A new Android phone can turn anyone into a kid again. Whether you got one as a gift or bought it yourself from one of the many holiday sales, we’re here to get you started off on the right foot.
That’s because getting back on the Android saddle isn’t always a smooth ride. While there are many aspects of the operating system you can bend to your liking, it can feel a little overwhelming if you’re new to Google’s OS or are returning from a long absence.
A quick setup, with options
One of the most greatly-improved aspects to Android is the setup process. The startup screen walks you through the steps to sign in into your Google account and offers to replicate the applications you had on your previous device. Essentially just follow the prompts and you’ll be using your phone in no time.
There are essentially two options for recovering your old apps. If your previous device is sitting right next to you and you want to copy over the same setup, use Google’s Tap and Go. Make sure NFC is enabled, and touch the devices back to back when prompted.
Be patient with this next step, whereby your old apps and settings are download, as it can take a while. But the advantage is it will bring over all your apps, some data, and your home screen setup.
Alternatively, your Google account saves the some of the app installation details from your previous phone. So you can select “Restore from a previous device” and choose one of your older phones. Pro tip: when asked to select which apps you want, don’t just blindly install them all. That’s because everything, including bloatware, will be selected by default. There are a lot of apps from AT&T, Verizon, and others installed against your will you’ll be glad to dispense with.
If you’re setting up a new Motorola device (like the Moto X Pure Edition or Droid Turbo 2) be sure to take advantage of Motorola Migrate, particularly if you want to move over SMS/MMS messages. It’s the best and most consistent tool I’ve ever come across for doing this. Unfortunately, Motorola is killing it off with Android Marshmallow, so use it while it lasts.
Finally, there’s always the fresh install. Just bypass the option to setup from a previous device and go with a fresh start. Personally I like this option best as it prevents any bugs or other weirdness. It does take more work, however, as you’ll need to download your favorite apps again. But that’s why we’re here.
Get more Google apps
Yes, an Android phone comes with plenty of Google apps. But a couple of the best ones aren’t bundled with your phone by default, and others need a little more attention.
First up is Inbox by Gmail. It’s an excellent method for triaging the deluge of email you receive and allows you to snooze messages for later. It keeps getting smarter, with reminders that integrate with your calendar and automatic replies. It’s clearly the future of Gmail, so it’s a ship you should want to jump aboard.
Another essential is Google Keep. It has the look of a very minimalist Post-it note app, but it benefits from cross-platform sync with the web and an iOS app. Keep isn’t quite ready to knock off OneNote or Evernote when it comes to heavy productivity, but it’s something that could happen one day, as you’ll find Google is typically better than everyone else at tying the data from its services together.
Finally, be sure to launch the Google app and enable Google Now. If you’re returning from Android after a long absence, you’ll find Google Now is a helpful aide that gives you contextual information about your day, sports teams, and news.
If you’re just switching devices, your Now stream should be up and running with the same details as when you last saw it. For new Nexus devices with Android Marshmallow, touch and hold the home button and you’ll be introduced to the world of Google Now on Tap.
Touch and hold the home button and Google will essentially scan the contents of your screen and search for important related information. It’s definitely hit-and-miss, but it can be useful, for example, if you're discussing a restaurant and want to instantly get directions.
Get ready to message
The default messaging app will vary depending on your phone. If it’s a Nexus device, it will be Google’s Messenger. It’s a great app, and probably better than the ugly texting app that came with your Samsung or LG phone.
However, you should spend a couple minutes in the Play Store looking atother SMS options. Another alternative: if you use Hangouts a lot, you can set up the app to handle both SMS/MMS and Hangouts chats. Go to Settings > SMS and press SMS disabled.
Then all your conversations will be tucked away neatly in the same app. Try it out and see if it’s a setup you like.
Grab a custom launcher
One of the advantages of Android is the degree to which you can customize your phone. An excellent way to place your mark on your device is through a custom launcher.
With Nova Launcher, you can change up just about everything: the screen scroll effects, how icons look, and how many apps you can cram on each page. It’s well worth the $4, and it will feel downright liberating if you’re coming from the iPhone.
Action Launcher 3 is the other top dog here, with the ability to add in custom gestures and get as crazy as you want by turning the Google search bar teal. The app also embraces Material Design, so it could be a good alternative if you like Google’s aesthetic but want more customization choices.
Set Do Not Disturb mode
As with any operating system, some of the new features are hiding in plain site. One of them is the Do Not Disturb mode. It works a bit differently in Marshmallow than Lollipop, but either way you can get to it by opening Settings and going to the Sound and Notificaiton menu. This allows you to put your phone into a “leave me alone” state where push alerts won’t pester you.
If you have a device running Android 6.0 or later, check out our guide because it got quite the revamp. Some of this may differ depending on your device, but you’ll want to know how it works because it can give you some needed peace and quiet. And you don't want notifications beeping and buzzing and waking you up in the middle of the night.
A couple more to-do items
Another key item is online photo backup. You’ll likely use your new phone to take thousands of pictures, and you don’t want to lose them just because you drop your phone down the stairs. The best is Google Photos. If you have a non-Nexus phone the app may not be set as default, as many handset makers include their own image gallery.
Use Photos and turn on auto backup, which is unlimited if you’re willing to live with a little compression. Otherwise photos count against your Google storage, which starts at 15GB for all your Gmail and Google Drive content.
The last tip to worry about is that if you’re moving from an iPhone, you need to disable iMessage. Otherwise when someone text messages you from an iPhone, it will still try to go to your old iOS device. Apple has a dedicated site to turn this off, so messages sent to you will default to SMS or MMS and come to your Android phone.
Live and learn
Android is powerful, but it can also be more complicated. You’ll have to pay attention to software updates. That’s because unless you have a Nexus device (where the updates come directly from Google), your manufacturer controls when you get the latest version of Android. And if it’s a carrier-branded device, the update has to go through another layer of testing with your carrier.
The good news is that practically all of Google’s apps are updated through the Play Store. Same goes for Google Play Services, which controls a lot of APIs that developers can tap into to add functionality to their apps. So even if you don’t have the latest build of Android, you may still be able to get the most recent features.
Despite these shortcomings, Android is an exciting place to be. Marshmallow is the best release yet, and Google has finally built an excellent, stock device with a great camera in the Nexus 6P.