Beginner's Guide to Android
November 5, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
There’s an Android phone in your hand and a desire in your heart to push that phone to the limit. The enticing Google Android operating system was too much for you to ignore, so let’s get to work answering those many questions racing through your mind.
Before we proceed, understand this key point: Android is a platform, not a device. Some of us have a G1, others a Dream, Droid, Hero, Galaxy, Magic, or myTouch. Due to differences in firmware and device functions, some tips, tricks, apps, and features available on one phone may not be available to users on another. The good news is that the openness of Android allows third-parties to offer similar or better solutions. It’s up to you to be resourceful and discover these solutions.
Androinica.com will do its best to help along the way, so stay up-to-date with Androinica.com on Twitter (@androinica) and continue learning about Android.
Common questions/issues regarding Android.
- What are some good apps I should get?
- What’s the best app for Twitter or Facebook?
- How do I get music, videos, pictures, and other files on my phone?
- I downloaded a widget and it wont launch! What’s wrong?
- What are those barcode squares / black and white lines in a box for?
- What does it mean to root a phone?
- I’ve never used a Google account…how do I import contacts/calendar from my old phone?
- What are some cool games?
- How do I sync with Microsoft Exchange or edit documents?
- I don’t like the on-screen keyboard. Are there alternatives?
- Can I get GPS and directions on my phone?
- How do I get themes on the home screen?
- Can I use Google Voice, Gizmo, Skype, or other VOIP services on my phone?
- How do I…? (more great articles and resources for help)
Asked and answered: 50 Great Android Apps
Well, that depends on what you’re looking for: speed, features, or both? Twitter fiends can browse our full round-up comparing the many Twitter apps. Facebook fans can take their pick between the official Facebook app or third-party apps Babbler and Bloo.
You have to mount your phone to your computer or load the content onto your SD card. There are several solutions for managing files and syncing Android with your computer. The easiest is DoubleTwist, a program that syncs music, photos, and videos. If you’re an iTunes user, the transition will be very friendly. Some video formats are not compatible with certain devices, but DoubleTwist can automatically convert them! Also see how you can record short clips/DVD’s with VLC.
Your widget won’t launch and it never will…because widgets aren’t “apps” that you select and open from the app drawer. The way to add a widget is to long-press on a homescreen panel and select “Widgets > *WidgetName*”
The barcode squares are QR codes. These are shortcuts for helping you find applications in the Android Market. Click here for a tutorial and more information on using QR codes.
Rooting an Android device opens its core functions that aren’t available when you buy it. One of the major benefits is the ability to install apps to the SD card, which saves space on the device. Rooting also enables you to install the custom versions of Android with even more custom features that emerge from the XDA Community. Rooting a phone can potentially damage a phone beyond repair, so be meticulous and careful if you choose to root your Android phone. For more on rooting, read our explanatory post on using and understanding root terms.
First see if an employee at your carrier’s store can save contacts to the SIM card. If that’s not an option, let’s hope you have contacts stored in Outlook or another program that can export contacts. Google provides several tools that enable you to import contacts from a CSV file, which then automatically syncs with your Android device.
Google Calendar can sync with Outlook or an iCal URL, so if you use Yahoo Calendar, Rainlendar, or another calendar app, that will provide a solution for updating your calendar. While we’re on the subject, be sure to back-up your cloud data just in case.
- Aevum Obscurum – a Risk-like, turn-based strategy game for world domination
- Air Hockey – an air hockey/table hockey game for Android
- Buka, Bonsai, Totemo – “cutesy” games that are actually kind of cool
- Colorix, Decades, Puzzle Blox – puzzle based games that have some type of Tetris/Bejeweled “with a twist” feature
- Gensoid, NESoid, SNESoid – emulators for Sega Genesis, Nintendo, and Super Nintendo
- Radiant – a mix of Space Invaders and Asteroids that provides hours of fun
- Retro Defender, Robo Defense, Mobile Defense – different types of tower defense games that are among Android’s most popular
- Orbs Knockoff – It’s like billiards with obstacles
- Hold ‘Em Red Poker Club, Texas Hold ‘Em Online – play hold ‘em against live opponents or an AI
- Speed Forge 3D – racing game of the future
New devices typically ship with this feature built-in. If your phone guide doesn’t list Exchange support, there are several apps that can sync it to an Exchange server: Touchdown, RoadSync, and ContacsCalendarSync for example. As far as editing documents, Documents to Go is the best solution for reading or editing Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents.
Yes, but it may cost you. For $2.99, Better Keyboard offers slightly bigger buttons, T9 alternate view, and the ability to skin the keyboard’s color/appearance very easily. There’s also Touchpal, which has 3 keyboard views, autocorrects misspelled words, shortcuts for certain letters, and includes support for keyboards/words in several languages. You MUST install a language pack first and then follow this tutorial for installing Touchpal.
My personal favorite is the tried and true HTC Keyboard that comes with the HTC Sense phones. Click here to learn how to install it on your phone for free.
Google Maps Navigator looks incredible, but it doesn’t offer voice-guided directions on non-2.0 phones or an offline option. For either of those features, you’ll need Co-Pilot Live, TeleNav, Nav4all, AndNav2, or Waze. We reviewed Co-Pilot Live ($34.99) and found it to be a great tool to have when hitting the road. TeleNav is also an incredible GPS solution, and it requires a $9.99 per month subscription. Sprint Navigator, which runs on TeleNav, works well, too. If you don’t want to pay anything at all, I’d recommend testing AndNav2 or Waze.
You may get the urge to customize your new phone with themes, which leads us to home screen alternatives. FreshFace, Open Home, aHome, dxTop, Open Gesture, and Sweeter Home each offer a different approach to customizing Android. Which is best? Like all things Android, results may differ for each user. Some will love the quick layout of dxTop, others will favor the robust features of Open Home, the themes of aHome, the gesture support in Open Gesture, the profiling of FreshFace, and the deep customization of Sweeter Home.
Search YouTube for each app and you’ll get demo videos to help make your decision. Keep in mind that these apps have the potential to run slow so if you notice an unbearable lag in the device, consider returning to the default home screen.
Yes on all fronts. Google Voice offers an Android app that makes it easy to place calls, send SMS text messages, and see your voicemail. It also includes a widget that can toggle (switch) settings to turn GV on or off. Gizmo5 and other SIP calls are possible with SIPdroid; with Gizmo5 and Google Voice accounts and an app named GUAVA, you can make or accept calls even without a SIM card. Skype is available in Skype Lite, but that uses your standard carrier minutes, so it only makes sense to use it for international calls.
If you’ve got a technical issue with Android not explained in the guide, Twitter is a good resource. You can ask @androinica for help and we’ll do our best to answer, but you should also consider using the #Android tag when asking questions. Knowledgeable Android users are usually willing to offer help.