Mobile phones that run Google’s Android operating system come in various shapes, sizes and features, unlike Apple’s iPhones. And Android phones are available on a variety of carriers, including Boost Mobile, where a data plan can cost as little as $35 a month.
THE LONG PRESS The key to many of these tips is the long press: Instead of tapping a button, word or icon on the screen, press and hold your finger on it for two seconds. Often, this will bring up a menu of options specific to the type of item, like one to bookmark a Web link. You can also long press the hardware keys on the phone, and the background of the home screen, to reveal various options.
In general, long-press functions are intended to save you from tapping through a series of menus to perform a common task. It’s the equivalent of right-clicking your mouse on a PC screen.
So, for example, you can long press the home key on your phone’s case — the one that looks like a little house — to bring up a menu of your eight most recently used apps. This lets you hop quickly between, say, an e-mail you are composing and your Web browser.
You can also long press the search key — it looks like a magnifying glass — to pop up a microphone icon labeled “Speak Now.” Android’s Voice Commands system understands at least 10 commands, like “Send text to Alison Wright, running late will see you at 6,” “Navigate to the nearest pizza place,” “Listen to Taylor Swift,” and of course, “Note to self.” If you don’t begin with a special command, Android will assume you are speaking a Web search.
Within the browser app, long press the back key — the one labeled with an arrow U-turning left — to snap open a screen with your bookmarks, most visited pages and browsing history displayed in tabs.
Long press on your home screen’s background to bring up a menu of options that includes Shortcuts. You can create a shortcut, which looks just like an app on your home screen, that links directly to a bookmarked Web page, a person in your contact list or a navigation destination. Android will label the shortcut with the Web site’s logo, the person’s face or an icon you choose for destinations.
Too many icons on your home screen? Long press on the screen to pop up a menu that includes a Folders option. You can create a folder icon and call it, say, Games, into which you can drag all your game apps.
Long press a link on a Web page to pop up a menu that lets you open the link in a new window. To switch windows, press the menu key — the one that’s a grid of four squares — and tap Windows in the options that appear onscreen.
And long press can also be used for accent marks. To insert, say, an e with an accent grave into a message, long press the “e” on your keyboard. That pops up a menu of “e” characters with various accent marks.
FAST ACCESS TO PHONE, TEXT AND E-MAIL In your address book, don’t tap the person’s name. Tap their photo. That pops up a menu of icons to call, text or e-mail. There are also options to send messages through Twitter and Facebook.
TAKE PHOTOS OF YOURSELF Android cameras without a second camera for self-portraits have a Self Portrait mode in the camera app. Tap it, and the camera will begin searching for faces in its viewfinder using facial-recognition software. The phone will shoot a new photo of you every few seconds, adding the pictures to your camera roll. It’s more hit or miss than taking your photo in a mirror, but it’s more fun, like mugging in an old-fashioned photo booth.
FASTER SENTENCES Android picked up a trick from old-school BlackBerry phones: When typing a text or e-mail message, you don’t need to fumble for the period key at the end of a sentence. Just press the spacebar twice. Android will insert one period and one space much faster than you could type them yourself.
E-MAIL SHORTCUTS If you use Gmail on your Android phone, you can create separate shortcut icons, as described above, to specific accounts, folders and Gmail labels. This lets you have separate icons for work e-mail and personal e-mail, rather than opening whatever you last read when you tap the Gmail icon. Once you’re in the e-mail app, you can also switch folders by tapping the name of the current folder at the top of the screen.
SILENCING A CALL Most users figure out they can get rid of a phone call by sliding the red arrow that appears onscreen when the phone is ringing. But not everyone realizes you can stop the phone from ringing by pressing the power button on top of the phone or either of the volume buttons on the right.
FIND ON PAGE To search for words within a Web page, press the menu key, tap More, and then tap “Find on page.” A search box and keyboard will appear to let you type in search terms.
SHARE A PAGE ON FACEBOOK Another option on the browser’s More menu is the Share page. One of the options to share is Facebook. Tapping it will open Facebook in the browser (rather than using Facebook’s Android app) and set up the link to be shared, complete with a thumbnail image and a space to type your comments.
SEE TODAY’S DATE Android shows the time but not the date on your home screen. If you drag down the notification tray at the top of the screen, today’s date appears in the upper left corner.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE KEYBOARDS Most domestic Android phones come with only English and Spanish keyboards installed for the touch screen. To add, say, a German keyboard, go to Android Market and search for “German keyboard.” Expect to pay around $3 for most keyboard apps.
GET RID OF PESKY CALLERS Do you have a frequent caller whom you never want to answer? Add them to your address book if they’re not already there. Then edit their entry, and scroll to the bottom for the option “Additional info.” It’s tricky to open the option; you have to tap the arrow key at the right, which will pop open more options, possibly out of sight below the bottom edge of your screen. But if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the extra options, you’ll find a welcome surprise: “Send straight to voice mail?” Click once for peace of mind.