Setting up a tablet

Table of Contents

You put it on the list. You dropped subtle hints. You even watched The Internship just to point out the Android logo. Finally, all that work has paid off. You have a new Android tablet. Now what?

Once you’ve plugged in your Google account information, you’ll want to load your new toy up with the best apps on the market. It’s also a good time to get those settings in line for maximum Android action.

Account Setup ————-

When you turn on your tablet for the first time, you’ll be prompted to log in to your Google account. This will import all your Gmail and purchased app information. Unless you want to get Google spam, uncheck the box that asks if you want to get periodical news about Google products. No one likes spam. This is also an opportunity to add additional accounts. If you plan on sharing the tablet with family members, you can add their Google accounts, which will let them access their Gmail and apps in a separate environment.

Apps —-

Here are some of the best Android apps. Some are a fun way to pass the time, while others are utilities that add features to the tablet that are otherwise missing in its default state.

Netflix – (Free) Pretty much everyone has an Netflix account now. A tablet is a great way to watch Orange Is the New Black while lying in bed or traveling.

Kindle – (Free) Sure Google has Google Books, but when you’re looking for the biggest library, you go to Amazon. Because the online retailer wants to sell you everything everywhere, you can read your books on almost every platform available.

Facebook – (Free) It’s how you keep track or your family and friends from high school. Sure, we all hate it. But we can’t stop using it.

Google Play Music – (Free) Rdio and Spotify are great. But Google Play Music combines the music you already own with a streaming service. You can even create playlists that combine songs you own with ones you don’t.

Where’s My Droid – (Free, $4 Pro) This app is the Android equivalent of Apple’s Find My iPhone. If you’re prone to losing your electronics in cabs, hotels, or under the couch, get this app now.

Twitter – (Free) The official Twitter app has traditionally lagged behind third-party offerings. Now the official Twitter app is probably the best client on Android. You can share holiday cheer (or jeers) in 140 characters.

Asphalt 8: Airborne – (Free) Launch all the supercars you’ll probably never be able to afford through the air. Play with up to seven of your friends to determine who is truly the best Android-based driver.

HBO GO- (Free) Winter is coming. Okay, winter is actually here. But if you have HBO you know exactly what I’m talking about. With the HBO GO app you can watch all the current and past HBO offerings on demand.

Weather Underground – (Free) The best weather service out there. If you’re tired of seeing the weather from the airport 15 miles away, this is the weather service to get. The local weather stations will keep you up to date on the weather that’s actually outside your front door.

Instagram – (Free) Keep up with the filter-adding photography of your friends. If you feel comfortable taking photos with your giant tablet covering your face and blocking the view of everyone else, you can add your own photos.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 – (Free) An oldie but a goodie. Plants vs. Zombies is one of the best tower defense games ever made. Destroy the zombie scourge with some well-placed flora.

Settings ——–

The apps are installed and now it’s time to adjust your tablet for maximum efficiency. While you may be happy with the default settings, it’s always good to know how to make quick changes should anything go wrong.

Lock it down:
If you plan on taking your tablet outside of the house at any time, it’s good idea to lock the screen. Head to Settings > Security > Screen Lock. From there, choose a pattern, PIN, or password you’ll remember to keep baddies out of your personal information.

Lock rotation:
Tired of the flipping and flopping of the screen every time you rotate your tablet from portrait to landscape? You can turn off rotation by navigating to Settings > Accessibility and unchecking Auto-rotate screen.

While you can’t print directly from your tablet to a printer like you would a computer, you can set up a Google service to take care of printing for you via the cloud. The service is easy to set up and is tied to your Google account so no matter what Android device you use, you’ll be able to print.

Bigger fonts:
If the default fonts are difficult to read, you can enlarge them system wide. Go to Settings > Display > Font Size. Make ’em as huge or small as you want.

