There are a lot of choices when it comes to making your Android phone all it can be, and a lot of nuance about which are the “best” choices to make. Everyone has an opinion about the best apps, home screen layouts, launchers, and so on. However, there are some enduring certainties that cannot be avoided. Here are ten “do’s” and “don’ts” for every Android user.
Do: Configure data usage limits
Every Android phone has a tool in the main system settings to monitor and limit your data usage. In this age of limited data plans, you should probably take a moment to set that up as soon as possible. You can set your monthly billing cycle date, data limit, and configure a warning when you’re near your limit. There’s even a setting to disable data so you don’t end up with overages, if that’s something your carrier does.
Don’t: Use third-party lock screens
Many parts of your phone can be customized extensively, and you can even replace things you don’t like. There’s one component that you ought to leave alone—the lock screen. The Play Store offers a heap of replacement lock screen apps, but there’s no official method for replacing the Android lock screen. That means all those apps are just messy hacks that require you sacrifice security. The method they use to take over the screen when you wake the phone is also likely to cause lag. When it comes to the lock screen, you should just make do with the limited customization options included with your phone.
Do: Set up and Use ‘OK Google’
The “OK Google” hotword is the quickest way to start a voice search on Android, and it’s something you should take advantage of. The options available to you vary a bit from one device to the next, but you should at least be able to speak “OK Google” when the device is awake to open a voice search (called OK Google Everywhere). To enable this feature, go to the Google app and open your voice settings to train it with your voice. Some devices (like the Nexus 6) even have the ability to listen for OK Google while the screen is off.
Don’t: Install APKs from untrusted sources
One of the cool things about Android is that you can get apps from a variety of sources outside of Google Play, like Amazon and the open source F-Droid repository. However, with great power comes great responsibility.
Don’t go around installing any APK you find posted on a forum, and definitely don’t try to load pirated apps and games on your phone. That’s a great way to end up with malware and spam. You can leave the Unknown sources toggle off in the security settings if you don’t plan to sideload any apps outside of Google Play.
Do: Disable unwanted apps
Virtually every phone and tablet comes with at least a few built-in apps you don’t want or need. Even if you never use them, they’ll still sit there in your app drawer, and some will even start up in the background. Often, you won't be able to delete the app if you don't want it. This is particularly common with carrier account management apps.
If you don’t want them, just disable them. You won’t need to root or do anything fancy, just open your system settings and find the app manager (the location within Settings varies by device, unfortunately). Scroll through the list and tap on the offending apps to open the info page. There you’ll see the disable button. Easy.
Don’t: Kill background tasks
Despite what you’ve heard, Android manages its background tasks just fine. You don’t need a task manager app or anything that claims to speed up your phone by clearing RAM. When a process isn’t needed, Android is smart enough to end it. In fact, micromanaging tasks will cause the phone to slow down because most of the processes these apps kill are simply going to start up again and draw more power in the process.
Do: Set a secure lock screen and use Smart Lock
One of Android’s best features is Smart Lock (Android 5.0 and higher only), and it means there’s no excuse whatsoever to put off using a secure lock screen. You can set a pattern or PIN lock screen to keep out unauthorized snoops, then use smart lock to automatically go back to the faster swipe unlock when certain conditions are met. For example, keep the swipe screen active when you’re at home, but if you’re out, the secure lock screen takes over. You can also use trusted Bluetooth devices or even your face to keep the phone unlocked when it’s convenient.
Don’t: Use third-party antivirus apps
The internet can be a scary place, and the often sensationalist coverage of Android security issues doesn’t really help. Many phones even come with antivirus apps pre-installed. Frankly, you don’t need them. They’ll just sit in the background and waste processor cycles to scan all the apps you install, even though Google is already scanning them automatically via Play Services. Your phone is better off without a third-party antivirus app.
Do: Plan ahead with Device Manager
Google includes lost phone features as part of all Android devices with Device Manager, which you can access from any computer or phone on the Device Manager website. If you ever lose track of your phone, this tool can track it, make it ring, lock it down, and even remotely delete everything if you don’t think it’s ever coming home. Just make sure you’ve got full administrator access enabled for Device Manager in the settings. Go to Security and find the Phone administrators menu. Make sure Device Manager is checked, and you’re good to go.
Don’t: Reset your phone right after changing your Google password
Google added the device protection system in Android 5.1 to make a stolen phone useless to thieves. Android now asks for the login info from the last Google account used on a device after a reset when Device Protection is enabled. A fair number of devices already support it, and almost every phone and tablet will have this feature by default going forward.
A little known part of this protection scheme is an automatic device lockout that’s active for three days after you change your Google password. It’s technically possible that someone who steals your phone might also have compromised your account and changed the password, then reset the phone to bypass the lock. Therefore, you can’t log into a freshly reset device less than 72 hours after your password has been changed. Overkill? Maybe, but you still shouldn’t tempt fate.