10 basic Tips & Tricks every Android user needs to know

10 basic Tips & Tricks every Android user needs to know

Did you just get a new Android smartphone or tablet? Want to get the most out of a gadget you’ve had for a while?

Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks that every Android owner needs to know. From security to wallpaper to little things you’d never think of, I’ll cover it.

Just note that every Android gadget has a slightly different version of Android, so you might have to hunt around a bit to follow the directions. Just know the options are there.

Let’s start with some security.

With just a few clicks here and there, hackers can easily get into your computer and steal your personal information. The same is true of your smartphone. One of the first things you want to do with your new Android is to make sure it is secure.

Click here to follow these 7 steps to secure your smartphone. You will also want to add apps like Lookout and/or avast! Mobile Security for the best protection.

A passcode is critical to have. Think about it: Your phone stores a treasure trove of personal information that thieves would LOVE to steal from you. You don’t want to make things easy for them.

That’s why you don’t want just any passcode, you want a strong one. Users who create 4-digit passcodes such as 0000 and 1234 might as well turn the security feature off.

To set up a passcode go to Settings>>Lock Screen and tap “Screen lock.” In other versions of Android, it’s under Security>>Location and Security>>Screen Lock.

Here you can choose to set a pin number, password or even a connect-the-dots pattern. On newer versions of Android, you also have the option for “Face” or “Face and voice” unlock.

I’d give those a pass. They’re are cool, but not really all that secure.

You’ll want to make sure in your settings that your phone is set to lock automatically after just a few minutes. Letting it sit for hours before it locks kind of defeats the purpose.

Android gadgets aren’t exactly known for their stellar battery life, but there are things you can do to make it last.

First, your screen hogs a lot of juice, but it doesn’t have to.

By default your screen is set to automatically change the brightness depending how long it’s been active and the surrounding lighting level. On some gadgets this works well and on some it doesn’t.

You can manually set the brightness by going to Settings>>Display>>Brightness. Adjust the slider so your screen is visible, but not overly bright.

In the same area, Settings>>Display, you’ll see the “Screen timeout” option. This shuts off your screen after you don’t use your gadget for a certain amount of time. Set it to a minute or two and watch your battery life improve.

You can look at other settings in the Display area as well. For example, “Smart screen” keeps the screen on as long as you’re looking at it. This is cool, but it does use a bit more battery life to detect your face.

Other things aside from the display can drain your battery – such as apps. Android’s built-in battery monitor, which you can find at Settings>>Battery, is OK, but it could be better.

The Battery Saver app has dozens of power-saving tips and tricks, like shutting off power-hogging programs. It will also display the amount of time that your battery has left and tell you which apps take up the most power. This way, you can delete the power-hungry apps you don’t need or use.

It’s one of the simplest things to do on a computer: Just tap the Print Screen button to take a screenshot. It’s just that easy on your smartphone, too!

But you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to do this simple trick. It’s as easy as pressing the power button and volume down button at the same time.

Try it! The screenshot will appear in your photo album.

With most cellular providers, data plans are mandatory with the purchase of any smartphone. Unfortunately, data plans cost quite a bit and don’t get you much data.

That makes it easy to accidentally go over, which means huge overage fees. Android helps you track your data use and set limits before you go over.

Go to Settings>>Data Usage. You can set your billing cycle, data limits and when you get alerts. You can also see how much data you typically use and which apps use the most. That can help you track down data hogs to remove.

If you hit the Settings button in Data Usage you can turn on the “Restrict Background Services” option. This forces the gadget to do updates over Wi-Fi instead of cellular.

It can be annoying when you’re in the middle of typing a message or browsing online and your screen rotates on you. The option to switch between portrait and landscape views is nice, but sometimes your gadget is a little too touchy.

Luckily, you can disable this setting and lock your phone into portrait mode if you want.

Go to Settings>>Display and uncheck “Auto rotate screen.” In some versions if might be under Settings>>Display>>Orientation.