Google Now:
Setting up Google Now is paramount to having the best Android experience. Just swipe up from the bottom of the display on any screen. Click Next and follow the set-up prompts to see your weather, commute times, and information from your favorite sports teams.

How to Activate Your Android Tablet

The very, very first time you turn on your Android tablet, you’re required to work through the setup process. It’s a must, but it needs to be done only once.

The specifics of the setup-and-configuration process differ from tablet to tablet. For example, some tablets may prompt you to sign in to services like Dropbox. Tablets on certain cellular networks may require you to run specific setup apps, which you’ll read about during the configuration process. Generally speaking, however, the process is similar on all tablets.

It’s a good idea to read through these steps first, and then turning on the tablet and working through them afterward — the process goes kind of fast, and the screen may dim if you spend too much time waiting between steps:

  1. Turn on the tablet by pressing the Power/Lock key.

    You may have to press the button longer than you think; when you see the tablet’s logo appear on the screen, the tablet has started.

    It’s okay to turn on the tablet while it’s plugged in and charging.

  2. Answer the question that’s presented.

    You’re asked to select options for some, if not all, of these items:

    • Select your language

    • Activate the tablet on the cellular network

    • Choose a Wi-Fi network (can be done later)

    • Set the time zone

    • Sign in to your Google account

    • Add other online accounts

    • Set location information

    When in doubt, just accept the standard options as presented to you during the setup process.

    To fill in text fields, use the onscreen keyboard.

    You can’t screw up anything at this point; any selection you make can be changed later.

    Having a Google account is important to the setup process.

  3. After each choice, touch the Next button, or large triangle icon.

    The Next button might appear on the screen, labeled with the text Next, or it might appear as a triangle button, shown in the margin.

  4. Touch the Finish button.

    The Finish button appears on the last screen of the setup procedure.

The good news is that you’re done. The better news is that you need to complete this setup only once on your Android tablet.

After the initial setup, you’re taken to the Home screen.

  • You may find yourself asked various questions or prompted to try various tricks when you first start to use the tablet. Some of those prompts are helpful, but it’s okay to skip some or to select the Do Not Show Again check box.

  • Location settings relate to how the tablet knows its position on Planet Earth. Keep all these items activated to get the most from your Android tablet.

  • It’s not necessary to use any specific software provided by the tablet’s manufacturer or your cellular provider. For example, if you don’t want a Samsung account, you don’t need to sign up for one; skip that step.

  • By setting up your Google account, you coordinate with your new Android tablet whatever information you have on the Internet. This information includes your e-mail messages and contacts on Gmail, appointments on Google Calendar, and information and data from other Google Internet applications.

So you’ve got you’ve got a new Android smartphone or tablet and you want to get on with downloading apps and making calls. If the the setup process seems a bit daunting then don’t worry because we’ll guide you through each step, explaining what to do.

Most phones and tablets will guide you step-by-step through the setup process. The experience may differ slightly, depending on what brand is your device and which version of Android it is running. They are all very similar, but here we are using stock Android.

Also see: Essential Android apps and best Android games for a new phone or tablet.

How to set up a new Android phone or tablet

  1. Insert your SIM card and switch on your phone, ensuring it is fully charged
  2. Select a language
  3. Connect to Wi-Fi
  4. Enter your Google account details
  5. Select your backup and payment options
  6. Set date and time
  7. Set up a password and/or fingerprint
  8. Voice assistant
  9. Start downloading apps and content

Step 1

Put your SIM card into your new device if it’s a smartphone or a tablet with mobile data connectivity. If it has a removable battery (increasingly rare) also slot this into place and attach the rear cover.

Switch on your new Android device using the power button, which is normally located on the right side. Remember that it might need charging before it will switch on.

Step 2

The first thing you’ll need to do once the device is powered up is select a language. Select from the list which you would like to use and click Get Started.

You’ll be prompted to insert your SIM if you have not already done so, though you do not need to have a SIM installed in order to set up the phone. Either insert your SIM or click Skip.

