Android for Beginners

Just bought an Android phone and do not know where to start? This post is intended for you; you will find everything you need to know about your device to make the best of it. But first, a little theory to inform ourselves.

What is Android?

Android is a mobile operating system based on Linux which lets you perform actions as if you were using a PC. It is owned by Google, who in 2005 acquired Android Inc., and from that date onwards has never stopped improving it releasing new versions and updates regularly.

Android is an operating system completely open and free, which facilitates the development of applications and allows modifications and customizations to taste. This coupled with a simple programming language has given him a solid foundation for rapid growth in its community of developers and users, surpassing today the 700,000 applications. For more information you need to read our Android Dictionary. If you have not gotten your device and you’re wondering which one to choose, you need to read our post Best Android Phones 2012.

Android Versions

As I said earlier, Android was acquired by Google in 2005 and since then has been updated to different versions, but just as in the desktop computers (Windows XP, 7 or 8), not all Android smartphones have the same version and thus its functionality and performance vary. It usually depends on the release date of the device, as manufacturers try to launch its models with the latest version of Android.

The different versions of Android were launched progressively and are currently working mainly three: Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Note that there is a new version of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean but found only few devices operating in.

The evolution of Android has been rapidly in the last two years, and the user experience it offers currently it is far from previous versions, although the hardware requirements are higher as well as the knowledge of the user. Without going into technical details, the new versions of Android are always better than the previous ones because they are optimized in performance, battery consumption and fluidity of the user interface based on previous versions.

The difference between some versions is minimal, thus are considered “upgrades” rather than new versions such as the passage between Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. You will notice that each version of Android has food name, and the current is called Jelly Bean. I recommend you click on the image above to see the evolution of Android.

Manufacturers Layers

It is easy to note that not all Android devices have the same user interface, and although they are all similar, has distinctive characteristics of each manufacturer. These interfaces are called layers, and each company has put their name: in the case of Samsung is called TouchWiz, in HTC is called Sense, Blur from Motorola or Optimus from LG.

These layers are embedded in the operating system, offering applications and services of each company but which are unrelated to Android. These layers what they do is “mediate” between the user and Android to offer, in theory, a more personalized user experience for the device. It’s as if your computer had a program to run over Windows that handles almost all functions of the computer, but we can not access them from the “source” or “core” of the same.

When we buy a device with cost reduction through a contract with carriers is likely to find that these devices bring with them applications or portals their own of that carrier. An example would be if we get a Samsung Galaxy S3 with a contract of Verizon or AT&T, this one will certainly brings the operator applications that you can not delete unless you do a process called root that you can find in this section: How to Root.

You can also remove the layer of the manufacturer, and while is a process a bit more complex in time you will realize that one of the advantages of Android is its immense capacity for customization and optimization. But enough theory for now, on to the action.

Android for Beginners

Starting with Android: Google Account

The first thing we must do is create an account on Google, if already have it you can use the existing if desired. The Google account is essential because from it will enter the Google Play Store which is the Google application market where we can download thousands of applications like Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds, WhatsApp and more.

With the Google Account we may also sync our contacts and calendar existing in Gmail hence if our device astray or is broken for any reason, we will not lose this valuable information. All you have to enter is a username, password, and contact number for confirmation of the account, we recommend a second e-mail in case you need to recover the password or data. You can see how to add a Google account on a Samsung Galaxy S3 in the video below.

Note: not exactly the same procedure for all android, although it is very similar and should serve to give an idea.

In another post we’ll show you how to synchronize the different accounts you can have on your device.

What is an application?

An application is a program that has one or more specific functions that make it useful for a reason. They are the equivalent of which is a computer program with the exception that their functions are more limited for obvious reasons. For example, the Facebook application for Android what it does is adapt the user interface and all the functions of Facebbok in PC for this operating system.

There are all kinds of applications and genre, and currently you can download more than 700,000 in Google Play Store. Some are free, some for sale. You can find everything from social networks and applications for the camera, to games of all kinds, health-related application, with humor, food, instant messaging and much much more.

How to Install an Application?

Once you’ve set up the Google Account on our device we can access the Google Play Store through it. It’s really very simple. Take for example the Facebook app. The first thing to do is enter in the application of Google Play that has the same logo as the image above. When you enter you will see the following menu. Here we look at the search bar and write the application you want to find, in this case “Facebook”. You will notice that, being such a popular application, the result is shown before we finish typing the entire word.

