Customize Your Home Screen
For starters: customize your Android phone’s background. Some devices will even let you add a moving, interactive image. Just hit the menu button and select the Wallpaper option. Follow the directions to select images from your phone’s camera, images loaded onto your phone, or a default wallpaper. But images are just the beginning of what you can put on your desktop. Clever programmers have created dozens of widgets that can also be moved to your home screen. Press down on an empty spot of real estate on your home screen, and that will pull up a menu to let you add everything from widgets, to program shortcuts and folders. If you can bear to part with a little over $1, Beautiful Widgets from the Marketplace is a great place to start for finding home screen add-ons.
Personalize Rings and Notifications
Under the Sounds and Display menu in Settings, you'll see a lengthy list of options for personalizing your phone’s chirps and buzzes. Setting a ringtone may seem simple and obvious, but adding your own mp3s can be a bit tricky. The simplest way to do it is to use an app called RingDroid, found in the Android Marketplace. It lets you cut your mp3s down to size right from your phone and add them to your ringtone list. If you'd prefer to do it yourself, though, just add a folder on your SD card called "ringtones" and put your mp3s in it. You can do the same for alarm sounds and notifications by using folders named "alarms" and "notifications," respectively.
Install A Better Soft Keyboard
Some Android phones have a physical keyboard, but others don't. For some people, the touch screen keyboards that come with phones can be frustrating to use. Fortunately, the Android Marketplace offers several alternative keyboards, such as Better Keyboard ($2.99) and Swype (currently free but still in beta), which offer different features. For example, Swype is designed to improve your texting speeds.. Installing these keyboards is as simple as installing any other market app, but enabling them isn't as easy to do. You need to go into your Settings menu and first enable the new keyboard options under Language & Keyboard. Then, activate the keyboard as your preferred input method by holding down a finger (also known as a "Long Press") on an input text box.
Use Your Physical Keys For Shortcuts
For owners of Android phones with physical keypads, a world of convenience is open to you. A long list of built-in shortcuts lets you do everything from open your Email with Search + E, to load your web browser with Search + B. Then, there's the list of shortcuts for use inside those popular apps. You can find the full list here [link: http://android-tips.com/use-keyboard-shortcuts-to-switch-between-applications/]You can also create your own shortcut keys by going to Settings, Applications, and choosing Quick Launch for one of your favorite game, or Shazam, for example.
Get More Mileage Out Of Your Menu Button
For those new to the Android platform, and especially those coming from the iPhone, it can be very easy to overlook the importance of the Android menu button. From within nearly every app, the menu button not only gives you access to the settings for the app, but usually brings up options essential to using the app. Even different screens in an app might have different menu options accessible with the menu button, so it's worth checking in every app you use. It can prevent a lot of frustration. The menu button can also be used to bring the phone out of the lock screen (as long as you don't the lock screen password enabled). The Facebook app, for example, requires you to use the menu button from its home screen to access its settings, while the menu button offers other options on its other screens.
Configure Searchable Items
You may have seen one of Verizon's "Droid Does" commercials where all of the search features are emphasized with an example search for the word "Human." The phone’s search app searches the web, Youtube, songs, and even contacts named Human (which would be weird). Now, maybe you've tried this type of search yourself, but got disappointing results. This is because you need to first configure your searchable items under Settings, Search. You'll see a huge list of options including People (contacts), Messages, Mail, Apps, Settings, Calendar, Internet, YouTube, and Music.
The Long Press
Just like with the Menu key, many useful features are hidden behind a long press on a particular part of the touch screen. This “long press” action isn't just for adding widgets to your home screen. You can use the long press in your web browser to save pictures and open links in new windows, for example. You can also use it for things like cut and paste, and just about every app with a selectable list will make use of the long press, such as your messages, email, and contacts apps.
Save Time With The Recent Apps List
One of the most convenient things about Android is its ability to multitask: you can have several apps running at a time, but switching between those apps can be a bit bothersome. Maybe you've tried fiddling with some system settings to try to get an app to work a certain way by hitting the Home key, navigating through the Settings Menu, changing the settings, hitting the Home key again, and opening your app drawer to get back to your app. This sort of situation comes up quite often, but you can cut out all of those middle steps just by holding the Home key. Holding the Home key will bring up a handy recent apps list, which makes switching between apps extremely simple.
Upload Files Wirelessly, and Quickly
Uploading files to your Android phone is relatively simple. You just plug in your USB cable, and then select the option in your notification bar to mount your SD card as a storage device. From there on, your phone acts basically the same as a mass storage device. But what if you don't have your USB cable with you? You can use the bluetooth option for Android phones on the newer firmware (Eclair), but you're limited to a speed of about 3Mbps, which, if you're transferring over a few albums of music or a feature length movie, will take a lot of time. Instead, you can make use of the 54Mbps Wi-Fi capabilities of your Android phone. All you need is an FTP client on your computer, such as FileZilla, and an FTP Server app from the Android Marketplace, like FTPServer for example.
Better File Browsing and Management
As smart phones become more and more like full-fledged computers, capable file browsers become more and more necessary. In its current form, Android’s operating system doesn't have much of a file browser, by default, but you can and should find one. Downloading a file browser from the Marketplace is a must if you plan to do anything with media files on your phone, and Astro File Manager is one of the best options available. It lets you do just about everything with your files, including searching them, renaming them, moving them, and even install third-party app download files.