Depending on the device you’re setting up, you may be asked whether you want to restore from another device (which will copy over your apps and data) or set up as new.

The first option, to keep your apps and data, allows you to select Another Android device, your Google account, or an iPad or iPhone.

The second option offers you a fresh start, and is the route we’re taking here.

Step 3

Next you’ll be prompted to connect to Wi-Fi, so find and select your network in the list, enter your password and click Connect.

Step 4

If you already have a Google account you should enter your email address and password now. If you don’t, click ‘Or create a new account’ and register for a free Google account. Click Next.

You’ll need to agree to Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy – just click Accept to continue.

Step 5

The setup process will ask whether you want to turn on or off various Google services, such as the ability to automatically back up device data (recommended), use Google’s location service to help apps determine your location (your choice entirely, and you can allow location access to specific apps when required), improve location accuracy by allowing the device to scan for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth even when they’re turned off (recommended, provided battery life isn’t a major issue), and to help improve your Android experience by automatically sending diagnostic and device and app usage data to Google (your choice entirely).

Toggle these on or off, then tap Next.

Step 6

Adjust the data and time zone if necessary (if you’ve bought your phone outside the UK then it may be set to a different time zone by default). This is worth doing not only so you know what is the correct time, but because it can cause conflict with your wireless router. If you aren’t prompted to adjust the time then you can access these options from the device’s Settings menu.

Step 7

If your device has a fingerprint scanner you will be prompted to set it up now. You can skip this and add one later, or click add fingerprint. Before setting a fingerprint you will be required to enter a pattern, PIN or password that can be used to override the biometric login. We chose a PIN.

You may then be asked whether you want to also enable secure startup, which requires you to enter a PIN to turn on the phone. This is entirely your choice as to how secure you want your phone to be, although personally we find it a bit annoying. Choose either Require PIN to start device or No thanks, then press Next.

Enter a PIN you will remember that is at least four digits. 1234 is possibly one of the easiest PINs to guess, as is 0000 so avoid those along with things people might guess like your birthday. Press the arrow key to continue when you are done.

Google will now ask you to confirm your PIN to rule out the possibility you made a mistake, so again enter your PIN and press the arrow key.

Now you’re ready to set up your fingerprint. Locate the fingerprint scanner on your device. It will usually be integrated to the Home button, or located below the camera on the rear of the device. If you’re not sure, look in the user manual, read a review of the device or simply examine the image shown onscreen – in most cases it will have been customised to match the location on your device.

Hold your phone naturally, because you want the fingerprint scanner to work quickly and efficiently without you having to do any awkward finger acrobatics. Then begin tapping the sensor. You will need to do this multiple times, and try to move your finger into a slightly different position each time so it can build up a better scan of your fingerprint. A progress bar runs around the graphic shown onscreen, and when this is full you will be able to move on to the next step.

Most phones and tablets will allow you to enter up to five fingerprints. This can be useful if you sometimes pick up the phone with your other hand, or you switch between using it with your index finger and your thumb. Also consider whether anyone else in your household will be using the device and will need fingerprint access. But you don’t need to enter all five fingerprints now – you can add these later if you wish.

Step 8

If your phone has the Google Assistant built-in you’ll be introduced and asked to help it recognise your voice – just follow the prompts.

Step 9

That should conclude the setup process but, as we mentioned earlier, different devices will have different steps. For example, Samung devices will ask if you want to sign in to your Samsung accout and use things like the Bixby assistant.

You are likely to be welcomed to your new device and might be shown a brief tutorial on how to do things like customise the wallpaper, widgets and settings. It’s worth paying attention to this if there is one, but you can also skip straight to the home screen.

It’s worth checking to see whether there are any updates to your phone or its preinstalled apps by going to Settings, About phone or tablet, System updates and by launching the Google Play store app (likely on the home screen), tapping the three lines icon at the top left, selecting My apps & games and tapping Update All.

