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How to Use Android Effectively

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How to Use Android Effectively
by Cameron Summerson

Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world. While Apple’s iOS (iPhone and iPad) receives lavish attention and has a devout following, Android continues to rack up impressive numbers. In fact, it holds roughly 88 percent of the global market share.
Part of the reason for this is that Android faces little competition. iOS continues to be its only viable foe, particularly in the United States with where it claims a 43 percent market share. Windows Phone and the ever-fading Blackberry can’t come close to stacking up.
All this really means is that a whole lot of people use Android and, time after time, we see people struggling to master it. It’s not that Android is hard to use, in fact, it’s very easy, but earlier versions are often slow and clunky while newer ones have a lot of features you need to learn to make the most of it. Also, people may simply not know or realize many of the ways you can better manage your device rather than it managing you.
That’s what we’re here to help with.

     Understanding Android Versions    

Android has seen many versions since version 1.0 was released in 2008. Since 2009 they have been named after desserts or sweets alongside their corresponding version numbers. For example, the first public version of Android was named “Cupcake.” Since then we’ve seen Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean, KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat.
Unlike the iPhone, however, not all recent phones will necessarily get the latest and greatest version. Depending on your phone, its manufacturer, and the carrier you’re on, you could buy a phone that gets stuck on one version while everyone else moves on. That means there are a lot of different versions of Android out there still floating out in the wild.
Given how many versions are out there, it’s difficult to write instructions for everyone, but we believe in always having the latest version of any operating system installed. Not simply to take advantage of the latest features, but also because the most recent versions represent a long effort by Google to hone its operating system so that it works on much older hardware than previous Android versions.
If you cannot upgrade to the most recent versions of Android, then it probably means you’re stuck with the version you have until you can buy a new phone or tablet. Don’t worry, most of the information we cover here can still be applied in some way and, if it cannot, you still have this series as a resource when you do finally upgrade!

What’s the Difference Between “Pure” Android and Other Distributions? 

Handset makers go through a vast array of tricks to make Android more user friendly. But what you often end up with is a convoluted mess of eye candy and unneeded apps that add more bloat than they’re worth. Unless you buy a Google Nexus or Pixel phone, your phone will probably have a custom “skin” for Android made by its manufacturer, like Samsung’s “TouchWiz” interface and LG’s “LG UX”. While they each have their own dedicated fans, this problem splinters the Android community even more, and gives everybody a different interface to learn.
But some phones–particularly Google’s Nexus and Pixel line–contain Google’s original version of Android, without the extra tweaks. This has attracted its own hardcore following of users who swear by stock, or “pure” Android.
The result of this is an Android distribution as Google intended. For the purposes of this series, we will refer to stock Android and, where necessary, Samsung Touchwiz or LG UX. We include Samsung simply because it is used by 29 percent of US Android users, and worldwide, the company accounted for 23 percent of all smartphone shipments in 2013.

Getting a Lay of the Land

Android is super easy to use. It employs a few consistent UI features and elements that can be found across nearly all Android devices. We’ll go on a little tour of these before diving a bit further into many of the settings you will encounter throughout this series.
The Home Screen
Unlock your device and you’re greeted by the home screen. Think of this as a desktop of sorts, but unlike a traditional PC, you can have as many home screens as you want, which you simply swipe left or right to access. You can place a whole variety of app shortcuts (which we’ll cover in Lesson 2), app groups, and widgets on your home screen(s).
Below is a screenshot of stock Android’s home screen on the left, and Samsung Touchwiz on the right.

Note that your home screen will vary according to how your handset manufacturer lays it out or however you customize it.
The status bar
At the very top, ever-present, is the status bar. it rarely leaves the display, except in some full-screen applications (like video players or games). The status bar displays important information including the time, how much signal you have (both Wi-Fi and cellular), your battery, and notifications such as texts and e-mails. It will largely look the same across various manufacturer skins, save for some stylistic choices.

Notifications have always been one of Android’s strong points. With notifications, the system and apps can notify you when something needs attention, such as an e-mail, text message, or something app-specific such as a Facebook alert. When you get a notification, you’ll see an icon on the left of the status bar at the top of your phone. Pull down on the status bar to see all your notifications, which you can then attend to or clear out.


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