Find and Install Third Party Apps
Not all apps are available in the Android Marketplace. Some are only available if you live in certain countries. Others are only available through the developers themselves, possibly because they're still in beta form. Regardless, many apps are available outside of the Android Marketplace in .apk form. These are considered third party apps, and to install them, you must enable the Unknown Sources feature under Settings, Applications. Just make sure that the apps you install this way are legitimate apps, and not pirated versions of a paid app. Swype, as mentioned earlier, can’t be found in the Android Marketplace, but you might want to check it out.
Block Unwanted Callers
Similar to the iPhone, Android phones have plenty of apps available to block calls from specific numbers, but most of the free versions of these apps are rather clunky and poorly conceived. This leaves the paid versions, and you might not feel up to shelling out $1.99 just to block a couple phone numbers. Fortunately, Android can block calls from specific numbers, natively. All you have to do is add the unwanted caller’s number to your contacts, then open the profile for the number, press Menu, tap Options, and you'll see the Send to Voicemail option. Choose that option, and calls from this number won’t ring on your phone.
Get Visual Voicemail with Google Voice App
If you're forwarding a lot of calls straight to voicemail, or tend to receive a lot of voice messages, checking your messages can get a bit annoying. That's where Visual Voicemail comes in. It lets you manage your voicemail the same way you'd manage your text messages, no more wasting time listening to long messages, one at a time, just to get to one important bit at the end.. A lot of Android phone carriers provide some form of Visual Voicemail, either as an app in the Marketplace, or included on the phone itself. For those that don't have easy access to a visual voicemail app, you can sign up for Google Voice and use the Google Voice App from the Marketplace.
Test Paid Apps For 1 Day Without Paying
There are a lot of apps in the Android Marketplace that are interesting, but might not be worth the $1-$10 price the creator has listed it for. This is exactly why you have 24 hours to try an app that you've purchased before you commit to paying for it. As long as you uninstall it within that 24 hour grace-period, you will be fully refunded for your purchase; however, you only get one chance to do this. Once you've purchased and returned an app, the next time you purchase it, it's permanent.
Protect Your Phone and Your Data
With all of the personal services available on your Android phone, including Facebook, Email, Mobile Banking, etc, your phone likely has a lot of sensitive data onboard. You’ve got to protect that information! With Android, the first line of defense is the password protected lock screen, which can be configured under Settings, Security, Set Lock Pattern. The next line of defense comes from apps like WaveSecure in the Android Marketplace. WaveSecure lets you access your phone remotely if it's ever lost or stolen, allowing you to lookup its GPS location, wipe/backup data, and lock the device.
Install a Task Manager For Speed and Stability
Because Android lets applications run in the background, it's possible that too many system resources can be consumed by background processes, which will slowdown your phone and eat additional battery life. This is where a task manager comes in, which will allow you to kill/close unnecessary background apps. There are many options in the Android Marketplace, but some of the favorites are Advanced Task Manager and TasKiller, which are both available in free versions. Just be sure to add important apps, like your music app and Wavesecure for example, to the “ignore” list in these apps so that they aren't closed accidently.
Save Battery Power with 2G
Smartphone are notoriously stingy with battery life. For those who live in areas with poor or no 3G coverage, battery life can be even lower. This is because the phone will boost its broadcasting power in attempt to connect with a faster 3G tower. When a 3G tower is unavailable or too far away for a reliable signal, this added boost in broadcasting power has essentially no effect on connection speed. In cases like this, it can be beneficial to set your phone to connect to 2G networks only. You can do this under Settings, Wireless & Networks, Mobile Networks. Check the Use Only 2G Networks box. If you spend time both in and outside of 3G coverage areas, a 2G/3G toggling widget from the Marketplace could also be very useful.
Keep Your Android Phone Up To Date
The Android Platform is only two years old and is still growing and improving. It is not immune to bugs. Keeping your phone's firmware up to date ensures that you have all of the latest features and fixes. Some networks push updates to phones automatically, over the air (OTA). To receive these OTA updates, simply check under Settings, About Phone, Updates to make sure your phone is configured properly. For people with carriers who don't have OTA updates, it's smart to keep up on Android related news through sites like Phandroid.com [Link: http://phandroid.com/]. That way you'll know when updates for your phone are available, as well as where and how to download them.
Rooting and Custom ROMs
We’ve all heard about iPhone jailbreaking. An Android phone’s systems can also be tapped in a similar way, called “rooting.” This is just a technical term for the process of gaining full control of your phone's operating system, which allows for tasks like taking screenshots, using the phone as a wireless router, and installing a customized operating system, known as a ROM. Where rooting unlocks a few features and apps, adding a custom ROM takes phone control to another level. Where jailbreaking an iPhone is against Apple’s end user license agreement (EULA) and can be considered illegal, rooting an Android phone doesn't carry this stigma due to its open platform. The process of rooting and installing custom ROMs varies from phone to phone and can be very complicated. With many manufacturers, rooted phones are not covered under warranty, and mistakes made during the Rooting process can leave a phone permanently broken, or "Bricked." Rooting is not for the faint of heart or the risk-averse, but if you're interested, you can find more information at AndroidForums.com [Link: http://androidforums.com/] and XDA-Developers.com [Link: http://www.xda-developers.com/].
A Handful of Extra Tricks
1. To see the current date, simply touch the notification bar.
2. Like the Menu button, the Search button can serve different purposes in different apps. Try it out.
3. Home screen shortcuts can be used for individuals in your contacts, webpage bookmarks, and more.
4. Folders can be used on the Home screen to organize groups of shortcuts.
5. In some versions of Android, swiping downward on the touch screen keyboard will make it go away.
6. For Android versions pre-2.0, check out the Spare Parts App to gain features that were added in 2.0, likekeyboard options, compass capabilities in maps, and more.