40+ Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Android

For the past few months, we here at Android.AppStorm have been collating our best tips, tricks, features, and shortcuts. Some are useful, some are geeky, some are just for fun.

As with all such lists, you’re probably aware of some of these tips already – but I bet you don’t know all of them! Did you know that you can search your text messages, Kindle books, and tweets all at once? Or that CyanogenMod 7 lets you disable two-thirds of the LEDs in your display, to save battery? Or that you can force websites to show you the full version of their site, even though you’re on a mobile browser? Read on to find out more…

Less-Than-Obvious Menus and Screens

These menus, screens, and settings aren’t exactly hidden, but they’re easy to miss.

1. Extra Wi-Fi Settings

In the Wi-Fi Settings menu, hit Menu > Advanced for extra settings, and to find your MAC and IP addresses. This is also the place where you can change the Wi-Fi sleep policy (the point where it switches back to 3G).

2. More Camera Options

The little kitchen timer icon in the Camera app hides a lot of options: metering mode, ISO, color effects… it’s not just for focus and exposure settings!

3. Bigger Battery Graph

For a detailed analysis of how your phone is losing battery, go to Settings > About Phone > Battery Use and tap the graph at the top of the screen. The screen that appears contains a visual timeline of the phone’s signal strength, Wi-Fi connection, sleep status and charging status since the last time the phone was 100% charged.

Bigger Battery Usage Graph

If you’re running low on battery faster than you expect to, take a look at our article How to Improve the Battery Life of Your Phone.

4. Change Default Apps

If you have an application set as the default for some action – for example, a particular browser is the default for opening web pages – you can change that. Find the app in Settings > Manage Applications, then tap Clear Defaults.

This also applies to launchers. If you want to try another one, then remove your current selection as the default; whenever you press Home it’ll let you choose between all the launchers you have installed, until you select a new default.

5. Get the Date With a Tap, Anywhere

You can quickly see the day of the week and month by tapping and holding the notifications bar, without having to pull it down.

6. Access Your Contacts on the Computer

Assuming you’ve linked your phone to a Google account, you can view all your phone contacts (with their numbers, email addresses, and any other info you have about them) at google.com/contacts.

(This came in very handy when I had my phone in for repairs for a few days! – Ed.)

7. Silence the Ringer

When someone calls you, you can mute the incoming call ringer without hanging up or accepting the call by pressing the volume rocker.

On HTC handsets, you can open Settings > Sound and Display and enable “Quiet ring on pickup” to make it fade to silent as soon as you pick it up.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Android 4.0 (as found on the Galaxy Nexus) is still pretty new, and I’m sure we’ll gather more tips over the next few months, but here’s what we have for now.

8. Tweak Your Home Screens

If you’ve rooted your handset, you can use Trebuchet Launcher to remove the persistent search bar and adjust the number of homescreens.

Alternatively, you can use Nova Launcher, which doesn’t require root. However, without rooting, you won’t be able to view widgets in the App Drawer.

9. Enable Near Field Communications

Enable NFC by opening Settings > Wireless & Networks > More, then checking NFC. And if you’re wondering why, read this explanation of the technology.

10. Monitor Your Data Usage

Check your data usage by going to Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data Usage. You’ll see a breakdown of all data transfers and you can tap any app to see how much data that specific app is using.

The Data Manager

You can also set a 3G limit here; after this point, 3G data will automatically be disabled – useful for anyone on a restricted plan.

11. Easily Create Folders

On any home screen, create a folder by dragging and dropping one app on top of another. To rename the folder, tap it, then tap the name.

12. Resize Your Widgets

For widgets that support resizing, you can long-press the widget on your home screen to make controls appear; drag these to change the width and height.

13. Use the Audio Equalizer

There’s an audio equalizer built in to the stock music player. Just hit Now Playing > Sound Effects to open it.

Browser

The browser may be the app you use the most, so here’s a handful of tips to help you use it better.

14. Change the User Agent

Some websites will automatically serve you a mobile-friendly version of their site, if they detect you’re using a phone. But these versions can sometimes be severely cut down versions of the main site, with far fewer features.

You can tell websites to serve you desktop versions by changing the browser’s User Agent setting to Linux Desktop or Mac Desktop. Alternatively, you can select iPhone, iPad, different versions of Android, or even IE6.

15. Alter the Default Zoom

By default, when you open a page, your zoom level will be set to Medium. You can change this to Far or Close by altering the “Default zoom” option in the settings.

The other setting that affects this is “Open pages in overview”, which makes new pages open zoomed all the way out when checked.

16. Quickly Access the Address Bar

Instead of scrolling all the way back up to the top of the page, you can just hit Menu to make the address bar appear.

On devices designed for Ice Cream Sandwich, which have no Menu button, you can do a “pull-down” gesture to achieve the same thing.

Keyboards

There are a lot of keyboards to choose from, each with their own tricks; here, we’ll just look at a few tips that apply to all keyboards in general.

17. Quickly Switch Keyboard

Instead of diving through the Settings menu to switch keyboard, you can do it from within any app: just long-press a text field and tap “Input method”, then choose your new keyboard from the list.