You can configure things like your wallpaper and ringtone in the Settings menu – take some time to look around and become familiar with Android.

Once this is done you can start installing apps from Google Play. Just open the app store, search for an app or game – such as WhatsApp – and select Install. You will be prompted to accept any permissions, and the app will begin to install in the background.

Read next: How to restore WhatsApp messages on a new phone

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If the holiday season has been kind enough to bestow upon thee a shiny new tablet, here’s what to do to get the best out of the first few hours and set it up right.

Plug it in

Tablet batteries are typically at least twice the size of a smartphone battery, and while it’s not strictly necessary to fully charge it before using it for the first time, setting up a tablet can be quite power draining.

Connect to Wi-Fi

A tablet needs internet access to make the most out of it and without Wi-Fi there will be no app downloads. Even 4G-capable tablets will be capped to a certain download size.

Sign in and transfer your personal information

A signing in process is part of the setup routine of almost every device. If it’s not your first tablet it’ll allow you to download apps from the app store and get your calendar, email and contacts synced over.

If you do not have an account with Google, Microsoft or Apple and are setting up a new Android, iPad or Windows tablet – I would recommended opening an account, even if you never use it for email or other bits.

Set a passcode

Setting a fingerprint is the easiest way to keep your data secure without having to type in a long password each time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Set a passcode as soon as you can. It will help keep your information safe from thieves and other family members. If your tablet has a fingerprint sensor, set a long passcode as your fingerprint protection is only as strong as this passcode.

Enable encryption

Most modern tablets will allow users to encrypt their devices so they are protected from snooping or data theft if the tablet falls into the wrong hands. The process can take a while if it is not enabled early.

Android and Windows tablet users need to enable it in settings, unless you’re running the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Apple iPad users who set a passcode will automatically have their devices encrypted.

Set up your tablet’s remote location and wipe

Should your tablet fall into the wrong hands the ability to locate it or remotely lock and wipe it can help stop your personal information from being stolen.

Apple, Google and Microsoft all have their own versions to help spot where the tablet was last seen and remotely wipe it if it’s still connected to the internet.

They work well, but must be setup before you lose your device. Find them in the various apps stores or within the settings app.


A passcode and remote wipe will help protect your tablet if stolen, but backing up will help you get your stuff back even if you break it.

Most tablets have a backup service built in. Make sure it is switched on in settings. Photos can be backed up separately using a cloud photo service (more on that later).

Check for updates

Once the tablet is set up it’s time to check for updates to make sure everything runs smoothly before installing apps and other good things. It’ll be a lot quicker without hundreds of apps installed.

Setup multiple user profiles

Most tablets, apart from Apple’s iPad, allow multiple user accounts so that family members can share them with their own apps and data. No more logging out and logging in to Facebook, Twitter or email.

It’s simple, fast and each person can have their own pin code.

Install some apps

Time for the fun bit. Hit the app store and download some apps. Some will be free, others paid-for. Beware of in-app purchases as you can quickly run up large bills.

Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • Facebook: social networking app with over 1.5 billion users. Just watch for battery and data drain (switch off autoplaying videos in settings).
  • Twitter: the 140-character social network. A good place to engage with public figures and brands (excellent for complaining to support)
  • Marvel Unlimited or Comixology: tablets were made for reading comics
  • BBC iPlayer: live and catchup TV from the BBC
  • Netflix: access to one of the largest on-demand video source for streaming movies and TV
  • Pocket: a free read-it-later service that lets you clip stories and downloads them for offline viewing
  • The Guardian: for quality independent journalism delivered straight to your phone with exciting articles like this one

Get your homescreen under control

Homescreens don’t have to be just a massive list of apps. You can change the wallpaper, sort your icons, use folders or even have news delivered straight to the homescreen.

Some arrange their apps by colour, others by type, some use folders, others arrange them all by frequency of use. Take your pick.