You don’t have to stick with the default wallpaper on your gadget. There are plenty of other options, and nothing makes a phone feel more personalized than choosing your own background.

Just tap and hold any empty area on the Android home screen. You will see a pop-up menu that says “Set Wallpaper.” In later versions, you can choose to set the wallpaper for your home screen, lock screen or both.

Then you’ll get a choice of where to get the wallpaper. You can pull it from your photos, live wallpapers or the wallpaper folder.

Be cautious before using a Live Wallpaper though. Those have moving images and can dramatically drain your battery and even slow down your scrolling.

There are millions of apps in the Google Play Store. How do you know where to start? Luckily, I’m here to help.

Start with my Top 10 essential apps for Android. Then specialize with 5 best weather-checking apps, the best calendar and reminder apps, and top apps for travel. For more games, entertainment, shopping, security and utility apps, visit the app section of my site.

Whoops! You didn’t want that app, you wanted this one. That doesn’t mean you are stuck with the wrong app forever.

To remove an unwanted app, go to Settings>>Application manager. Tap on an app and then tap the Uninstall button.

The apps that the gadget manufacturer put on the phone at the factory won’t have this option. For those, all you can do is remove them from the home screen.

To do this, tap and hold an app icon on the home screen until a trash can appears at the top of the screen. Drag the icon to the trash can and it will go away.

Misplacing your phone can be frustrating; Android Device Manager is an invaluable app to have in this situation. It tracks down your gadget with GPS so you can go find it. If your phone is just lost, you can cause it to ring at full volume or display a message on the lock screen.

If you don’t lock your phone, you can lock it remotely with a new password. Of course, a savvy thief would have used that time to take over already. In the absolute worst case, you can wipe the personal information from your gadget. That way no thief can get it.



Top 10 Android benefits over Apple iPhone

Apple and Google have been wrestling for control of the smartphone and tablet markets for close to a half a decade. Traditionally Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices have always beaten their Android competitors in direct sales.

But in recent years all this has changed and adoption of Google Android has skyrocketed, with analyst houses across the globe listing the confectionary-themed OS as the most widely used mobile platform in the world.

However, despite being united about Android’s growth, experts and analysts are still divided about why the use of Google’s OS has increased so rapidly.

So a week after our article about the Apple iPhone’s key strengths, we’ve created a list of 10 key areas where we think Android beats iOS. Let us know if you agree in the comments section below.

10. A more open ecosystem

Google Play Music All Access provides unlimited music streaming for a little under ten pounds

Like other mobile platforms, Android has an officially sanctioned app store in the shape of Google Play, which comes as standard on nearly every Android smartphone and tablet in order for users to find and download new software.

But unlike Apple’s notorious walled garden approach, Android users can choose to install applications from other sources. You can download apps direct from a developer’s site, install them from a flash memory card, or from a third-party app store such as theAmazon Appstore, Getjar or F-Droid.

Of course, there are risks to installing apps from unknown sources, but Android doesn’t tie your hands like some other platforms, and it does warn you of the risks if you check the box enabling you to install apps from third parties. The key is that it gives you the choice.

9. Apps are cheaper on Android than iOS

Rich man with moneyApple owners must have cash – how else could they afford their devices at such exorbitant prices? So for developers and companies, charging makes good business sense with many key apps costing at least 69p.

But on Android, where the user base is much more diverse and tends to expect something for nothing, developers know trying to charge for apps may not see the same success.

With such a huge Android device user base in the market, though, a free download route that led to advertising revenue or in-app purchases could prove just as lucrative.

8. Customisable UI offers productivity benefits

Nexus 5 displaySince it was first unveiled Google’s been working hard to make Android’s user interface (UI) as flexible and customisable as possible. In doing so Google’s loaded Android with a host of customisable widgets. These can be placed anywhere on the Android UI and offer dynamic updates or shortcuts to a variety of productivity-focused services, such as email, calendar and social media feeds.

