Android basics

Learning a new system can be tough. This basic guide will take Android users a step beyond their user manuals and empower them with knowledge of key gestures and settings.

Google's Android operating system is the new kid on the block, which is seeing an incredible surge in popularity thanks to the support it is receiving from manufacturers. In Australia the range of Android phones is growing faster than any other, and include models across all pricing tiers, from top-shelf handsets to prepaid models as well.

Learning any new system can be tough, especially when you have been using another system for many years. Google has done a good job of re-imaging a smartphone system, taking some of the best features from the systems we know and love, and adding a few new tricks of its own.

Most of the language used throughout the system include common-sense descriptions of each button and menu, but there are still a few tricky spots. This guide is intended for Android beginners and will complement the user manual that comes with your phone, not replace it. We'll be focusing on elements that are common to all Android phones, so keep your manual close for tips and tricks specific to your phone model.

The Menu key

There's a menu key on every Android. (Credit: CBSi)

There is no better place to start this guide than to look at the physical Menu key on every Android phone. The menu key is like clicking the right mouse button on a PC; it brings up a context-sensitive list of options depending on which screen you are currently viewing.

Context sensitive means you'll get a different menu depending on the app you are using. In Google Maps the Menu key brings up options and search functionality, and in the music player the Menu key will let you switch albums and artists. The Menu key is your fix-anything-button — if you are looking for an option that isn't available on the touchscreen, press Menu and see if what you're looking for is there.

Long presses

While the Menu key displays options and settings that will affect an entire application, a long press on the touchscreen of your Android phone will bring up item-specific options. This gesture should work on any of the core applications with lists of items like contacts, messaging, Gmail, the music player, calendar and image gallery.

In your email, for example, a long press on any email message in the Inbox will bring up options to delete, forward, reply, etc without having to open the message. A long press on a contact entry in your address book will bring up communications options for that contact, depending on what details you have entered about them.

Three examples of the long press gesture: on the home screen, in a message and on a web page. (Credit: CBSi)

If you long press on...

  • An empty area of the home screen: it will open options to create a shortcut or widget in this space.
  • A shortcut on the home screen: it will enable the ability to move the shortcut, drag to the bottom of the screen to remove it all together.
  • An app in the app drawer: it will create a shortcut on the home screen for that app (keep holding to move the shortcut to where you want it).
  • A message thread in your inbox: it will open options to delete a message or view the contact details.
  • A specific message in an SMS conversation: it will open options to delete a message, copy message text and send it to your SIM.
  • A contact in your address book: it will open options to edit contact details, link the contact to other contact details or delete the details altogether.
  • A date in the calendar: it will quickly add an appointment option.
  • A hyperlink in a web page: it will show you the options to open the link in a new window, copy the web address, bookmark the link, or share the link via email or SMS.

This is just a sample of the places where a long press gesture will open up options for you. Basically anything you can select with a short press also contains variable options under a long press gesture as well.

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