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The Beginner’s Guide to Android

Posted on Jul 26, 2010 in Featured Content, Tutorials | 10 comments

So you’ve picked up your new Android phone and you’re ready to dive right in! But like with any new gadget, you have unanswered questions about the features of Android and that powerful new device you’ve just booted up. And of course there are always unknown tips, tricks, and tutorials that you wish you’d known about beforehand. Luckily, we’ve got all the info that will put you on the fast track to becoming an Android expert!

First, some Frequently Asked Questions:

What should I know about the Android Market?

  • First off, the Android Market offers a 15 minute full refund window for paid apps. If you don’t like it, get your money back!
  • Certain apps may only be available to specific version of Android, e.g. Android 2.1+. This means if you’re still running Android 1.6, these apps won’t be available to you and won’t show up in searches.

What are those black/white box-shaped images?

  • They are called QR codes, and are similar to normal barcodes. They can be scanned by specific apps (see question below) and are a way for transferring all sorts of information, especially URLs. They are most often used as direct links to apps in the Android Market.

What are some essential Android Apps?

What is the best Facebook and Twitter App?

What is a Widget and how do I use it?

  • Widgets are items that are placed on your homescreen that provide you with information, without actually opening them like a normal app. To place a widget, long-press the homescreen and select it from the menu.
  • Check out our Top Rated Widgets category.

How do Android and Gmail integrate/sync?

  • In order to use your Android phone, you will have to have a Gmail account. Similarly, your contacts will be stored and synced from Gmail (So you’ll never lose contact information when switching phones). However, make sure to store old phone numbers and information on your SIM card so before making the transition to your Android phone.
  • Your Android phone also syncs with Google Calendar. If your work uses Outlook, you can sync this with Google Calendar to check meetings/appointments from your phone.

How do I get music, movies, photos, etc. onto my Android phone?

  • First, connect your phone to your computer by using the USB cable provided with your phone. Then, pull down the notification bar and “Mount” your SD card. This recognizes your SD card as another drive. There are various apps and other software programs that will help manage your files (However, if you’re not loaded with music and media, you may not have to worry about this).
  • Check out our tutorial on creating personalized ringtones, notifications, and alarms.

Are there other options for on-screen keyboards?

  • Swype - allows you to enter text by sliding your finger from letter to letter.
  • Thick Buttons – adjusts keyboard letter size based on predictive algorithm.
  • SwiftKey – advanced predictive capabilities and user interface.

How can I save battery life?

  • By managing how often your apps try to sync and controlling your settings like GPS and WiFi, you will be able to prolong the time between charges. See our battery saving tutorial for helpful apps.

Is the built-in browser my only option?

What is “rooting”?

  • Don’t worry about this for now.
  • (If you must know, it’s the process for gaining full control over your phone and its internal processes/system. Wait until you understand Android a little better before looking into this optional, advanced capability).
  • Refer to the XDA Developers Forums for more information and support.

Is there a way to take screenshots of my phone?

General tips:

  • Hold down the “Home” button for quick switching between apps. Multi-tasking is powerful!
  • Long-press is your friend. Many apps make use of this functionality, so when in doubt, try it out. (One example, long-press text in order to copy/paste)
  • If the on-screen keyboard pops up when you don’t need it, press the “back” button to get rid of it.

If you have more questions, leave a comment below or look for future posts in our Tutorials section!

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How to Save Battery Life with Android Apps

Posted on Jun 28, 2010 in Tutorials | 21 comments

One of the biggest complaints about current smartphones is that the batteries can’t keep up with the level of usage we all need on a daily basis. As smartphones continue to have bigger screens, more advanced graphics, and a greater variety of services, you’ll need the following tips and tricks to save battery life so that you can enjoy your Android phone throughout the day.

1.  Manage Running Apps

This is one area where you can see large returns not only on your battery life but also your phone’s overall performance. One of the greatest features of Android is multitasking, which allows multiple apps to run at once for quick switching between them. However, this is often a double-edged sword, as many times apps that you no longer need will continue to run in the background, draining the battery.

Essential Apps

  • Advanced Task Manager (or Advanced Task Killer) – These apps will show you which apps are currently running in the background and will give you the option to end/kill them. Exclude apps that push important notifications like gmail, twitter, and your sms client. Make sure to use these apps widgets for quick task ending.



2.  Manage Hardware Settings

Hardware settings are often an unseen and unknown battery killer. Your phone may be auto-syncing, searching for WiFi access points, or tracking location with GPS even when you are not using it. Monitoring these settings will greatly benefit your Android phone’s battery life.

Essential Apps

  • Quick SettingsThis app will allow you to quickly toggle the most important settings including WiFi, Bluetooth, Screen Brightness, Screen Timeout, GPS, and Auto Sync.



  • Screebl - Auto-control Screen Timeout based on phone orientation and usage.



  • JuiceDefender – When your phone is not in use, this app controls the interval of background data syncing (data connection and/or WiFi). Longer intervals mean less battery usage (but also means you’ll have to wait longer for those notifications).



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Create Your Own Android News App (Reader Tutorial)

Posted on Mar 3, 2010 in Tutorials | 1 comment

Thank you to Brett Prior (Twitter username bprior22) for submitting this Reader Tutorial!  We appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to write such a comprehensive article.  Enjoy!

I have been quite disappointed with the lack of news aggregator apps in the Android market. Yes, I realize there is NubiNews (what’s with that cow anyways?) and Handmark’s Express news, but they leave me feeling unsatisfied with their lack of customization. NubiNews simply gives you a one-stop-shop for a number of news sources for you to haphazardly rummage through. Frankly, the app just gives me a headache. I am looking for a solid news aggregator that can give me concise information, without the relentless crate digging.