18. Alternative Symbols

Some keys can display more than one symbol: you can long-press the key and swipe over one of the symbols that pops up to insert it. For example, long-tap “c” and you can insert a “ç”. On the default keyboard (and some others), the letters that hide extra symbols have an ellipsis (“…”) in the corner.

Most keyboards also have a whole set of alternative keys, accessed by pressing a key marked “?123″ or “ALT” or similar. HTC Sense has two menus, but it’s easy to miss the second one: it’s opened by pressing a key marked “1/2″, which some people naturally assume means a “half” symbol!

19. Hide the Keyboard

You can almost always toggle the keyboard by long-pressing the Menu key. On Ice Cream Sandwich, this won’t work, but most keyboards let you dismiss them by swiping down within them. (One exception is Swype, for obvious reasons.)

Why would you want to do this? Well, sometimes text fields trigger the keyboard when you don’t want it covering half of the screen, and sometimes the keyboard doesn’t automatically appear when you do want it
– this often happens with web pages that require text input, but don’t have any text boxes.

20. Quick Contractions

The standard keyboard’s auto-correct is great, overall, but there are circumstances where it can’t guess what you’re saying. In particular, it can’t automatically change “ill” to “I’ll” or “well” to “we’ll”, which is frustrating but understandable. However, it will automatically change “il” to “I’ll” and “wel” to “we’ll” (unless you have “il” and “wel” saved in the dictionary), so remembering this could help you stay in flow when typing.

It also seems that “iys” and “thays” get changed to “it’s” and “that’s”, respectively.

LED

A few phones don’t have notification LEDs (or trackballs), but they’re definitely in the minority. Assuming you have one, here are a couple of things you should know.

21. HTC Charging Light

On HTC handsets, when plugged in and charging, a green LED does not mean that the phone is fully charged; it means it’s at 90% charge or more. (You can see the current charge level in the Clock app, if you don’t have a widget for it.)

22. Get More Control Over the LED

The app Light Flow can offer you much more control over your LED: you can alter which types of notification trigger the light, automatically turn the LED off at night, and assign different colours to different types of notification.

These small changes make it easier to tell when you’ve got an important notification at a glance, without having to touch the phone.

Screenshots

We’ve covered how to take screenshots on Android before, both with and without root (and with and without having to plug it in to a computer). A few phones offer different ways of doing this, however.

23. Samsung Galaxy Phones

Samsung Galaxy phones offer a shortcut to let you take a screenshot immediately, without having to root. On most devices, that shortcut is Back + Menu; on the Galaxy S II, it’s Home + Power. In either case, the shot will be saved to a folder called “ScreenCapture” on the SD card.

24. Ice Cream Sandwich

One of the new features in Android 4.0 adds the same sort of feature to all phones: just hit Power + Vol Down to snap a shot of the screen.

Taking a Screenshot on ICS

Search

You will perhaps not be surprised that Google’s Search app does a little more than just search the web.

Note: a new version of the app was released on 11th Jan, with a cleaner interface.

25. Search Apps, Texts, and More

Besides Google, you can also search through your SMS history and music tracks, as well as any app that supports it (your Kindle books, your Evernote notes, your Twitter tweets, and so on).

From within the app, press Menu > Search Settings > Searchable items, and choose the apps and areas you want to search. The search results will show Google listings at the top, and other results at the bottom.

(In the previous version of Search, you can do the same thing by tapping the logo in the top-left and selecting the little dial button.)

26. Auto-Complete

When typing a query, a list of auto-completions will appear. Tap the words to go directly to a search for the selected query; tap the arrow on the right to just add the words to your query, so that you can type more.

Search history, auto-complete arrows, bookmark search, and contact search.

27. Remove Items From Your Search History

For results in your search history (the ones with a little clock on the left), long-press any to get an option to remove it from your history.

28. Assign an App to the Search Button

Certain apps let you assign a long-press of the search button as a shortcut to run them. Voice Search is the default, but you can also assign Screenshot Now to take a screenshot, or SoundHound to identify the song, for example.

Just remove the currently selected app as the default (explained in an earlier tip), then long-press Search to select a new one.

CyanogenMod 7

CyanogenMod 7 is the ROM of choice for most of the Android.AppStorm team – and if you’re not sure why, check out Rita El Khoury’s article, 10 Reasons You Should Try CyanogenMod 7. It’s no wonder that we’ve got a few CM-specific tips, then.

29. Use Lockscreen Gestures

You can enable lockscreen gestures that let you quickly jump to an app or perform a task directly from the lockscreen. These can be enabled and customized from Settings > CyanogenMod Settings > Lockscreen.

Lockscreen Gestures

Lockscreen Gestures

30. Quickly Dismiss Any Single Notification

In the Notifications panel, swipe to the right on a notification to remove it. (This has since been introduced as a stock feature in Ice Cream Sandwich.)

31. Change Number of Recent Apps

You know in Android 2.x you can long-press the ‘Home’ button on your phone for a list of the recently used apps? In CM7, you can change the number of apps in this list: open Settings > CyanogenMod Settings > Input Settings > Long-press home settings, and change “Number of recent apps”.