The addition makes it far easier for users to tweak their smartphone’s UI to meet their professional needs on Android than it is on iOS, which features a much more locked-down UI.

7. Cross-platform nature makes it more flexible

windroidApple iOS is fairly hostile when it comes to other platforms and requires developers and companies to submit an application for a service they want added to its OS, so it can be vetted first. The firm has a very strict policy that forces developers to play by its rules if they hope to get any software onto iOS.

This is a bit of an issue for businesses using legacy systems or older applications as it means they may not be able to get all their essential tools working with iOS. By comparison, Android is entirely open, and has designed its software developer kit (SDK) to work across as many platforms as possible. As a result it’s quicker and easier for companies to get any Windows or Linux app they need onto Android than it is on iOS.

6. NFC-enabled for a cashless future

EE Cash On Tap app in conjunction with MasterCardStill noticeable by its absence in iOS devices, the potential uses for NFC are many. The most significant use for NFC is in cashless payment systems, such as Google Wallet, which is already accelerating our move towards a cashless society, but its implementation goes far beyond that.

By checking in to an NFC tag with an enabled phone, it is possible to automate tasks. An NFC tag on your desk could, when triggered, automatically show your diary for the day. An NFC point at your reception would allow customers to obtain a digital visitor’s pass.

The simple act of two radio-enabled chips touching has endless possibilities and – as more and more devices have them, particularly within the realms of the Internet of Things – Apple is being left further and further behind.

5. Open use lets manufacturers create bespoke devices 

Blackphone runs PrivatOSMoving past applications, Android’s open nature also lets developers and hardware manufacturers make changes to the operating system’s core software. This is great as it makes it fairly easy for companies to tailor Android to work in very specific environments and industries. This was shown earlier this year when secure communications provider Silent Circle used Android as the basis for its privacy-focused PrivatOS, used on its soon-to-be-released Blackphone.

PrivatOS is a secure version of Android that directly integrates Silent Circle’s encryption technology. The technology is designed to let users securely make and receive phone calls, exchange texts, transfer and store files and video chat, without fear that their activities are being monitored or recorded. It does this by encrypting all data passing through the phone using a self-generating key that deletes itself after use.

4. Multiple prices for devices

Large gold pound signWith so many manufacturers using Android there is a huge opportunity to differentiate on price. This means you can get your hands on a good-quality device without weeping as you pay for it, unlike buying an iPhone.

While some may claim that cheaper devices can never deliver a top-end experience, the efforts of Motorola with the Moto G and Google with its Nexus 5 have made it possible to get a high-quality phone that costs between £150 and £300.

Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE churn out half-decent devices for less than £100 and on Wednesday EE unveiled its own-brand £99 Kestrel device, which even offers 4G connectivity. All in all, there’s plenty out there to give you bang for your buck, or punch for your pound, if you will.

3. Innovations reach the market quicker

idea-light-bulb-inventionThe Android platform has a proven track record of supporting the latest cutting-edge ideas. While casual apps still seem to appear on iOS first, the bigger hardware innovations almost invariably start at Google.

Android was the first to support WiFi Direct, WebP images, multiple user accounts and screen mirroring support through Miracast.

In addition, when something doesn’t exist, the open platform makes it almost guaranteed that it will be available within hours of a need being identified, rather than having to wait two years for Apple to release something.

2. Raft of wearables arriving

Android Wear is a platform designed for smartwatchesYou may not think you care about wearables, but they are already starting to gain traction, and Android was there from the start. Earlier in March was the first London Wearable Technology Show where over 100 exhibitors demonstrated myriad devices.

It covered everything from augmented-reality eyewear such asGoogle Glass – which is already being used at Virgin Atlantic to improve interactions between customers and check-in staff – through to jackets that monitor our every move.

