The Android operating system has been around for years, but the latest version - 4.4 KitKat - is better than ever and a great alternative to Apple's iOS.
The latest Android smartphones and tablets provide such good performance without breaking the bank, too. Although not hard to fathom, if you are just starting out with Android, this guide is for you.
To get you up to speed, we’ll show you how to set up a new phone and use it to do a range of tasks.
We’ll start with the basics such as making a call, sending a text or email and taking a photo, and we’ll work our way up to more advanced stuff like finding and installing apps, navigating using Google Maps, listening to music, and watching videos.
We’ve chosen to illustrate this guide using the brilliant Motorola Moto G, reviewed, which is one of the best budget smartphones ever and runs the latest version of Android, namely 4.4 KitKat.
However, if you have a different phone, or perhaps even a tablet, the vast majority of what we cover here will still apply. The exact appearance of the screen may be different – because Samsung and other manufacturers like to change Android around, tweaking the look of the launcher and keyboard, for example – but the basic principles are the same.
Beginner's guide to Android: Getting Started
Before you can use your new phone you’ll need to enter a few details and choose some settings. This is easy. You’ll be asked to choose your language and select your home Wi-Fi connection so that you won’t pay to use data over the mobile phone network (3G) when you’re at home. When the phone is within range of the Wi-Fi network, it will automatically switch from mobile data to use your wireless broadband connection instead.
Throughout the procedure, if you’re unsure about something just accept the default since you can always change these settings later.
Of particular importance is a Google account. While you can use the phone without providing account details, you’ll miss out on so much of the Android experience. Only if you have a Google account, for example, can you obtain apps from Google Play, synchronise your phone with online data in Google Drive and so much more.
What’s more, quite a few of the instructions later in this article assume you have a Google account so this is highly recommended. If you already have an account you’ll only have to enter your username and password. If not, you’ll have to set one up. You can do this either on your PC by going to accounts.google.com or just follow the instructions on your phone.
One stage of the setup offers to migrate your settings from an old phone. However, this only works if your old phone was a Android one. We’ll see later how to transfer your contacts from a non-Android phone.
Wallpaper and homescreen apps
To make you phone unique, how about picking a new wallpaper? Just hold your finger on the current wallpaper for a second and, when ‘choose wallpaper from’ appears, touch ‘Wallpaper’. Drag across the options at the bottom to see full-sized previews and, when you’ve made your choice, touch ‘Set wallpaper’.
Another aspect of customisation is putting frequently used apps on your home screen. Initially just a handful of commonly used apps will be on your home screen but, to add more, touch the apps icon (the circle with the six squares inside) and hold your finger on any apps you want to appear on your home screen.
Turning Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS on and off
To quickly turn features that drain your battery off when you’re not using them, and back on again later, swipe down from the top of the screen. Initially you’ll see status information in which case you should touch the icon in the top-right corner. Now you can turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Location (i.e. GPS) on and off.
Finally, a few general points before we continue. If you don’t do anything for a few seconds the screen will turn off to save power.
Pressing the power button will bring it back but, unless you do this immediately, the screen will be locked, as indicated by the padlock symbol. To unlock, touch the padlock and drag it to the edge of the circle.
Android navigation controls
The backwards-pointing arrow at the bottom-left of the screen will take you back to the previous page or menu, the house icon in the centre at the bottom will take you to your home page, and the icon that looks like two sheets of paper at the bottom-right shows, and allows you to switch to or close, recently used apps.
Let's look at how to perform common actions on your phone. If the appropriate app is on the home page by default we’ll say so. Otherwise, you’ll find it by tapping on the apps icon (the six white squares inside a circle) from the home page, selecting the ‘Apps’ tab if the ‘Widgets’ tab is displayed, and swiping left or right, as necessary, until you see it.
Secure your Phone
You already know that your phone will lock automatically so it won’t inadvertently dial a number or send a text by rattling around in your pocket or handbag. However, you can also ensure that no-one other than yourself can unlock it.
In the Settings app, scroll down to the Personal section, select ‘Security’, then ‘Screen lock’ and finally ‘PIN’. Now enter your chosen PIN, which must be at least four digits long, confirming it when requested. In future, whenever the screen locks and you press the power button, you’ll see a keypad instead of the padlock icon. To unlock your phone, enter your PIN and touch Enter at the bottom-right of the keypad.
If you prefer, you can alternatively set a pattern code, or use an alpha-numeric password. The Moto G even offers a Face Unlock feature, but we don't recommend using it as it's not as secure, and also means your family can't unlock and use your phone.
Import Contacts from your Old Phone
There are easier ways of getting all your contacts into your new phone than typing them all in from scratch. Here we’ll show you how to do it if your old phone is non-Android although there are other options available if you’re migrating from another Android device.
Your old phone should provide some means of exporting contacts, even if it's simply copying names and numbers - those stored in the phone's memory - onto the SIM card. You can then put the SIM card into your new phone (if it doesn't fit, here's how to cut it down) and import the contacts.
