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Android Explainer Series: Android 101 for beginners

by Ian Black

Have a new Android phone or tablet? Congratulations!

However you arrived at owning one – you now have one heck of a smartphone or mobile computing device. Google’s Android platform has revolutionized the mobile industry and now powers many phones and tablet devices from a variety of manufacturers. Even if you’ve never owned a smartphone or tablet before, you’ll find it easy to use, fun, and incredibly powerful. Read on for some helpful hints on getting the most out of your Android.

Hello, Android

When you turn the power on for the first time, the device will ask you to sign in with your Gmail account or create a new Gmail account if you don’t have one. This account will connect your phone to the Google cloud and allow you to do other things like add a credit card to use for Google Checkout when you purchase apps, use Gmail for email, and sign in to services like Latitude for sharing your location with friends and family. You won’t need to switch to using Gmail if you already use another email service, it’s really to use as an account for managing stuff you do on your Android. It only takes a minute to set up, right from the phone or tablet.

What does this button do?

The buttons on Android devices vary slightly in position and look from device to device, but they generally all do the following:

Home – looks like the outline of a house. Pressing this takes you back to the beginning when scrolling screens. Press and hold the Home button to show which applications have been recently running on the device. Within an app itself, a press of the home button returns you home, naturally, but doesn't quit the app entirely. This is a useful thing to know and enables mutli-tasking. Use the back button (more info on that below) to truly close an app.

Back – an arrow facing left. This takes you back one step – to the last screen in an application or to the last menu you viewed. A final press of the back button within an app will quit that app entirely.

Menu – several horizontal lines in a stack (or, simply the word "menu"). This brings up any menu available from your current activity. If you’re on the home screen, for example, pressing this key will show: Manage Applications, Settings, Notifications and a few other utilities that are a control panel of sorts for your phone or device. Inside an app, it will display the application’s menu choices.

Search – a magnifying glass. Powered by Google’s search engine, you can look for stuff on your phone or on the web. Enter your search words by typing or press the microphone icon and speak them out loud.

Apps for Everything

The Android Market now offers well over 200,000 applications. You’ll find everything from productivity enhancers, to phone utilities, to crazy games in there. To access this store, find the icon labeled Market on your home screen – it will look like a little shopping bag with the famous green Android logo on it.Before diving into the Android Market, it’s important to know that the store is more of a free-for-all store than the Apple’s iTunes AppStore for the iPhone. There are less restrictions and fewer quality checks prior to release. Therefore, you should be somewhat cautious about the apps you choose, particularly those you buy. For the best advice, take full advantage of, where you’ll find news, app reviews, and explainers like this. Best of all, you can join the AndroidApp community and share your app finds and see what others think about the apps they own.

Of course, for optimal search results and the ability to find apps that are most relevant to you, we recommend you download the Appolicious Android app right away. The Appolicious app also provides recommendations from your Facebook friends, information about new releases and price cuts, and news and reviews about apps and the Android devices that run them. Both the Appolicious Android app and let you download apps to your device.

In order to access the Android Market directly, click its icon to launch the store. From there, browse through the featured applications or by category for apps that might interest you. The powerful search feature lets you look up apps by title, creator, or just keyword.

For free apps, just click the button marked Install to start the download process. For apps that cost money, press the button labeled "Buy." You’ll need to enter your credit card information into Google’s Checkout the first time you purchase an app. The store will then show you what phone or device capabilities that particular app uses – like your location, or contacts, or data network. If you’re comfortable with sharing those elements with the app, go ahead and select OK to continue the download. When the download is complete, you’ll see the new app on your app menus.

Make It Personal

One huge difference between Android devices and the iPhone is the level of customization you have. On Android you can change the look and feel of user experience dramatically. Your iPhone-owning friends will be jealous ‘cause they have almost no ability to alter the user interface on their phone.

Search for apps called “home screen replacement” or “launcher” apps like *Spark, LauncherPro, or Regina 3D in the Android Market. These personalizers let you add home screen, animations, or even 3D effects that make your device screens pop. With a little experimenting, you can make an Android look like an iPhone, and Palm OS-based phone, or like no other phone or device out there.

Android Know-How

Want more Android info? You’re in luck. On, we’re running a new article in this Android Explainer series each week. We’ll tell you the best Android phones and devices from each major phone maker, the coolest Android devices offered by each carrier, tips for Android experts, and more. All in all, your Android device can be a faithful and trusty companion. Don’t be afraid to explore all its customization and amazing apps possibilities. With it, you’ll be able to keep in touch, stay up on current events, and do things you never thought you could do with a mobile device. Enjoy!

Also see: Android Explainer Series: Apps for driving, Google TV and extending battery life

Also see: Android Explainer Series: Android expert tips for rooting, speed and gaming

Also see: Android Explainer Series: Best Android smartphones and devices from AT&T