Pin some widgets

Some apps come with widgets that put live information right on the home or notifications screen. Some apps such as Flipboard can put magazine-style news on your homescreen, others can put contacts, social updates or your calendar at a glance.

Some apps have more advanced widgets than others, but you can always delete them if they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

Cache some music and video

If you take your tablet out of the house caching some content will allow you to enjoy it offline.

If you have an existing music collection transferring music can be as simple as moving the files to your tablet via a cable from your computer. But you can get more flexibility by choosing to upload the entire lot to an online cloud locker such as Google Play Music or Apple’s iTunes Match.

Alternatively, subscription music services are an excellent way of listening to new music if you do not have an extensive library. Spotify, Google Play Music All Access, Apple Music and Groove music from Microsoft are good starting points. Just remember to select save for offline listening.

Not all video streaming services allow offline viewing. Apple’s iPad users can store Amazon’s Prime Video offline, but Android users cannot for, instance. Android users have Google Play video and Apple users have iTunes.

Some of the catchup TV services, such as BBC iPlayer also allow users to download video for offline viewing.

Sort out your photos

Tablets aren’t great for taking photos, but they’re fantastic for viewing them. Using the right photo service can put every photo you’ve ever taken on your tablet for impromptu holiday snap viewing. The apps are often better than the browser implantation.

Flickr offers 1TB of storage for free, with automated backup on most platforms with an app to view them when online.

Google’s Photos app, which offers unlimited photo backup at 16-megapixels and 1080p video for free, is also a good start whether you’re on Android or iPhone.

Apple’s iCloud Photo library, a paid-for service, is also excellent on the iPhone.

Google Chrome: Fast & Secure

Google Chrome is a fast, easy to use, and secure web browser. Designed for Android, Chrome brings you personalized news articles, quick links to your favorite sites, downloads, and Google Search and Google Translate built-in. Download now to enjoy the same Chrome web browser experience you love across all your devices.
Browse fast and type less. Choose from personalized search results that instantly appear as you type and quickly browse previously visited web pages. Fill in forms quickly with Autofill.
Incognito Browsing. Use Incognito mode to browse the internet without saving your history. Browse privately across all your devices.
Sync Chrome Across Devices. When you sign into Chrome, your bookmarks, passwords, and settings will be automatically synced across all your devices. You can seamlessly access all your information from your phone, tablet, or laptop.
All your favorite content, one tap away. Chrome is not just fast for Google Search, but designed so you are one tap away from all your favorite content. You can tap on your favorite news sites or social media directly from the new tab page. Chrome also has the “Tap to Search”- feature on most webpages. You can tap on any word or phrase to start a Google search while still in the page you are enjoying.
Protect your phone with Google Safe Browsing. Chrome has Google Safe Browsing built-in. It keeps your phone safe by showing warnings to you when you attempt to navigate to dangerous sites or download dangerous files.
Fast downloads and view web pages and videos offline Chrome has a dedicated download button, so you can easily download videos, pictures, and entire webpages with just one tap. Chrome also has downloads home right inside Chrome, where you can access all the content you downloaded, even when you are offline.
Google Voice Search. Chrome gives you an actual web browser you can talk to. Use your voice to find answers on-the-go without typing and go hands free. You can browse and navigate quicker using your voice anywhere, anytime.
Google Translate built-in: Quickly translate entire web pages. Chrome has Google Translate built in to help you to translate entire web to your own language with one tap.
Use less mobile data and speed up the web. Turn on Lite mode and use up to 60% less data. Chrome can compress text, images, videos, and websites without lowering the quality.
Smart personalized recommendations. Chrome creates an experience that is tailored to your interests. On the new tab page, you will find articles that Chrome selected based on your previous browsing history.

How to Link Your Google Account to Your Android Tablet

You don’t have to add all your online accounts during the Android tablet setup-and-configuration process. If you skipped those steps, or when you have more accounts to add, you can easily do so. With your tablet turned on and unlocked, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Home screen.