Once you select the app we shall see that we are displayed on the screen the same. We’ll have photos and a brief description, as well as comments and ratings for. This section is important because the user community is one of the strengths of Android. Select Install, and then will ask you to accept the download and installation. After a few moments we will have Facebook installed on our device, to start using it we must log in with our user and password.

The process is the same with all the applications you want to download from Google Play. If it is of payment we must enter the data from a credit card to make the purchase. If you want you may try right now to install an application. You will see it is very simple.

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Manual Installation: what is a. Apk?

Just as computers have programs files. Exe the same goes for Android applications and their file extension. “Apk” (Android Application Package). These are files containing the applications and installers of them. In Android you can install an application manually through files. Apk that is possible to get, what do have to note is that their source may not be safe and we will not have updates but rather we will remain stuck in the version we got. Nor will be registration of its installation on Google Play. The most important advantage of installing a. Apk is that we do not need a Google account. But it is always preferable to install from official sites since they may contain viruses and do not want our devices to infect. In another post I will show how to.

How to remove an application?

When we want to get rid of an application we have two ways of doing this, one is entering the same in Google Play and the other is from the applications menu. In the first way, what we do is go to Google Play as if we wanted to install an application, just enter in that we already have installed and select Uninstall.

In the second way, and the one I recommend, is from the application menu. To do this go to System Settings -> Apps. Here we will get on screen a list of all applications on three tabs: Downloaded, Running and All. We will go to Downloaded and we look for that we want to remove and we select it. You will notice that a menu comes out where we can perform various actions such as clearing the cache or delete the data, these two processes are important because if an application is malfunctioning, if we remove its data(will delete user accounts and settings) or if we empty its cache, it is very likely to improve its performance.

To uninstall select Uninstall.

Basic Settings

Please note that this tutorial was based on a native Android device, therefore your phone may be different from what you see explained here, but keep in mind you’ll have the same options just maybe in a different order, rest assured that you can do anything.

When we have a smartphone for the first time on our hands we may think that is a device that we will never know all its features and functionality, and while there are many, I can assure you that with time and a little practice will take the most out of your new Android phone. The basic settings are referred to the main functions of the device as active / disable WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS as well as set the language, time zone, and keyboard. There is a menu for everything, and it’s really easy.

Notification Drawer

The first thing I’ll mention is the notification drawer that is “hidden” on top of the device, with the swipe of a finger from above the screen down we will see how this unfolds showing important data.

Here we must make a clarification because if you have Android 2.3 Gingerbread will not have the option from the notification drawer to enter the phone settings and will have to do from the applications, it is just a small step.

In the notification drawer, as you can see, there are a few icons that activate / deactivate certain functions of the phone, and we should clarify that depending on the layer of the manufacturer you have installed will vary between the options you have available there. You will see in the photograph a part highlighted in blue, that is the icon to enter the device configuration.

In my case I have the following bar options: WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, volume, brightness and LED Flash, but this is configurable and we can add other options if you so desire. To do this we must go to System Settings -> System -> Notification Drawer and Buttons Widget, where we can select all the options you want, and then we can sort them in Widget button order by dragging each one to the position you wish. In some layers as Samsung TouchWiz is not possible to modify the settings of the notification drawer, although it is fairly complete.´

Display Brightness

The settings that have to do with the display are essential not only because in a smartphone all we have is a screen to which interact but also because it is the element that consumes more resources, hence proper use of it will have direct impact on the life of our battery. The settings of the screen brightness are found in System Settings -> Display. First we configure the automatic or manual brightness in Brightness (Automatic Brightness).

In case you don´t know, your smartphone has a photogenic sensor which usually is located on the top of it that measures the brightness, this means that if we have the automatic brightness activated and suddenly pass from a dark room to a brighter one or we go outside, the brightness of the screen will automaticly increase and vice versa. This option is interesting when we change temperature followed, although not recommended if you want to watch a movie or play as it is quite annoying.

The option that handles screen rotation (Auto-rotate screen) is very important because if this is not enabled when bow our device in landscape mode it will not rotate.

