By Joe Levi | December 26, 2010 4:43 PM
Awesome! You got an Android for Christmas! If this is your first Android, a little background-information may be in order. If you’ve had an Android in the past you can skip the introduction and get to the good stuff!
Introduction to Android
One of the best things about Android is how open and configurable it is. Because of this, Android phones are not cookie-cutter versions of each other. Each manufacturer and each carrier can customize their phones to set them apart from the other Android’s out there. Your phone may look and function somewhat differently than your friend’s Android, but don’t let this frustrate you. Although yours may look different from theirs, it’s this diversity and freedom that makes us strong!
1. Getting Connected: E-mail, Contacts, Calendar, Social Networks, More
Unlike the phones from the other major players, your Android doesn’t need to be connected to your computer to activate or to synchronize it. Instead, Android was designed around being connected to the Internet, either over cellular or Wi-Fi. Technically, you don’t need a cellular plan to use your Android, but without it you’ll need Wi-Fi to get connected, and you’ll need a 3rd party app (Fring, Skype, etc.) to make calls. But you likely got your Android to be a smartphone, and probably have your cell service all set up and running (if not, call your carrier and they’ll help you get started).
Most Android’s start off by getting your Google credentials (which will automatically configure Gmail and other Google services). When you open apps like Facebook and Twitter they will ask for those credentials when first launched — then remember your logins for future use. Of course, if you want to manually set things up you can head to Settings -> Accounts & sync settings.
What’s really nice is that once this is done, your Gmail, calendar, contacts, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft Exchange, Skype and other services you have configured will start to flow automatically. Not only that, if you switch to a new Android (or if this is your new Android), all that information will come across automatically.
What if you don’t use Gmail for your email? You can set up any IMAP or POP3/SMTP email provider either inside Gmail.com (on the desktop) or via the included Email app. If you configure Gmail to aggregate all your email into one inbox, you get the benefit of push notifications amongst others. Since both Gmail the service and Gmail the app make efficient use of “labels”, you can still keep messages that come through one account “separate” from your other Gmail messages.
You can stay up-to-date with your social networks by adding widgets to one of your homescreens. To do this, long-press on an empty area of the screen, Widgets, and select a widget from the list. Now you can have access to the most recent updates from your friends on Twitter, Facebook, or even see what your upcoming calender events are, right on your home screen without having to open an app.
2. Entertainment: Music, Pictures, Videos, eBooks, Games
Unlike the iPhone or Windows Phone 7, Android is designed first to be a phone — not an MP3 player. That’s not to say that you can’t play music on your Android, you’ll just need to copy your files over to your sdcard either by plugging your sdcard into your computer, connecting your Android to your computer via USB, or by another method like Dropbox. But before you go loading up your Android with a bunch of MP3s, consider some connected options like Pandora, Slacker, and Last.FM, all are internet radio providers that are sure to impress. If offline music is more your style, many Androids have a built-in FM radio ready to play your favorite local stations over-the-air — no internet connection required.
For pictures, Google built in a very nice Gallery app with a cool 3D photo stack and fly-in effect. It also can sync with your Picasa Web Albums automatically. Other Android handsets may have their own photo or gallery app with different features, so make sure you experiment and see all the cool things your phone can do with photos (like sharing them on Twitter, Facebook; or uploading them to your WordPress blog, Dropbox, or Picasa).
Most Android’s come with a basic video player which will let you watch videos shot on most cell phones and other standard video formats. If you want to play DiVX/XViD and other videos, you’ll probably need to grab an app from the Android Market (such as VPlayer). Of course, being a Google device, YouTube is right there, ready to browse your playlists, and search for any video of your liking (might I suggest subscribing to the pocketnowvideo channel?).
If it’s TV you’re interested in, apps like TV.com, MobiTV, and various carrier-branded TV-watching apps are readily available. Netflix support should be coming sometime in 2011. If you have a Google TV, you can even use your Android as a remote control!
If News and RSS are more you thing, Google now has a Google Reader app that integrates with your Google Reader account.