I then decided to take matters into my own hands rather than waiting for a developer to come out with that “perfect” news app. One site us Android folks are familiar with is “Google News.” I have always been a fan of using Google’s news site even before my jump into the Android mobile platform. It gives succinct information with proper customization and utilizes Google’s ability to acquire a vast array of news sources.

I often forget just how open the Android platform is for personalization. I have used the home screen shortcut function for other purposes besides my favorite apps before and the idea struck me that perhaps I could do the same for one of my favorite mobile news websites. So here is what I did, and what you can do, to create the “Google News App.” (Note: I will refer to this as an “app” throughout the tutorial even though it is not necessarily an actual application).

Setup Instructions:

  1. On your Android phone, open your browser and select the “News” tab at the top (if you have a different home screen for your browser simply visit www.google.com/news)
  2. Create a bookmark for this page (Menu > bookmarks > add)
  3. Rename the bookmark “News”
  4. Go to your home screen and long press on any open area
  5. Select > Shortcuts > Bookmark > and then the “News” bookmark you just created

Now you should have a “News” icon created on your home screen (it should look like a newspaper shown here at the bottom right of the screen).

Customization Instructions:

Now you can have fun with the customization. Click on the “News” icon and it will launch you straight to Google News. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and make sure you are signed into your Google account.

You can add sections of interest to you that are not a part of the default Google News categories. Simply select “Add Section.” It gives you the option to Add a Local section or add a custom section.

This gives you the option to add News content specific to a City, State, or Zip Code. The second option to add a Custom Section is by far my favorite feature. Here you can add a keword (or words) and Google will aggregate news pertaining to that specific word (or words). So if you want to aggregate news about Android, this gives you the option to add a custom section and Google will bring you a virtually endless list of articles.

Next, select “Personalize Edition” and you can move the various news categories up or down according to your level of interest. You can even “hide” categories that appear completely irrelevant to your liking. (Note: Top Stories will always be at the top by default and it appears you cannot change this setting).

After you have finished customizing you can now enjoy your newly created News “app.” I loved going through the whole set-up process as it allowed me to feel full autonomy over “creating” the app. I have become accustomed to simply searching for an app, downloading it, and then using it. This is a different format and allows for a normal Android user to feel empowered over the way they use their device. There are, however, a few drawbacks to the “Google News App.”

  1. It is the mobile web and has to load every time you launch the app. This has not been a problem for me as I have the best phone on the best network (Droid, Verizon). I have 11 News sections and the page loads in literally seconds upon launching.
  2. The news does not aggregate in real-time or chronological order. In an instantaneous society we thrive on the most up-to-date information. This definitely proves to be a major caveat for me but after using the “app” for a few days I have grown to look past the limitation.
So, if you’re looking to create your own customized news app, with the information most pertinent to you, try out this method.  Let us know what you think of this “Google News App” and how it has worked for you!  Do you prefer this over published Android news apps in currently available in the Android Market?
Thank you again to the author of this article, Brett Prior (Twitter username @bprior22).  We love featuring user content, especially when it is this detailed!
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How to Make Customized Ringtones, Notifications, Alarms

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 in Tutorials | comment

Have you wondered how to apply specific songs or sounds as ringtones/notifications/alarms on your Android phone?  Read through our full tutorial to find out how.

Ringtones:

The easiest way to customize your own ringtones is by downloading and using the app Ringdroid.  Here is our full review of Ringdroid including instructions and the QR code to find it in the Android Market.  This app will let you edit song files (MP3, WAV, AAC, AMR) that you have copied to your SD card (or purchased from Amazon MP3).

How to copy songs to your SD card:

  1. Plug in your Android phone to your computer using your USB cable
  2. Mount your SD card by turning on ‘USB storage’ from the drop down notification bar on your Android phone.  
  3. Copy music/sound files to the Music folder.
When you are done editing a song in Ringdroid, you can save the file and apply it as your ringtone.  The newly created ringtone will be stored on your SD card in the media/audio/ringtones folder.  Furthermore, add any song/sound file into this folder to have it as an option for your ringtone.
Notifications:
Creating customized notifications is similar to the ringtones section, however, you must save the files you want to be considered notifications in the media/audio/notifications folder.  Again, you can use Ringdroid to create notifications, however, you might want to make these much shorter than a standard ringtone.
If you already have sound/song files that you’d like to use as notifications, simply copy them to the folder on your SD card specified above.
Alarms:
Again, similar to the ringtones/notifications sections, copy any song/sound file to the media/audio/alarms folder on your SD card to create custom alarms.
Ringtone App:
If you’d rather not create customized ringtones/notifications but just browse and download ones that have already been created, check out the app Ringtones by Mabilo.  Thanks to @dps2002 for pointing this one out for me and getting me the Super Mario Bros. theme; nothing can beat that as a ringtone!
So tell us, what is your current default ringtone?  Mine is Super Mario Bros. at the moment :-p
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Google Real Time Search on Android

Posted on Dec 10, 2009 in Android News, Tutorials | comment

One of Google’s new features is Google Real Time search and it is now available on Android!
In order to access this feature, simply enter a Google search as you normally would either in the browser on the Google widget itself.
Next, in the top right corner, click Updates.  Now you will receive real-time search results on your item including those from Twitter and other sources.
Amazing enough, the real-time list of results updates itself every few seconds!  I tested this out by searching for one of the trending topics on Twitter.  So many results and they would completely refresh in what seemed like continuous fashion.
Apparently this is being rolled out still so if you don’t see it yet, be patient.  Also, this is available on your standard browser (tested with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox).
This feature has huge implications as now you can instantly be updated on things that are going on right now, right around you (and you can do this on the go).  It’s extremely easy to find these answers, as you would expect from a new release like this from Google.
Here is a video showcasing the new feature set to some dramatic music.  Enjoy!

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