Finally, the other display functions more useful is Sleep, which like the TV’s controls how long the device will last without activity before turning off. I recommend that if you are going to read you modify it because the default is programmed to shut down after 30 seconds, not enough time to turn a page for instance.

Date & Time

To set the time zone and other options with respect to how they displays and sets go to System Settings, and almost reaching the end of the list we find Data & Time. There we go and see a menu with several settings.

Here you can set the time zone, how to display the date and time, and the possibility of the device to automatically detect them. Personally I recommend you leave checked the first two options for our Android to do it automatically. If for some reason the device is an area or time mistaken, un-check these first two options and do it manually.

Language & Keyboard

While it is likely that initially configure it as soon as you start the device, or if you purchased to an operator comes already configured, you can change the overall language of the device and the one of the keyboard. To set the language we must enter System Setting -> Language & Input and there select the language you want.

You can configure various languages for the keyboard for example if we want to write in English and Spanish for the dictionary to recognize words. To do this within the menu go to Input Languages and there check all languages you want. In the various interfaces this varies, but if you select the default keyboard there you will have the option of Input Language and you can do the same. In the picture you can see how it is in the Samsung interface.

How to close running Apps?

In Android each time you open multiple applications they remain running in the background, which facilitates subsequent opening. This is called multitasking, and is very useful when navigate Internet for example, we check Twitter and send a message via WhatsApp and can move quickly between each other. What happens is that eventually open applications accumulate thus slowing down our device, and for this we must close them. To do this in some devices we have a dedicated button that is usually located on the right which when pressed opens a list of recent applications, with just slide them to one side they will close. In general, and more common in modern devices non Samsung, we see that there are three buttons: Back, Home and Recent Applications. In the Galaxy range of Samsung this button is not present, however, we can access the latest applications by holding the HOME button.

WiFi & Data Plan: some tips

As you may know, it is very important to have a contract with your telephone company that allows you to have a data plan because our smartphones are constantly sending and receiving data from Internet, and if we are going to use them only when we have WiFi then it is preferable for us a notebook and a simply cell because otherwise loses some sense.

In this section, those with Android 2.3 Gingerbread will be a little late because this version does not have a data plan meter, but there are several applications like 3G Watchdog which are free and can do the job of measuring our Internet consumption when we have no WiFi. Also worth noting that if you have a device with Android 2.3 probably you can install custom ROMS that allow you to upgrade the version of your operating system, therefore you access our section How to Install ROM.

Starting from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich implemented a practical and useful data control system, which can be accessed from System Settings -> Data Usage. Here you can activate / deactivate the data plan, and set our quote: this means how many megabytes we have available and which day of the month is renewed.

You will notice that we have a graph showing the total consumption and at the bottom a list with the consumption per application. It’s good to have an idea of how much data consume the applications, although needless to say that if you watch HD videos on YouTube or download from Google Play heavy applications, all without WiFi, our data plan will be reduced in a short time. We can also enter each application to see specifically their consumption and go to configuration of the same.

Battery Usage: how to prolong the life of your Android

Some essential tips to make efficient use of the battery of your device:

First, lithium batteries do not require full discharge cycles for better performance, this applied to previous battery technology, therefore if you are on a long day and you can take your charger with you, you should make loads even if it is short periods not to run out of energy at the end of the day. Nor leave your device connected to the charger will influence negatively, unless there is a problem with the transformer or the power of the place. The most harmful for the Lithium battery is the heat.

The screen brightness is by far the most resource consuming element in a mobile device, therefore if you are running out of battery the first thing to do is reduce the brightness to the minimum.

The WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth are also elements that consume resource quite much, therefore if we have them off we’ll have more lasting time. In the case of WiFi I recommend using it only when we need to download large files or watch videos on YouTube, and on the side of the GPS and Bluetooth, whose use is sporadic, I recommend not to forget them on after using Google Maps or transfering a file.

The screen orientation along with shutting recent apps are another factors to be aware to when running out of power.

Finally, all layers of the manufacturers have a power saving mode that somehow cuts the device functions for battery optimization. It is possible to configure that once the battery is below a certain percentage, this mode automatically turns on. The place to find these options vary in the different layers of the manufacturers, although always called something like Power Saving Mode (example of Samsung’s TouchWiz).