    The Home screen is the main screen on your tablet. You can always get there by touching the Home icon, found at the bottom of the touchscreen.

  2. Touch the Apps icon.

    The Apps icon is found at the bottom of the Home screen. It looks similar to the icon shown in the margin, although it has many variations.

    When you touch the Apps icon, you view the Apps drawer, which lists all the apps available on your tablet.

  3. Choose the Settings icon to start the Settings app.

    You may have to swipe the Apps Drawer screen left or right a few times, paging through the various apps, to find the Settings app icon.

    After touching the Settings icon, the Settings app runs. It shows commands for configuring and setting tablet options.

  4. Choose the Accounts category, or look for the Accounts heading.

    On some Samsung tablets, you have to touch the General tab atop the Settings app screen to find the Accounts category. Otherwise, scroll down the screen by swiping upward with your finger to locate the Accounts category or heading.

    Some tablets may show the category as Accounts and Sync instead of Accounts.

  5. Touch the Add Account icon.

    The icon may appear as a plus sign, shown in the margin, or it may be a button that says Add Account.

  6. Choose an account from the list that appears.

    Don’t worry if you don’t see the exact type of account you want to add. You may have to add a specific app before an account appears.

  7. Follow the directions on the screen to sign in to your account.

    The steps that follow depend on the type of account you’re adding. Generally speaking, you sign in using an existing username and password.

When you’re done, touch the Home icon to return to the Home screen, or you can continue adding accounts by repeating these steps.

If you’ve been given a Google Android tablet for Christmas, the GHI can help you start using as soon as possible, with these top tips.

Do I need a specific Google mail account?

For Google Android tablets you need a Google account to be able to download apps and music from the Google Play store. If you already have a Gmail address/Google account this can be used, alternatively, you can create one during the set-up process. You just need to enter your name, the username you want to use as the start of your Gmail address and your password. If you’re moving to the Android tablet from an iPad, we recommend you do this first before starting to set-up the new tablet.

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How do I get all my contacts, music, photos and apps onto my new Google Android tablet?

If you’ve previously had a Google Android tablet, make sure your contacts are backed up to your Google Account, and when you sign in with that Google account on your new tablet, your contacts will be available. Make sure all your apps, wi-fi passwords and settings are backed up by selecting Settings and then Back up & Restore. Then when you set up the new Android tablet, select the option to restore from a previous back up so your settings and passwords will be added to the new smartphone, and apps automatically downloaded. For photos, save them to Google Photos on your existing Android tablet, and then install the Google Photos app on your new tablet (it may come pre-loaded).

If you’ve currently got an iPad, download the free Google Drive app on to your device. Open and sign-in with your Google account. Tap the menu from the top left-hand side and then select the Settings icon (shaped like a cog) From here select back-up and then choose the aspects you want to copy such as contacts, calendar entries and photos. Now press Start Backup. It’s worth ensuring your iPad is being charged as this can take a while. When complete, start setting up the Android tablet following the on-screen instructions signing in with the Google Account you used to sign in to Google Drive.

Westend61Getty Images

Can I connect to the internet why I’m away from home?

Depending on which version of an Android tablet you’ve got, you may be able to connect to the web away from home. If you have wi-fi only, you’ll need a wireless network in reach. To find one, head to Settings and then Wi-fi and connect to a network. If you have a wi-fi and 4G tablet, you can access the internet when you’re away from a wireless network using 4G but you’ll need to purchase a sim either pre-loaded with data, or you’ll need to sign up to a data contract from a mobile network to let you do this.

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How do I back up my content?

When you first set up the tablet and enter your Google account details, you’ll be asked if you want to back-up your data to your Google Account and restore previous back-ups to your device. Make sure this box is ticked and your content will be backed up. If you forget to do this, head to Settings and then Backup & Restore and turn on Back up to Google Drive. It doesn’t cover photos so back them up to Google Photos (free from the Google Play Store if not already installed on your tablet.