Wearables are all about gathering and leveraging big data, and with the announcement of Google’s specialist Android Wear version of the operating system, Google has set out its stall for what is to come. And if you still need convincing, the once seemingly niche world of virtual reality was given a huge boost this week with Facebook’s buyout of Oculus Rift designers Oculus VR for $2 billion. Maybe soon we’ll be able to visit clients without ever leaving our desks.

1. Better choice of devices 

LG L90 L70 and L40 with Android 4.4 KitkatAt the time of writing, XDA Developers, the portal for Android developers, had active forums for around 250 different devices. This doesn’t include the many clones, specialist devices, HDMI smart TV sticks, or the 50 to 80 new devices that we can expect to see coming out before the end of the year.

Some have 3in screens, some have 24in screens and some have no screens at all. The specifications vary dramatically as does the price. There are phones, phablets, 7in tablets, 10in tablets, bigger, smaller and everything in between. All of which means that one of those devices is probably suitable for every use case in your business. And even if everyone has a different device, they will all be interoperable, giving you an office ecosystem that all interconnects beautifully.


65% of Global Smartphone Owners Use Android OS: Stats

In a sideways blow to Apple, Windows Phone and Blackberry, Android is now the dominant operating system of mobile users worldwide.

Android use has climbed from 27% in 2012 to 65% in 2013. An even more impressive figure is the 270% increase in Android use since the end of 2011.

These figures come from the Q4 2013 market research study by GlobalWebIndex (GWI), in which 170,000 respondents were interviewed in 32 markets, representing 89% of the global internet population.

Here are some more fascinating stats from the study involving device ownership and privacy.

Android’s world domination

Globally, South Korea (81%), China (75%) and Malaysia (75%) had the biggest increase in Android uptake.

iOS is only used by 20% of the global mobile internet audience, however it does hold the greater than average market share in the US (42%), Australia (40%) and Canada (37%).

Android also rules for tablet users, with 53% using Android tablets, compared to 40% using iOS.

Samsung dominates for handset sales

Samsung is the most popular handset with 35% global penetration, followed by Nokia (22%) and iPhone (19%).

The study seems to mirror Gartner Inc’s figures that Samsung sold 300m smartphones last year, which is 31% of the nearly 1bn sold globally, and double that of Apple.

Samsung’s dominance is understandable, as it was the most shared brand of 2013 according toUnruly and frankly the company owns social video.

Nokia saw a steady rise between Q3 and Q4, which could be naturally attributed to the season, however iPhone saw a decrease on quarter-over-quarter usage.

Are we falling out of love with iPhone? The resistance to Apple’s latest iOS7 update and its various UX problems would suggest so.


54% of tablet users say they share their device with at least one other person. Worldwide the most generous country is Argentina, with a remarkable 73% sharing their tablets with other people.

Nearly a quarter of the global population (23%) share their mobile phones with other people.

It seems that mobile phone users are fine with sharing their devices with people they know and therefore trust, however it’s a different matter when it comes to larger forces.

Possibly thanks to the recent furor surrounding the NSA, 56% of respondents claim that they feel the internet is eroding their privacy.

The study also reveals that 28% of people use virtual private networks (VPN) or proxy servers when they go online. Is this to protect themselves from spies, or is it in fact to access better entertainment?

It turns out that in fact 52% of respondents say they use VPNs to access (either by download, stream or torrent) content from around the globe that they are blocked from enjoying in their own countries.

In the UK there’s a much more heightened worry about internet privacy, as David Moth’s article reports 89% of British users are worried about online privacy.

Here’s the full GlobalWebIndex study. 

– econsultancy.com

Inside the different Android Versions

KitKat Statue

Android has come in several forms and flavors over the years – this is your guide to the dessert-themed operating system

If you’ve heard of Android, chances are you’ve heard all about its various versions. Some call it fragmentation, some say it’s the nature of open-source, but in reality it’s both a curse and a blessing. Regardless, it’s good to have a little context about what all these version numbers and names mean when you see them posted on the Internet.

