Sweet robotic joy—you just unwrapped an Android phone and, man, is it shiny. Here are our suggestions for apps to grab, settings to tweak, and really nifty things you can do with your Google-powered mini-computer.
We’ll run through some of the most helpful Android coverage on Lifehacker that still applies to modern Android phones in this article. If you wanted a deeper read on everything to discover in your Android, your author is also the writer behind The Complete Android Guide, a paperback and ebook that explores Android in-depth. The Guide is also available as a free wiki at this site (click “Browse the book”), where you can also grab a free print-and-fold PDF template with a list of 10 things to do right away on your Android phone.
Ahem. On to the stuff you want to know about what your rather awesome new phone can do:
Get the Latest and Greatest Google Stuff
Before you start playing around and getting used to how things work, why don’t you do two quick things: set up a Wi-Fi connection, then update your phone’s built-in applications. They’re likely newer than the versions you have on your just-opened phone, and some of the upgrades are intense.
To connect to Wi-Fi, hit your phone’s Menu button (the button with either three parallel lines, or the four boxes), choose Settings from the menu that pops up, then pick Wireless & networks. Check to enable Wi-Fi on the next screen, then hit the Wi-Fi settings menu below it. Pick out your home router name (or your relatives’), enter a password if necessary, and now have some fun.
Some apps you’ll want to check for updates. Open the Market app from your list of applications (press the grid-like, bottom-middle on-screen button to get there), then head to the Downloads section (press Menu if you don’t see it). If you don’t see “Update” under these apps, you may have to search them out to download the newer version.
- Google Maps: Just received offline caching and compass-style navigation. You might also pick up some “splinter” apps, like Places, Latitude and Navigation.
- Gmail: Picked up Priority Inbox support and a better compose/reply system.
- Voice Actions/Search: It not only controls your phone with your voice, but can train itself to recognise your own voice better.
Install the Best Apps and Upgrades
Android apps? Oh, we’ve got a few to recommend.
First up is our Lifehacker Pack for Android, where we picked out our favourite apps for communicating, being productive, viewing media, and otherwise getting the most use out of Android. Want to grab most or all of them? They’re listed at an AppBrain list. You can install AppBrain and then bulk-install all these apps (and many more), or click on each app individually, then hit the “QR/More” link to get a QR code (which you can scan with an app like Barcode Scanner).
Start Syncing Your Music, Vidoes And Pictures
Your Android doesn’t need a USB cable to play or sync music on your desktop computer—though it can work that way, if that’s more your speed. But setting up Wi-Fi syncing, and internet streaming, for your Android is so simple, you might never need to cord-hunt again when you want to switch up your playlist.
- How to Set Up Your Android for Automated Wi-Fi Syncing with DoubleTwist
When this is set up-and, really, it only takes about 15 minutes, much less if you’ve already connected AirSync-you’ll have a computer and phone that “check in” with each other regularly over Wi-Fi. No cables needed, and you don’t have to click the Sync button.
- iSyncr Syncs Your Android Device with iTunes Over USB or Wi-Fi
- mSpot Stores 2 GB of Your Music Online, Streams It to Your Smartphone
mSpot takes your iTunes playlists and other music and stores it on 2 GB of free server space. It then beams and syncs that music to a browser, an Android device, and, new today, iPhones and other iOS devices.
- Audiogalaxy Makes Streaming Music From Your Desktop Dead Simple
Head to Audiogalaxy.com, sign in with a username and password (or, even easier, through Facebook), then download software for your PC or Mac. All the software really does is find your music files, but you can click on the Audiogalaxy agent in your system tray to point out exactly which tunes you’d like to stream. If you want iPhone or Android access, download those free apps through your Store/Market, or click the appropriate icon on the Audiogalaxy page.
Troubleshoot the Tricky Stuff
Not to say Android phones aren’t all fun and games, but some aspects aren’t quite so obvious to newcomers. Here are some tips on some of the finer points we’ve covered?
- How Do I Convert Video for My Android Phone?
Converting videos for the iPod is so easy in iTunes, but I can’t seem to get videos to play on my Android device. How can I convert videos so that they’ll play in the native Android video player?
- What Should I Do When My Android Runs Out of Space for Apps?
I love trying out and using Android apps, but my phone warns me that it’s “Low on space.” How can that be, with 8 GB inside and a huge microSD card in place? How can I fix it?
- What’s the Deal with Android’s Weird Wallpaper Requirements?
I recently jumped on the Android bandwagon and I’ve found myself frustrated by the silliest of things-wallpaper. What is the deal with Android wallpaper and why don’t images sized to fit the resolution of my screen work properly?
- How to Speed Up Your Old or Sluggish Android Device
Whether you’ve rooted your phone, overclocked, flashed a new ROM, or none of the above, you’ll be able to take advantage of a number of the tweaks below to get your phone from sluggish and glitchy to quick and smooth.
- Android Task Killers Explained: What They Do and Why You Shouldn’t Use Them
Android task killers improve your phone’s performance while also boosting battery life-or at least that’s the much-debated promise. Here’s a look at how task killers actually work, when you should (or shouldn’t) use them, and what you can do instead.
Expand Your Phone’s Capabilities
Beyond apps and tweaks, you can make your phone do some really neat things. Things like tell you where it is if it’s lost or stolen. Things like transcribe your voicemail. Things like send a text back to your wife to let her know you’re driving, not just callously ignoring her calls.
- How to Break Down the Barrier Between Your Android and Computer
Your Android is supposed to keep you instantly connected to your digital life. It can do that, but it needs some help. These best-of-class applications make sending files, syncing music, swapping web sites, and other phone-computer hook-ups so much easier.
- How to Track and (Potentially) Recover Your Stolen Laptop or Android with Prey
There are obvious reasons to like Prey. Chief among them, it’s free to use for up to three devices of any kind, from computers running Windows, Mac, or Linux to Android devices. But that wouldn’t mean anything if the tracking Prey provided wasn’t really solid. It’s not fool-proof, especially if the thief wants to entirely wipe your computer or phone, but if that’s not the case, it gives you a fighting chance.
- How to Turn Your Android Phone into a Fully-Automated Superphone
What if your phone automatically went silent when you step into the movie theater? Texted your significant other when you finished your long commute? Or automatically turned down the volume when a particularly loud friend called? It can; here’s how.
- Battle of the Android Home Screen Launchers: ADW vs. LauncherPro vs. HelixLauncher
Many Android devices ship with a default home screen launcher that, frankly, kind of sucks. The good news? You can install a new launcher offering better shortcuts, more home screens, and extra configuration options. Here’s the lowdown on the most popular options.
We hope we helped some of you new to Android to discover a new app or two, or think differently about what you can set up with your phone. If you have questions, comments, or tips for other new Android owners, offer them up in the comments.