Security Options

Although we must recognize that Android is not the most secure operating system in the world, in this aspect constant improvements are being implemented so that from the user interface becomes increasingly safer. There are some options that range from the lock screen with a pattern, password or photo to more advanced measures such as anti-theft applications. All options have pros and cons, and is in each one way in which protects your device. Here I leave some tips and applications so that you seek the way that you like.

Lockscreen

If we go to System Settings -> Lock Screen -> Screen Security -> Screen Lock we shall see that there are 6 options for configuring the screen lock:

  • NONE: Does not apply anything, when turning on the device you will not see the unlock screen.
  • SLIDE: by sliding the screen is unlocked.
  • FACE UNLOCK: the device is unlocked with a picture of us, it is not recommended because its level of optimization is not yet ideal
  • PATTERN: You can put an unlock pattern that only you will know to access the device, the more complex the pattern greater security this provides. But keep in mind that if a pattern is very difficult and you forget it you will not be able to unlock your device, which has a solution but is of more advanced character. You can set the grid size to increase or decrease the unlock pattern field from 3×3 to 6×6.
  • PIN & PASSWORD: in these two options what we’ll do is enter a combination of numbers and / or letters, this is the safest option .

Note: in Android 2.3 Gingerbread will not have some options like Face Unlock, although the most important are.

There are some anti-theft applications that you may find useful, especially because they implement the GPS of the device to locate it and a version from to install on your desktop to lock the device or track it. If you’re interested, I leave a post where you will find the most important: 3 Antitheft free apps for your Android

Antivirus for Android

It never hurts to be preventative, and although in most cases nothing ever happens, we know that Android being an open source operating system is more likely to be attacked by hackers or viruses. But just as in the PC in Android there are several applications of Antivirus to protect our device. If you’re interested, here I leave a post with the best antivirus for android: Top 10: Best Antivirus for Android

Must-Have Applications

There are some essential applications in Android, and although much will depend on how you use your device, you can not miss these 8:
WhatsApp Messenger is the ultimate messaging application, its simple interface and its large user base makes it THE application of all smartphones in the world.
Download WhatsApp

Facebook, the most popular social network in the world, has its Android version and while the application is far from excellent it´s always good to have the official version.

Download Facebook

Twitter, the other most important social network in the world also has its version for Android.

Download Twitter

Dropbox is the best cloud storage service app, allowing to quickly synchronize all your devices and share folders with other users. Undoubtedly one of the most useful applications on Android.

Download Dropbox

ASTRO File Manager is one of the most popular file managers on Android has a simple interface and its profits are many. One of the best ways to control our device files.

Download ASTRO File Manager

Angry Birds is the most popular game series in the history of mobile devices, now you can download 5 versions and all of them offer attractive levels and countless hours of fun.

Download Angry birds ; Angry Birds Space ; Angry Birds Seasons ; Angry Birds Rio ; Angry Birds Star Wars

Google Music is the most popular music player for Android and certainly one of the best options to have ordered all your music on your device. Google’s support is crucial as it continues to optimize over time.

Download Google Music

MX Player is the best application for playing video and stream online, has codecs for almost all formats and its interface is simple and intuitive.

Download MX Player

What is Google Now?

Google Now is an intelligent application that provides a new Android user experience, based on our searches and location the application will deliver to us useful information such as whether the road to home or work is congested or normal. The application itself realizes our schedules and routines as the information of nearby WiFi networks or internal GPS detects where we are, what time and where we usually go. We can set the directions that we want to appear, how often and under what name.

With an interface that simulates a kind of social network, Google Now automatically detects not only information but you can ask by voice and it will respond, and if the result or question are somewhat ambiguous the application will display the corresponding google search to wich it understood that we said. You can also search in the traditional handwriting. The information is displayed on cards that show exactly what we want to know and gives us some suggestions as restaurants or places of photography nearby. To configure all we want we must go inside the Settings application and there will have 4 options:

  • -> Google Now to set the cards
  • -> Voice for the language
  • -> Phone Search to set the places of the phone where the search will be performed
  • ->Privacy & Accounts to set things like the web search history or wether we use local Google or Google.com

It is an interesting application that is having increasingly more uses and developments. Only available starting from Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

This has been our post of Android for beginners, we have tried to be as summarized as possible without missing anything or getting technical. Probably you continue to have doubts to which we’ll be alert on our comments section.