Each major version of Android has a dessert-based nickname, and they are all in alphabetical order. We like to think it’s because of the delicious things they each have offered, but the folks at Google are pretty tight-lipped about why they used the internal code names they did. They certainly have a good sense of humor, and seem to like tasty deserts.

Below is a quick primer on the the different versions of Android that are still alive and kicking, from newest to oldest:

Android 4.4 – KitKat

Google announced that the next version of Android would be named for their favorite confectioneries — Kit Kat bars — on September 3, 2013. We’re not yet sure what manner of goodies we’ll find in the next version of Android, because Google has been understandably cryptic with details.
Their US partner in the deal, Hershy, hasn’t been so quiet. They promise an update that really does taste as good as it looks, and offers adjustable orientation that works perfectly in portrait or landscape. If you enjoy a little tongue-in-cheek humor, have a look here and speculate with everyone else.

Android 4.1-4.3 – Jelly BeanJelly Bean

Jelly BeanJelly Bean arrived at Google IO 2012, with the release of the ASUS Nexus 7, followed by a quick update for unlocked Galaxy Nexus phones. Later in the year, the release of the Nexus 10 and Nexus 4 updated things from 4.1 to 4.2 and on to 4.3, but the version remained Jelly Bean. The release polished the UI design started in Ice Cream Sandwich, and brought several great new features to the table.

Besides the new focus on responsiveness with Project Butter, Jelly Bean brings multi-user accounts, actionable notifications, lock screen widgets, quick-settings in the notification bar, Photosphere to the “stock” Android camera and Google Now.

Jelly Bean is hailed by many as the turning point for Android, where all the great services and customization options finally meet great design guidelines. It’s certainly very visually pleasing, and we’d argue that it’s become one of the nicest looking mobile operating systems available.

Android 4.0 – Ice Cream SandwichIce Cream Sandwich

Ice Cream SandwichThe follow-up to Honeycomb was announced at Google IO in May 2011 and released in December 2011. Dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich and finally designated Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich brings many of the design elements of Honeycomb to smartphones, while refining the Honeycomb experience.

The first device to launch with ICS was the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The Motorola Xoom and the ASUS Transformer Prime were the first tablets to receive updates, while the Samsung Nexus S was the first smartphone to make the jump to Android 4.0.

Android 3.X – HoneycombHoneycomb

HoneycombAndroid 3.0 came out in February 2011 with the Motorola Xoom. It’s the first version of Android specifically made for tablets, and brings a lot of new UI elements to the table. Things like a new System bar at the bottom of the screen to replace the Status bar we see on phones, and a new recent applications button are a great addition for the screen real estate offered by Android tablets.

Some of the standard Google applications have also been updated for use with Honeycomb, including the Gmail app and the Talk app. Both make great use of fragments, and the Talk app has video chat and calling support built in. Under the hood, 3D rendering and hardware acceleration have been greatly improved.

We can’t talk about Honeycomb without mentioning that it also shows Google’s new distribution method, where manufacturers are given the source code and license to use it only after their hardware choices have been approved by Google. This dampens third party development, as the source code is no longer available for all to download and build, but Google assures us they will address this issue in the future.

Improvements to Honeycomb were announced at Google IO in May 2011 as Android 3.1, and Android 3.2 has followed.

Android 2.3 – GingerbreadGingerbread

GingerbreadAndroid 2.3 came out of the oven in December 2010, and like Eclair, has a new “Googlephone” to go along with — the Nexus S. Gingerbread brings a few UI enhancements to Android, things like a more consistent feel across menus and dialogs, and a new black notification bar, but still looks and feels like the Android we’re used to, with the addition of a slew of new language support.

Gingerbread brings support for new technology as well. NFC (Near Field Communication) is now supported, and SIP (Internet calling) support is now native on Android. Further optimizations for better battery life round out a nice upgrade.