Your old phone may have a way of synching or uploading its stored contacts to a PC. Generally they’ll appear on your PC as either a comma delimited file (.csv) or as one or more VCard files (.vcf). Google Play lists several apps from importing contacts from .csv or .vcf files and you could try these.
However, your Google account provides another option. Before starting, though, if your contacts are stored on your PC as lots of .vcf files, one per contact, you first need to combine them into a single file. To do this, start the command line interpreter (Cmd in the Start Menu’s Search box), and go to the folder in which your .cvf files are stored by typing, for example, ‘cd \phone\contacts’. Now type ‘copy /b *.vcf merged.vcf’ to create a single file containing all your contacts.
Now, log into google.com/contacts, select import contacts and provide the name of your .csv or merged .vcf file. Next time your phone synchronises, those contacts will automatically become available on your phone. Alternatively, you can make your phone synchronise immediately in the Settings app under ‘Accounts’, ‘Google’.
Next page: make a phone call, send a text message, edit, copy and paste text, take photos and videos
Beginner's guide to Android
Here we continue our guide to Android 4.4 KitKat, using a Motorola Moto G.
Make a Phone Call
To make a phone call, tap the telephone handset icon that will be visible near the bottom left of your home screen. If you want to call someone in your address book, touch ‘All contacts’, scroll down to find the person you want to talk to and select that name.
Alternatively, to dial someone who’s not in your address book, after tapping the telephone icon, select the keypad icon in the middle at the bottom. Now type the number and touch the telephone handset icon in the bar at the bottom. Whichever method you choose to initiate a call, to end it just touch the red telephone handset icon.
Send a Text Message
To send a text message, touch the Messaging icon which is the square green smiley face at the bottom of your home page. Initially no conversations will be display so tap the icon at the bottom left that looks like a piece of paper with a plus sign. A blank message and a QWERTY keyboard will appear – rotate the screen through ninety degrees if you want a larger keyboard.
Initially the cursor will be in the ‘To’ area so start typing a name and all the contacts in your address book that start what you’ve typed so far will be shown. Make your choice by touching the appropriate contact. Add other contacts in just the same way if you want. Now type your message, tapping on ‘Send’ when you’re done.
Select, Edit, Copy and Paste
Just as selecting, editing, copying and pasting text are invaluable techniques on a PC, these are also actions that you’ll find useful in Android. To make a selection, touch the text for a second and a word will be highlighted in blue. To change the selection, drag the blue pointers at the start and end to highlight more or less text. Whenever text is selected on screen, the copy icon (two pieces of paper) will appear – tap it to copy the selection text to the clipboard.
If you’re in an application where editing is permitted, for example while composing a text or email, several other options are available. For a start, when you select text, in addition to copying you can cut the selected text using the cut icon (a piece of paper and scissors) or replace it with the text in the clipboard using the paste icon (a clipboard). In addition, if you only touch the text briefly the cursor will appear at that point (and you can move it using the blue pointer), allowing you to insert text from the keyboard, or the clipboard, or delete text.
Take a Photo or Video
The Moto G has a both a main and a front-facing camera, but the process is virtually the same with all Android phones. Some, though, have a dedicated camera button which launches the app and can be used to take photos or videos.
If there's no such button, such as on the Moto G, touch the camera icon at the bottom-right corner of the home screen. The screen will show a preview and tapping anywhere on the screen will take a photo. Alternatively, to capture a video, touch the video camera icon at the bottom right. Recording will start and a timer will appear at the top left. To stop recording press the icon at the bottom right that will have changed to a square in a circle.
To see your photos and videos while in the camera app, touch the right hand edge of the screen and drag to the left. Swipe left and right to move between your photos and/or videos, touching a video if you want to play it. The camera also has various options that you can select by dragging right from the left hand edge of the screen. We’ll leave you to try these out. You can view your photos later using the Gallery app.
Next page: send emails and make video calls, navigate with Google Maps and use Google Now
Beginner's guide to Android
Here we continue our guide to Android 4.4 KitKat, using a Motorola Moto G.
Send an Email with a Photo
Android 4.4 KiKat includes not with one email app but with two – Gmail and Email. If you use your Google Gmail email account then you can use either; if you use a different service provider you must use Email. Because it’s more universal, we’ll use Email. In particular, we’ll see how to use it to send the photo you’ve just taken.
The first time you use the Email app you’ll have to go through the account setup process which involves providing your email address and password plus selecting how frequently you want your phone to check for emails and various other preferences.
If you accept all the defaults, you’ll be presented with a list of your recent incoming emails that you can read. To compose a new email, touch the icon that looks like an envelope with a plus sign at the top and then fill out the form with the address, subject and message text. To attach your photo, tap the menu icon (the three little boxes) at the top and select ‘Attach Picture’. You’ll be presented with your recent photos from which you can make your selection. Having attached the photo, send the message by touching the icon at the top that looks like a right-pointing delta wing.
