Now that we have gone through our Android phone’s settings, it’s time to set up the apps which come with the phone. Many of these are Google related (surprise, surprise), but the functionality they add to the phone, especially when you’re a Google product nutcase like me, give you a device which expands well beyond its functions as a phone and even beyond those of a computer. Imagine a device which handles all of your communication, navigation, entertainment, and work needs, yet is small enough to fit in your pocket. If you own an Android phone, you don’t need to imagine it.
The first thing you need to do is check out the Android Marketplace app. While we are not adding any new apps to our phone at this point, this is where you need to go and make sure all of your current apps are up to date. When you first open the Market app, you will need to accept the Android Market Terms of Service. If you want to read through them all, go right ahead. I’m not going anywhere. Once you accept the agreement, you’ll arrive on the main page of the Marketplace. Almost immediately, the phone may begin downloading updates for all the installed apps. Depending on your connection speed to the Internet, this may happen pretty fast, possibly before you finish reading this paragraph. One of the apps which updates is the Marketplace itself, thanks to a recent overhaul by Google, which makes it much easier to find, install, and update apps on your phone. Once your updates are done, go to the My Apps section in the Marketplace and check to see if there are any apps which did not update automatically. You do have the option to turn on automatic updates for these apps. Just tap on the app in question and check the box for automatic updates.
Now that our apps are up-to-date, let’s start configuring them to our liking. I’m going to focus on apps which are best for productivity (Gmail, Calendar, Contacts) in the next few articles, but there are many other apps which will keep you entertained/distracted/in touch for hours before downloading a single new app onto the phone. If there’s an app which I don’t talk about and you’ d like me to cover, feel free to post it in the comments section and I will talk about it in a later article.
I am focusing on Gmail as opposed to the general Email app as I use Gmail for just about everything, including reading and responding to my work email. As a result, I don’t need to configure anything on the phone to do both personal and work email – the Gmail app covers all of my needs. If you’re a Gmail user, you’re already familiar with using labels, stars, and many of the other functions Gmail offers. What’s impressive is that almost all of those functions are available in the Android app, including the Priority Inbox, which allows you to sort your email by importance, and the ability to send email using another address, such as a work address. Looking at the settings for Gmail, in fact, you can even set your Priority Inbox as your default inbox when you open the app. You also have the option to set up a signature for your email. This will be a different signature from what you have set up on the website and will be the same no matter which address you use to reply, so you may want to make it generic enough to fit both personal and work communications.
If you’d like to avoid accidentally sending or deleting an email, you also have the option to turn on a confirmation message for these and other actions in Gmail. Since it’s easy to accidentally tap the screen and send out that bitchy email you were writing to your friend to the person you were bitching about, you may want to at least turn on this function for the short term and see how you like it. If you tend to use the Reply All option on a regular basis, you can set that as the default when responding to messages so you don’t have to select it every time you reply. Once you’re done with a message and either archive or delete it, you can set Gmail to either go to the next message in your inbox, back to the previous message, or go back to the inbox view. You can also set which labels (folders for you non-Gmail users) you sync with the app, which comes in handy if you’re short on space and only look at your inbox and starred items when using Gmail on your phone.
The final settings we will look at involve notifications. One of the beautiful design choices Android made is how a user receives notifications. With an iOS device, a notification pops up on the screen, regardless of what you’re doing, and won’t go away until you respond to it. If you have more than one notification, they pop up, one at a time, until you’ve cleared them all out. This is annoying as there are some alerts you may want to hold off on responding to until a later time, plus they prevent you from doing anything with the device until they are all cleared. With Android, notifications appear in the top bar of the screen as an icon related to the particular app which needs your attention. When you want to look at the alerts, you just pull down on that top bar much like you would pull down on a window shade. You can then look at all of the alerts, choose which ones to respond to, and leave the rest alone until you’re ready to work with them. When it comes to Gmail notification, you can turn notifications on or off, depending on whether or not you actually want to know every time an email arrives. You can also set a ringtone for email alerts, turn vibrating alerts on or off, and set the alerts to come up for every new message or just when new email in general arrives in the inbox. This kind of notification control is light years ahead of how iOS handles alerts and makes it much easier to deal with the notifications that come into your phone.
As you can see, there is a ton of options which both Android itself and the individual apps offer for customization purposes. While this can be intimidating for a first time user, note that you don’t have to go through all of these settings and change them at the same time, plus you may find the default settings give you the functionality you want right out of the box. Android is a very robust operating system which offers something for every user, and I, for one, find it very exciting to work with. There’s plenty to learn about Android, but I’ll help you out every step of the way until we are all Android gurus.