Do I need insurance?

Tablets are an expensive investment, costing anywhere from between £200 to £700, so we recommend you take out insurance. Contact your home contents provider and look at the cost of getting your tablet added to your policy, or try ProtectYourBubble – a dedicated gadget insurance provider. Also invest in a case and screen protector, as a smashed screen is one of the most common accidents to befall tablet devices.

Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet, 16 GB Amazon £79.99 Lenovo Tab E7 Tablet John Lewis £49.99 Samsung Galaxy Tab A (2019) 10.1in John Lewis £199.00 Acer Iconia One 8 16GB Tablet Argos £69.99 2019 Apple iPad mini, Apple A12 John Lewis £382.00 Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Amazon £84.99 Huawei MediaPad T3 8in Amazon £99.99 Alcatel One Touch Pixi 3 10in Amazon £74.00

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Got extra smartphones sitting around your office? How about tablets? As we move multiple generations into mobile technology, more and more of us are building up collections of old, dated devices from both our work and our personal lives. And more often than not, those devices do little more than take up space and gather dust.

Here’s a little secret, though: Your abandoned Android gadgets are actually virtual gold mines. You just have to find the right way to tap into their potential and give them new life.

So grab the nearest DustBuster and get ready: Here are 20 ways to make your old phone or tablet useful again.

1. Use it as a wireless trackpad and controller for your computer

With the right software and a couple minutes of configuration, your old Android device can act as an on-demand controller for your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.

An app called Unified Remote and a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection are all you need to make the magic happen. The free version of the app gives you basic mouse and keyboard control along with specialized remotes for media playback and power-related commands, while the full $5 version adds in program-specific remotes for presentation control along with other advanced features.

JR Raphael / IDG

Unified Remote provides basic mouse and keyboard control along with a variety of specialized remotes.

Grab whichever version you prefer and for your computer — then toss your old device into a desk drawer or computer bag and rest easy knowing it’ll be ready and waiting the next time you need to go wireless.

2. Turn it into a remote computer terminal

Want easy access to your home computer from the office — or vice-versa? Your old Android phone or tablet can be a splendid stationary screen for keeping a remote system at arm’s reach.

The newer version of Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop program doesn’t support Android, oddly enough, but a third-party app called TeamViewer handily fills the void. To get started with it, for your desktop computer. Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS are all supported.

Once the program is in place, open it, and you should see an access code and password for remote sign-ins. All that’s left is to install the companion app on your Android device, tap in those same credentials — and within a matter of seconds, you should be staring at your desktop computer from your Android device’s screen.

You’ll find commands for advanced forms of interaction (including locking or rebooting the remote system) in a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. You can pull up a virtual keyboard by tapping the keyboard icon in that same area, meanwhile, and if you need to use the computer’s mouse, you can tap once to click, tap and hold to right-click, double-tap to drag and drop, and drag with two fingers to scroll. You can also pinch to zoom on any particular area.

TeamViewer is free for personal use (so be sure to select the “personal/non-commercial use” option during the program’s initial setup, provided that classification makes sense for you). If you’re using it in a commercial context, plans start at $49 a month for a year-long business license.

3. Use it as a universal smart remote

Even the junkiest old Android device has ample power to serve as a smart remote for your home or office. That can be a helpful way for you and anyone else around to control your various smart devices and multimedia components without needing any special access (or your own current personal phone in hand).

First, the easy part: Load up your old phone or tablet with all the relevant apps for your smart-device setup — things like Nest, Hue, and anything else appropriate for controlling your home or office tech.