Make a Video Call with Google Hangouts
The Google Hangouts app has several uses. You can use it for example, as alternative way of sending text messages and it’s also good for instant messaging. Here we’ll see how to use it to make a free video call, to up to ten people, all of who must have a Google account.
When you use Hangouts for the first time you’ll be asked various questions but, after this, you’ll be presented with a page that says ‘Send a message or start a video call’. Touch to go to the ‘New Hangout’ page where you should type the name, email address or phone number of the person you want to contact. So long as the person is recognised you can then start your video call by touching the video camera icon at the top right. Initially you’ll see your own picture, captured on your phone’s front facing camera but once you’re connected, you’ll see a full screen image off whoever’s talking, with your own outgoing video, plus that of any others in the Hangout, as thumbnails at the bottom.
Navigate with Google Maps
Google Maps provides navigation facilities comparable to those provided by dedicated in-car sat nav units or paid-for apps. When you start Google Maps, so long as GPS is turned on (if it isn’t turn it on as we saw earlier), it’ll show your current position on a map. To find your way somewhere, touch the icon at the top that looks like a letter Y with an arrow. On the next page choose your form of transport and then tap on ‘Choose destination’. Enter your destination as a postcode or address and you’ll be taken to a page showing a recommended route in blue and possibly several alternatives in grey. If you want to use one of the alternatives, touch on it to turn it blue and, when you’re happy with the route, click on ‘Start’ at the bottom right. Now simply follow the verbal instructions to your destination.
Use Google Now
Near the top of your home page you’ll see the Google app which we’ll use, later, to search the Web and your phone. It’s also the gateway to Google Now. Touch anywhere in the Google app except the microphone icon to the right. The first time you do this, it’ll prompt you to setup Google Now and, to start, just accept the defaults.
Google Now provides lots of up to date information, much of it relevant to your locality, and you’ll no doubt add to what’s displayed as you go on. Initially, for example, touching the Google app might show you the local weather as well as providing a search box. Scroll down to see additional content and try touching ‘More’. Tapping the wizard’s wand icon at the bottom offers you yet further options.
Next page: Search the web, play music, watch videos and install apps
Beginner's guide to Android
Use Google Search
Google Search provides a quick and easy way to find stuff on the Web and on your phone. At first sight it seems much like using Google in a browser on your PC but it goes beyond that. Touch the Google app (but not the microphone) near the top of your home page, type your search text and then tap the magnifying glass icon on the keyboard (or a suggested search term) to carry out the search.
If you type anything that matches with something on your phone, an app for example, touching ‘Search Phone’ lists those matches so you can open them. Note also that you can search by speaking what you want to find if you touch the microphone icon on the Google app.
Play a Song
You can play music that you’ve downloaded from the Google Play Store or one that you’ve ripped from a CD and transferred from your PC. Here we’ll see how to do both.
In the Play Music app, touch the Google Play icon (the briefcase with an arrow on it) to go to the Google Play store. Here you can select some of the tracks that will be recommended or search for something you particularly want. In most cases, you’ll have to pay to download your chosen track. However, to get the hang of this, try scrolling down to and listening to the free song of the week. Usually this will be a single track from an album – just touch it to play it.
To download and play a track you’ve ripped from your PC, connect your phone to your PC using a USB cable. Your PC will recognise the phone and you’ll see it as a new device in Windows Explorer. Now, using Windows Explorer, drag your ripped tracks to your phone’s Music folder. Your phone will now list those tracks as recently downloaded on the ‘Listen Now’ page. Your downloaded tracks will also appear under ‘My Library’ so you can find them later.
Watch TV, Video & YouTube
YouTube has its own Android app which you should use in preference to a Web browser. When you start the app you’ll be offered various suggested videos which may interest you since, as time goes on, they’ll reflect your interests. To start, though, you’ll probably want to find your own video so touch the magnifying glass icon to search. Type in what you’re looking for, and finally touch the magnifying glass on the keyboard.
For TV or movies you’ll need to install the necessary apps as described in the next section. All the familiar services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player are available for Android and some offer live TV as well as catch-up. There are also pay-to-watch services such as Netflix.
Find and Install an App
In addition to music, Google Play is also your source of apps to augment those that came pre-installed with your phone. Unlike music, lots of the apps you’ll find are free although some charge a nominal fee.
In the Play Store app, select the ‘Apps’ tab at the top. A few popular apps will be suggested but, in all probability, you’ll be looking for something in particular. So touch the magnifying glass icon at the top and then search as we described for finding a YouTube video. All apps that match your search criteria will be listed – scroll down and select any you think meets your requirements to see more details. If you like what you see, touch ‘Install’ and, if you’re happy to do so, tap ‘Accept’ when you’re asked for various permissions. The app will first download (so connect via WiFi if it’s large to save on data use) and then install.