Behind the scenes, the fellows at Mountain View spent time with more JIT (the Just-In-Time compiler) optimizations, and made great improvements to Androids garbage collection, which should stop any stuttering and improve UI smoothness. Round that out with new a multi-media framework for better support of sound and video files.

Versions of Android older than 2.3, while still used on a small number of devices, are considered “legacy” versions and are generally unsupported by Google, manufacturers and app developers.

Android 2.2 – FroyoAndroid 2.2 Froyo

Android 2.2 FroyoAndroid 2.2 was announced in May 2010 at the Google IO conference in San Francisco. The single largest change was the introduction of the Just-In-Time Compiler — or JIT — which significantly speeds up the phone’s processing power.

Along with the JIT, Android 2.2 also brings support for Adobe Flash 10.1. That means you can play your favorite Flash-based games in Android’s web browser. Take that, iPhone!

Froyo also brought native support for tethering, meaning you could use your Android smartphone’s data connection to provide Internet (wirelessly or with a USB cable) to just about any device you want. Sadly, most carriers will strip this native support in exchange for some sort of feature they can charge for. (Can’t really blame them, can you?)

Android 2.0/2.01/2.1 – EclairAndroid 2.0/2.1 Eclair

Android 2.0/2.1 EclairEclair was a pretty major step up over its predecessors. Introduced in late 2009, Android 2.0 first appeared on the Motorola Droid, bringing improvements in the browser, Google Maps, and a new user interface. Google Maps Navigation also was born in Android 2.0, quickly bringing the platform on par with other stand-along GPS navigation systems.

Android 2.0 quickly gave way to 2.0.1, which the Droid received in December 2009, mainly bringing bugfixes. And to date, the Droid remains the phone phone to have explicitly received Android 2.0.1.

The now-defunct Google Nexus One was the first device to receive Android 2.1 when it launched in January 2010, bringing a souped-up UI with cool 3D-style graphics. From there, the rollout of Android 2.1 has been relatively slow and painful. Manufacturers skipped Android 2.0 in favor of the latest version but needed time to tweak their customizations, such as Motorola’s Motoblur.

HTC’s Desire and Legend phones launched with Android 2.1 later in the year, touting a new and improved Sense user interface.

Android 1.6 – DonutAndroid 1.6 Donut

Android 1.6 DonutDonut, released in September 2009, built on the features that came with Android 1.5, and expanded them. While not very rich in the eye-candy department, Android 1.6 made some major improvements behind the scenes, and provided the framework base for the amazing features to come. To the end user, the two biggest changes would have to be the improvements to the Android Market, and universal search.

Behind the screen, Donut brought support for higher resolution touchscreens, much improved camera and gallery support, and perhaps most importantly, native support for Sprint and Verizon phones. Without the technology in Android 1.6, there would be no Motorola Droid X or HTC Evo 4G.

The devices released with Android 1.6 cover a wide range of taste and features, including the Motorola Devour, the Garminphone, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

Android 1.5 – CupcakeAndroid 1.5 Cupcake

Android 1.5 CupcakeCupcake was the first major overhaul of the Android OS. The Android 1.5 SDK was released in April 2009 and brought along plenty of UI changes, the biggest probably being support for widgets and folders on the homescreens.

There were plenty of changes behind the scenes, too. Cupcake brought features like improved Bluetooth support, camcorder functions, and new upload services like YouTube and Picasa.

Android 1.5 ushered in the era of the modern Android phone, and the explosion of devices included favorites like the HTC Hero/Eris, the Samsung Moment, and the Motorola Cliq.


What is Android and what is an Android phone?

Android is now over five years old and despite the little green robot android peeking out of phone shops up and down the highstreet, there are still those who don’t know what it is or what it’s all about.

If you fit into this category then this article is your guide to understanding Android and what to expect when you see the little green guy on a product.

What is Android?

What is Android?

Android is the name of the mobile operating system made by American company; Google. It most commonly comes installed on a variety of smartphones and tablets from a host of manufacturers offering users access to Google’s own services like Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail and more.