32. Force-Kill Apps With the Back Button

In Settings > Applications > Development, there’s an option called “Stop app via long-press”, which, when checked, allows you to force-kill the current foreground application by long-pressing the back button. Useful if you frequently use an app that’s a bit flaky, but watch out: some apps use a long-press of the back button as a shortcut for another feature (for example, it shows the History in the default browser).

33. Save Power by Going Monochrome

You can use RenderFX to set a single colour for the display to use – for example, pick red and you’ll eliminate the green and blue pixel usage, thereby saving power. The option is in CyanogenMod Settings > Interface > Render Effect.

34. End a Call With a Button Press

You can enable an option that let’s you end a call by pressing the Power button, instead of having to tap the screen. The setting can be enabled in Menu > Settings > Accessibility, and is called “Power Button ends call”.

35. Change Volume Without Unlocking

You can change your ringer volume quickly, while your phone is locked, by tapping Power to turn on the display, then holding Power to open the power menu, and then using the volume keys to adjust the volume.

(This also gives you a quick way to switch to Silent Mode or reboot the phone from the lock screen.)

36. Edit Notification Power Widget Buttons

Above the notifications, when you swipe down the bar, is a set of icons for toggling Wi-Fi, silent mode, and so on. You can choose what to show in here in Settings > Interface > Notification Power Widget > Widget Buttons.

Notification Bar Power Widget

Notification Bar Power Widget

I find it useful to have the Torch in this bar, for fast access.

Long-pressing on some of these icons will load additional options, or open the related app.

37. Show Battery Charge in Notification Area

You can replace the vague power icon with one that shows the percentage charge in Settings > Interface > Status Bar Tweaks > Battery Percentage.

Troublesome Ads?

Ever seen an ad appear in your notifications? This is thanks to a service called AirPush, which developers can use in their apps. Rather annoyingly, AirPush ads don’t indicate which app they come from.

An ad for AirPush, showing an AirPush ad.

38. Discover Which Apps Use AirPush

You can use AirPush Detector to find the app responsible for putting ads in your notifications.

I was surprised to find that 45% of readers were happy with the idea of using notifications for purposes other than… well, notification.

Google Maps

Google Maps is one of Android’s Killer Apps. It’s great on the surface, but even better if you know a bit more about it.

39. Transit Navigation

Transit Navigation adds support for public transit: buses, trains, and so on. It not only tells you which routes to take, it also alerts you when it’s time to get off at the next stop.

40. Share Your Location

Tap your location on the map (you can hit the button in the top right to pan the view to this), then hit the “My location” popup that appears. From here, you can send the location to other people, via SMS, email, Facebook, or any other method in the Share menu.

41. Enable Labs

Hit Menu > Settings > Labs to find extra features you can turn on.

The most useful one, in my opinion, is “Precache map area”, which lets you download any area of the map in advance.

Specific Apps

Or, “the stuff we couldn’t fit in any other section”.

42. Fix YouTube Problems

If you have problems with YouTube freezing during playback or not refreshing the video, go to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications > YouTube, and press Force Stop followed by Clear Cache and finally Clear Data. This will effectively reset YouTube.

Next time you open the app, just sign in again with your Google credentials and you’ll be good to go. This solves most of the issues with video playback.

43. ADW Dockbar With Infinite Apps

In ADW Launcher, as well as the 1-, 3-, or 5-icon dock, you can enable a “dockbar” that can store as many shortcuts as you like (swipe left and right to scroll through them). Just swipe up from the bottom of the home screen to make it visible and drag any shortcuts onto it. Swipe down to hide it and show the regular dock again.

44. Go Launcher Ex Tips

You can configure an app to be launched when you swipe down on your Home Screen (in Menu > Preferences > Operation Settings > Glide down action). You can configure the slide up action too.

You can also set swipe actions for dock icons. I’ve set the app drawer icon in my dock to open the settings on swipe.

If you don’t like the text labels for homescreen icons cluttering the space, you can disable them in Menu > Preferences > Screen Settings.

45. Chrome to Phone Tips

This can do more than just remotely open links in a browser: Google Map pages will open in the Maps app, and YouTube videos will open in the YouTube app. Also, if you copy text, it’ll be transferred to the clipboard; phone numbers will be automatically entered in the dialer, ready to call. Find out more in this article.

Also, you can open the actual app on your phone to get a list of all things sent to it in the past, sorted by date.

If you’re using Chrome for Android, use Chrome to Mobile instead of Chrome to Phone.

Just for Fun

Finally, a couple of tips that are useless, but fun.

46. View the Easter Egg

This works on most Android devices: open Settings > About, then tap “Android version” repeatedly. The result differs depending on the version of Android that you’re running.

47. Solve Sudoku With Your Camera

The Google Goggles app can solve Sudoku puzzles. Just snap a photo and give it a few seconds.

(And if you enjoy Sudoku, check out our collection of coffee time puzzle games. – Ed)

Looking for More?

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