platform and set it even further apart from any other mobile operating system. Widgets are small applications that can be placed anywhere on any of your Android home screens and provide at-a-glance access to information.
Your phone came pre-loaded with a number of helpful Android widgets, and if your device has a custom user interface such as HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz, you have access to even more widgets right of the box. Of course, if there isn’t already a widget that will get the job done, thousands more widgets are available from the Android market.
Widgets offer easy access to your favorite social networks, provide your local weather forecast and current conditions, allow you to easily change settings on your phone (like toggling Bluetooth and WiFi), view traffic to your website, serve as a home screen picture frame, and much, much more.