7 things every new Android user should know

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An Android tablet is not a computer. An Android phone is not a computer. Sure, it’s technically a computer, but so is your microwave. You may consider yourself an old hand at using computers, but mobile devices have their own unique way of doing things. Understand these seven basic items, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming more familiar and comfortable with your new Android gizmo.

You aren't in control of Android upgrades

android up to date

Your phone updates itself, when it wants to. Trying to force it is a fool’s errand.

Oh sure, you can try to update your phone's operating system: A command buried in the Settings app makes it appear that you can check for Android operating system updates: Choose About Phone or About Device, then choose System Update or Software Update. Tap away at the Check Now command to your heart’s content. It’s not really doing anything useful—it’s merely a coincidence if the operation actually works.

Unlike a computer, you are not in charge of updates for your Android device. That job is handled by your phone/tablet manufacturer or your cellular provider. Historically speaking, updates are infrequent. Apps are updated all the time, and you see notification icons to that effect. When it comes to upgrading the operating system, however, you are not in the driver’s seat.

Apps quit on their own

android up to date

Touch the Recent icon to see running apps. On devices without this icon, long-press the Home icon or button.

One thing that surprises most new Android users is that apps lack a Quit or Exit command. Instead of quitting, you tap the Home icon or switch to another app form the Recent apps list. So how do you quit an app? Short answer: You don’t!

The Android operating system manages apps for you. If you neglect an app for a while, or another app requests more resources, then the operating system stops an app. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry about starting too many apps or running out of memory.

android recent apps

Use the Recent list to switch between running apps.

If you really want to stop an app, you can double-tap the home button, then when the recent apps screen appears (above), swipe the app to the side to kill it.

Android devices are about sharing

android up to date

The ubiquitous Share icon.

On a computer, you start a program and then choose a file to work with or attach. On an Android device, you look at the item that you want to save or send, and then you share it by touching the Share icon.

For example, to email a photo you first open an app where you can view the photo. Tap the Share icon, then choose an app to send, edit, or save the photo. Use that app to complete the operation, such as sending the photo as an email attachment. Printing works the same way: View the photo then choose which app to use for printing.

“Share” doesn’t always mean “post on social media or send to other people.” You might share a video with a cloud storage app to archive it, or share a webpage with an offline reading app like Pocket to save it for later.

Acquire apps from the Google Play store

android google play

Find apps at the Play Store.

Apps (along with movies/TV, music, and books/magazines) are obtained from the Google Play Store by using the Play Store app. Sure, there are other ways to get apps (including “sideloading” and other app stores like the Amazon Appstore), but for beginners, it’s best to stick to the Google store. Browse or search for something you desire. Choose a free app or buy one. That app is then downloaded and installed on your phone or tablet. If you delete it, don't worry; the app is still attached to your account, and you can download it again in the future without paying.

Best of all, you can go to the Google Play website to shop from any computer. If you log in with the same Google account you use on your phone, you can get the app from your laptop and, within seconds, it should start downloading on your phone.

Forget about Flash

android missing flash

The missing plug-in warning is a sure sign that you’ll be missing some Flash content.

The Internet is full of Flash-based webpages or sites that use Flash extensively. It’s fun, it’s useful, and it’s something you’ll access only from a computer. That’s because mobile devices like your Android phone or tablet disable Flash on the web. There’s no way around this restriction, either: Browser apps that promise to display Flash sites are most likely not what they pretend to be.

In some cases, flash content on the web can be delivered by obtaining a specific app, such as the YouTube or Hulu Plus apps. Otherwise, trying to access a Flash-based site is merely an exercise in frustration.

You can customize the Home screen

android flipboard widget

A single monster widget dominates this Home screen page.

It is with unbridled glee that you can remove, re-arrange, and organize your device’s Home screen. Feel free to cast off the various preset apps and widgets. Yes, they look inviting, sexy, cool. When you don’t use them—especially those monster widgets that consume an entire screen—tap-and-hold on them and then drag them up to the word Remove at the top of the screen. You’re then free to festoon the Home screen with apps and widgets that you actually need.

Don’t feel any emotional attachment toward those discarded widgets or apps, either: Anything you remove from the Home screen can be re-attached later, if you like. They’re all sitting there in the main Apps listing. To add new apps to your home screen, just tap-and-hold on them in the Apps listing, and drag them up to the home screen where you want them. You can even put the same app in multiple folders or on multiple screens.

You can hide pre-installed apps

Manufacturers and cellular providers love to pepper your mobile device with all sorts of apps, many of which you’ll never use. Not only can you remove them from the Home screen, you can often hide them in the Apps drawer.

Many Android devices let you create folders in the Apps drawer. Use those folders to collect and store the pre-installed, trial, or junk apps that you cannot otherwise uninstall. By dragging those icons into a folder you can effectively and cheerfully avoid them.

Alas, not every Android device lets you create folders in the Apps drawer. Coincidentally, it seems like those that do are also the devices with a cumbersome amount of pre-installed apps. Weird, huh?

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