This means you can easily look for information on the web, watch videos, search for directions and write emails on your phone, just as you would on your computer, but there’s more to Android than these simple examples.

What can an Android phone do?

Android phones are highly customisable and as such can be altered to suit your tastes and needs with wallpapers, themes and launchers which completely change the look of your device’s interface. You can download applications to do all sorts of things like check your Facebook and Twitter feeds, manage your bank account, order pizza and play games. You can plan events on from your phone’s calendar and see them on your computer or browse websites on your desktop and pick them up on your phone.

Another neat feature of Android is that it automatically backs up your contacts for you. When you set up an Android phone you’ll need to create a Google Account or sign in with an existing one. Every time you save a number to the address book of your Android phone it will be synced to your Google Account.

The benefit of this is that if you lose your phone all of your numbers will be saved. The next time you get an Android phone and sign in with your Google Account, all of your contacts and friend’s numbers will be displayed in your new phone’s address book immediately, no need to transfer or back them up anywhere else.

Syncing is a way for your phone to keep all your information; websites, contacts, calendar entries, apps up-to-date and it can happen over your phones mobile data or WiFi connection, seamlessly, in the background.

What apps can I get on an Android phone?

There are hundreds of thousands of apps and games available to download from the Google Play store (formerly the Android Market). There are camera apps that allow you to take pictures with artistic effects and filters on them and music players which allow you to stream music from the web or create playlists. You can customise the appearance of your Android handset with a number of wallpapers based on pictures you’ve taken yourself or downloaded from the internet too.

There are also various on-screen widgets to download which allow access to and the alteration of settings on your phone, without the need to dive through menus as you would on non-Android devices. You can pretty much create your own system of shortcuts and menus to better suit how you uniquely use your phone.

Popular games available for Android phones include Angry Birds, Draw Something and Temple Run 2 to name but three, but there are thousands of free and paid apps and games on offer.

How can I get apps on an Android phone?

The majority of apps can be downloaded from the Google Play store (the equivalent of Apple’s App Store), which includes a mix of free as well as premium apps that you’ll have to pay for. Some apps have ‘lite’ versions which are free, in the hope you’ll enjoy them and upgrade to the full premium version. Others – like Angry Birds – are free, but include adverts.

The same account that lets you backup your contacts can also have financial details added to it, allowing you the ability to purchase content from the Google Play store directly. You can pay either by debit or credit card and initial setup takes less than five minutes from a computer.

Google Play logo

Although there are over 1 million apps available to Android users in the Google Play store, some developers choose to make their apps available to download from their own sites. In order to download these you’ll have to change some settings on your phone before visiting the site on your Android phone’s web browser. By downloading apps outside of the Google Play store, you do run the risk of attack in the form of data theft or from a virus, so be careful if you choose this route.

Should you upgrade or change your Android phone; log into your Google account and you’ll be able to download your previously owned apps again, without being charged.

What does an Android phone look like?

Android phones come in many different shapes, colours and sizes. Some have super-fast processors, some have powerful cameras and a few have hardware QWERTY keyboards.

All current Android phones feature a touchscreens, the size of which varies, but in most cases it measures at least 3-inches diagonally, although some devices use much larger displays; like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for example which features a 5.7-inch screen and has been described as a ‘phablet’ – a cross between a phone and tablet.

Popular Android phones include the Samsung Galaxy S4 (5-inch), HTC One (4.7-inch), Sony Xperia Z1 Compact (4.3-inch) and Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 (4-inch). Some examples of older Android phones with hardware QWERTY keyboards include the HTC Desire Z, HTC ChaChaand Sony Xperia Mini Pro, but these designs are diminishing as on-screen keyboards become better at prediciting words, phrases and even complete sentences.

So who makes Android phones?

Every handset maker is free to make an Android phone if they want to. As well as the aforementioned HTC, Samsung and Sony, Acer, Alcatel, Asus, Huawei, LG, Motorola and ZTE have all made Android phones too. Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry do not offer Android handsets however.

