Customize Your Android Phone
See the Light
Most Android handsets come with an LED indicator. By default, the LED usually flashes different colors to alert you to a missed call, to new e-mail, or to a new text message. But you can make the indicator do much more.
Expand your phone's notification functionality with Missed Call, a free app available in the Android Market. Missed Call harnesses the power of your handset's LED, letting you set the light to flash certain colors when specific events happen. You could, for instance, program it to flash orange when you miss a call from your boss and purple when you miss a call from your spouse; you could even set flashing LED colors to alert you to pending calendar events and other customizable circumstances.
Make Your Phone Do the Dirty Work
Customizing your phone doesn't just make your device cooler--as the following tips illustrate, it can also make your life easier.
Have an annoying relative or coworker who can't take a hint? Route that person directly into your voicemail, and you'll never be bothered by his or her calls again.
To perform this bit of Android magic, make sure that you've entered the offending person's information into your phone's contacts list. Open the person's profile, and then press the Menu key. Select Options and check the box for Send calls directly to voicemail. (You might also say "abracadabra," just for good measure.)
You can more broadly define how your phone handles calls and other tasks by installing FoxyRing, available for free in the Android Market. This program allows you to set custom parameters for your phone based on your location. You could have it always automatically switch to silent mode when you're at your neighborhood movie theater, for example, or always toggle to vibrate-only mode when you're inside your office building. FoxyRing also allows you to set certain "sleeping hours," during which time your phone won't ring at all.
Power Tip: For even more robust options, consider either Setting Profiles or Locale. Both of these apps--available in the Market for $3 and $10, respectively--let you set your phone to do all sorts of things based on conditions such as location, day and time, and battery status. The apps can alter everything from advanced sound settings to power settings, and even perform complex actions such as opening other programs when specific conditions are met.
Navigate in Style
Depending on your device, using hotkeys to navigate your phone might save you some time. Android has its own built-in set of keyboard shortcuts (see "Android Keyboard Shortcuts" for a full list), but you can also create your own.
From your home screen, tap the Menu key and select Settings. Next, choose Applications and then Quick Launch. There, you'll be able to set keyboard-based hotkeys for any app on your phone.
When it comes to Web navigation, don't think you're stuck with Android's default browser. You can customize Android with third-party alternatives that offer powerful functionality not found in the stock program. Try the free Dolphin Browser for options such as multitouch zooming, gesture-driven control, and seamless link-sharing to Twitter and other social networks.
As for file navigation, you can browse and manage an Android phone as you do a computer--you just need an app to make it happen. Download a file manager such as Astro. It allows you to navigate through your phone and storage-card directories, and to move and delete files at will.
Last but not least, Android's autocomplete technology can do more than merely suggest words as you type; it can also help you by filling in the phrases and proper nouns you use most often.
The secret is to edit Android's custom dictionary. Tap the Menu key from your home screen and go to Settings, Language and keyboard, and then select User dictionary. Try adding your name, your street address, or any phrase you find yourself typing often (for example, "I'm in a meeting. Will call you back when I can").
From now on, those terms will pop up in the autocomplete list as you type. Hey, they don't call it a smartphone for nothing.
For comprehensive tips about Android and reviews of the best apps and devices to help you get the most out of the mobile operating system, order PCWorld's Android Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.