Android tips for beginners

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All at sea on how to use your new Android device? Don't feel bad. While Google's phone/tablet operating system is powerful and flexible, it's easy to flounder in its ocean of options and features. Here are some tips for Android 4.x that will help you get the most out of your device without having to take a course at your local learning annex.

Widgets provide direct access

Android's widgets bring info and media access directly to your home screen, removing the need to launch an application. For example, you can have a calendar widget that displays your upcoming appointments, or a weather widget that gives you a forecast for the next few days.

You can add widgets by selecting the App drawer icon in the dock at the bottom of the home screen, tapping on the Widgets button at the top of the next screen, and dragging the widget you want to the main screen.

Protect your data

Using a pattern or a PIN on your phone can help protect your data.

Smartphones contain a lot of personal info. Setting up a PIN or lock screen pattern can help prevent unwanted individuals from snooping on your phone. To enable one of these security measures, go into the Settings menu of your device and select the Security option. Then, select Screen Lock to find a list of all the different kinds of lock screens you can enable.

Organize using folders

Having too many application icons on your screen makes it difficult to locate just the app you want, especially if you're an app hoarder. Use folders to group similar and less-used applications. To create a folder, drag one application icon onto another. On some devices, you'll need to create a folder using the menu button and the Create Folder command, then drag icons into it.

Install new keyboards

Android lets you install different keyboards to suite your typing style. In fact, most Android phones or tablets come preloaded with multiple keyboards you can choose on the fly. To switch between keyboards installed on your device, go to Settings and select Language and Input. Scroll down until you find the option to select a default keyboard, and tap on it to bring up a list of keyboards you have installed. If you don't have any installed on your device or aren't satisfied with the ones that came preinstalled, you can always download more from the Google Play Store just like you would get an app.

Entering nonstandard characters

Press and hold any key on the default virtual keyboard, and you'll be presented with a pop-up menu containing appropriate alternatives and special characters covering most languages based on the current character set.

Take screenshots

This varies from device to device, but you can generally take a screenshot of whatever is displayed on screen by pressing and holding down the volume down and power buttons at the same time. The screen should flash, and the image will be saved to your Gallery. On Samsung devices, like the Galaxy S III, pressing and holding down the power and home buttons accomplishes the same thing.

Resize widgets

Once you've placed a widget on a home screen, you can easily resize it by briefly holding it down. If the widget can be resized, a blue box will appear around it and you can drag its edges to resize the widget to your liking. Handy, if you're tight on home screen space.

Share your connection

If your carrier allows it, you can share your phone's data connection with other devices.

If you're not near a broadband connection or usable Wi-Fi network and you want to use your laptop or tablet, turn on Android's Portable Wi-Fi hotspot and use its data connection—assuming your carrier allows it. This feature is found under Settings >  Wireless & network > More settings > Tethering, and selecting the Portable Wi-Fi hotspot option.

For more info on tethering your Android device, check out our comprehensive tethering guide.

Google Gmail contacts are cross-platform

Google's Gmail contacts are the only contacts supported across all three of the major mobile platforms: Android, Apple's iOS (if Gmail is defined as an Exchange server), and Windows Phone 7 (soon to be 8). Using Gmail contacts as your main repository means they'll be available to you in the future no matter what device or service provider you switch to.

Lower your phone bill

By keeping track of your data usage, you can avoid going over your data cap and remove any data hogging apps.

One of the more useful features in Android 4.x is the ability to keep track of how much data each application is using and how much data you've used in a period overall. You can view this information by going into the device settings and selecting Data usage. There, you'll be presented with a list of applications that have been sorted by the amount of data they've used, and you can set up notifications that alert you once you've reached a certain data limit.

This story, "Android tips for beginners" was originally published by TechHive.

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