Does Google make any Android phones?

Although Google owns the OS (Android) they have not made any hardware on which it runs in-house. However, they have partnered with various handset manufacturers over the years to make their own-brand smartphones under the ‘Nexus’ name.

Google Nexus phones

The Google Nexus One (left) was actually made by HTC and ran Android 2.1 Eclair; the Google Nexus S (center-left) was made by Samsung and launched on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (centre) launched on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the LG Nexus 4 (centre-right) was the first handset to run Android 4.1/4.2 Jelly Bean out-the-box and the current Nexus handset, the LG Nexus 5 (right) is the first handset to run Android 4.4 KitKat.

Google phones are currently always the first to receive new Android updates and are considered to be the flagship Android phones, even though some others have bigger screens, better cameras and more powerful hardware.

Android updates

Google is constantly working on new versions of the Android software. These releases are infrequent; at the moment they normally come out every six months or so, but Google is looking to slow this down to once a year.

Versions usually come with a numerical code and a name that’s so far been themed after sweets and desserts, running in alphabetical order.

  • Android 1.5 Cupcake
  • Android 1.6 Donut
  • Android 2.1 Eclair
  • Android 2.2 Froyo
  • Android 2.3 Gingerbread
  • Android 3.2 Honeycomb – The first OS design specifically for a tablet, launching on the Motorola Xoom
  • Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: The first OS to run on smartphones and tablet, ending the 2.X naming convention.
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean: Launched on the Google Nexus 7 tablet by Asus
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean: Arrived on the LG Nexus 4
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • Android 4.4 KitKat: Launched on the LG Nexus 5


Google also releases minor updates with bug fixes and improvements.

Android tablets

Like Android phones, Android tablets come in all shapes and sizes. These can range from the 7-inch screen of the Asus-made Google Nexus 7 to far larger displays, such as the 10-inch display found on the Nexus 10.

Somewhat confusingly, some older Android tablets; like the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, launched running Android 2.2 Froyo – a version of Android designed for phones, whilst Android 3.0 Honeycomb was the first release of the OS specifically for tablets.

Older Android tablets which didn’t run on 3.0 Honeycomb couldn’t benefit from things like the redesigned YouTube app, 3D widgets and certain tablet-specific apps like SwiftKey for Tablets.

This fragmentation between Android phones and tablets was eliminated with the launch of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which was designed to operate on either type of device and scale accordingly. Android Jelly Bean introduced a number of improvements for both the smartphone and tablet experience over the likes of ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) and that trend continues with the latest release, Android 4.4 KitKat.

Do Android updates cost anything?

Android updates are free. The updates bring a number of new features and changes to Android each time. Generally though, with each update the speed and overall performance of Android is improved upon.

Most of the high-end Android phones are scheduled to receive updates first. Most Android phones will have at least one update during their life cycle, with some having two. A life cycle is usually around a year, but depending on the phone can be longer.

How do I get an update?

Android updates are normally received OTA (over the air), that is, sent directly to your Android phone without the need for a computer. Normally, once your Android phone or tablet is due to get an upgrade, you’ll see a notification in the bar at the top of the screen. You’ll then be prompted to connect to WiFi to avoid incurring extra data charges – updates can be quite big and downloading them over a mobile data connection isn’t advised.

Updates are generally one-stage processes and relatively straightforward, but in some cases you may need to back up/save any media (photos, movies, music) or apps you’ve downloaded before updating.

In some cases, such as with some of Sony’s and Samsung’s older Android phones, you’ll need to install the dedicated software supplied online by the manufacturer first.

Unlike Apple’s iOS, where all users get the update at the same time, regardless of device. Android updates are more fragmented, dependent on manufacturer and carrier – it can make for a frustrating experience when some phones of the same model have the update and others haven’t.

This article was updated in February 2014