Games are the new frontier on Android, with bigger, more realistic titles coming every day. Some of my favorites are Angry Birds, Paper Toss, Laser Reflections, Dungeon Defenders, Need for Speed, Asphalt 4, and even The Sims 3.
There are even ports of Doom and Quake 3 available to play, right on your Android!
3. Flash and Air
A lot of what you may want to do online is locked up in Flash objects on various web pages. If you need to get at them while on the go and have an iPhone or Windows Phone 7, you’re out of luck. On Android, as long as you’re using Android 2.1+ you can go to the Android Market and download Flash. Once that’s done you can see all the Flash content that is missing on those “other” phones.
Similarly, many developers write code for Adobe’s Air platform which promises cross-platform support and rapid application development. Though it’s fairly new to Android, there are already a few apps in the Market that require Adobe Air, which is a free download.
While this may seem like a relatively small feature, the ramifications of not having Flash on your phone means that a very large segment of the Internet is unavailable. With Android, that’s not a problem.
If you’re likely got get documents attached to your emails you probably want to head over to the Market and pick up the following:
– Adobe Reader: for opening and reading .PDFs
– Quickoffice ConnectMobileSuite: for opening and editing Microsoft Office documents
– Google Voice: this app can be your universal inbox for text messages and voice messages (with speech-top-text transcription); also, you can tell Google Voice to connect your phone calls over their network which can reduce long-distance and international charges
– Skype: does Skype need an explanation any more?
Apps to Impress Your Friends:
– Google Sky Map: for a look at what the stars and constellations look like, this app turns your Android into a window to the night sky
– Google Maps: for free, turn-by-turn, spoken navigation, complete with satellite imagery, nothing can impress your friends better than showing them their house from space
– Street View on Google Maps: if seeing their house from space wasn’t impressive enough, show them their house from the Google’s street-view cameras
– Google Earth: just like the desktop version, Google Earth lets you fly around the planet with a flick your finger
– Google Maps: which we mentioned previously
– Google Search: adds more ways to search information on you phone, as well as online information
– Voice Search: not only can you search your phone with your voice, you can also tell your Android to do stuff using spoken text like “Send email to Brandon Subject Christmas Body Those Christmas articles rock exclamation point”, or “Navigate to Firehouse Pizza in Smithfield Utah”
– Gmail: the version that came with your phone probably has an update waiting for you, head over to the Market to get it
5. Customization and Hackability
Now we come to the main reason why getting an Android over any other phone is the right choice: Customization and Hackability.
Using apps that you can download and install from the Market, not only can you change the way your phone looks with new wallpaper (and even Live Wallpaper), you can download new widgets that add functionality and change the overall look of your home screen.
But don’t stop there. You can even download a replacement to your home screen itself (which is called the “launcher”). Swapping out your launcher can make your Android look like almost anything, even an iPhone or Windows Phone 7.
But that’s just what you can do by installing apps from the Market. Unless it’s been locked out by your carrier, you can download apps from any source you want (even alternatives to the Android Market). This is called “side-loading” and is only the tip of the iceberg.
Regardless of who makes it or what OS it’s using, your phone is running with a limited set of permissions. This is done to protect you from apps having access to permissions that they shouldn’t, to keep you from installing apps that your carrier doesn’t want you to run, and to help keep you from doing things that would turn your phone into a “brick”.
It’s that last part that really makes Android special. The majority of Android phones can be “unlocked” and “rooted” to allow you do do all sorts of things on them. Not only can you do low-level things (like backing up your entire device using Nandroid and editing your hosts table), you can even go as far as replacing the Kernel and Operating System that came with your phone, upgrading them to the latest version and allowing you to overclock and/or undervolt your CPU, unlock the hidden features (like the FM Radio on the Nexus One and G2), and so much more!
So, while we don’t want to rub all this in the face of our non-Android friends, we know that Android is more open than the others. With that openness we have freedom, and the ability to do whatever we want with our phones, and are liberated from the shackles that carriers and manufacturers would have us wear.
Let us know in the comments below what device or accessories Santa brought you!