Next, think about adding some tools that’ll let the device handle any audio and video systems in your area. There are a few ways you can make that work:

  • Pair the phone or tablet with one of Google’s ultra-affordable Chromecast streaming sticks. You can then keep the old Android device on your desk or coffee table and use it as a hub for wirelessly casting content — everything from Netflix and YouTube to TED Talks, CNBC, and Google Slides — to your TV.
  • Install an app to make your old Android device a dedicated remote for components like TVs, cable boxes, and DVD players. If your device has a built-in IR blaster, it likely came with its own built-in app that you can configure to work with your entertainment setup. If it doesn’t have an IR blaster, try searching the Google Play Store for specific apps to control your components. Such programs are available from brands like Panasonic, Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, Roku, and Android TV.
  • Set up a full-fledged media server using Plex, then use your old device as a dedicated remote to stream your own local content to a TV. (The Plex media server software is free; a premium subscription with added features runs $5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for a lifetime license.)

4. Let it power scientific research

Here’s something: Your clunky old Android device could actually help scientists search for extraterrestrial life, detect earthquakes, or improve cancer treatments.

It’s all part of a series of programs that use your device’s computing power to conduct scientific research. Some of the more worthwhile options:

  • HTC Power To Give connects your phone or tablet to a UC Berkeley effort known as BOINC — the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC performs research in a variety of areas, including physics, biomedicine, and astronomy (hence the aforementioned extraterrestrial experiment, which is actually a study you can opt to support). BOINC does have its own Android app, by the way, but it’s grown a little rusty over the years, and HTC’s implementation (while also not actively maintained) is much easier to use.
  • DreamLab is a joint effort by Vodafone and Australia’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Its current projects aim to gain insight into how cancer relates to a patient’s DNA profile, which in turn could allow for the development of more specific and effective cancer-fighting drugs.
  • MyShake, from the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, uses your device’s sensors to detect and analyze earthquakes. If you live in an area where earthquakes occur, leaving your device plugged in and on a stable surface will provide the scientists with valuable real-time data about any seismic activity.

All of the apps work in essentially the same way: After downloading and installing (and sometimes going through a brief setup or sign-in procedure), you simply plug your device in and turn its screen off. As long as it remains connected to an active Wi-Fi network, researchers will be able to put its processing power to use.


Apps like HTC Power To Give, left, and DreamLab, right, can turn your tablet or phone into a scientific research machine.

5. Transform it into a free-standing security camera

Who needs a fancy-schmancy connected camera when you’ve got an old Android phone sitting around? With the aid of a third-party app, the camera on your dated device can let you keep an eye on your home, office, or top-secret crime lair from anywhere — and even perform advanced functions like video recording and motion detection.

Just download the free IP Webcam app or get the fully featured $4 pro version and follow its instructions. Within moments, you’ll be able to peek through your device’s lens from any compatible web browser and cackle with glorious glee.

6. Reframe it as a full-time video conferencing station

Set up your old Android device with the app for your video-chatting platform of choice — Skype, Hangouts Meet, Google Duo, or whatever the case may be — then drop it into a dock on your desk or conference room table. Say “hocus pocus” for good measure, and ta-da: You’ve just created a permanent access point for virtual face-to-face communications.

Just think: With enough old phones and tablets, you can create an entire house- or office-wide video conferencing system. Sign each device into its own unique account, with the name of the room as its username, and seeing someone across the building will never be more than a couple quick taps away.

7. Turn it into a kitchen command center

Hard to believe, but my ancient 2011 Motorola Xoom tablet was one of the most used devices in my house until it finally kicked the bucket some six years into its life. That’s because I converted it into a multipurpose command center for our kitchen — a role my 2012 Nexus 10 tablet then took over for another couple years after that.

So how to make a kitchen command center of your own? Easy: First, use a third-party launcher like Action Launcher or Nova Launcher to simplify your old tablet’s home screen and add in some easy-to-perform gestures — like double-tapping anywhere on the screen to launch Android’s voice search function for on-the-fly info-gathering and other hands-free commands. (More recent devices may also support hands-free voice activation and an even wider variety of commands via the Google Assistant.)

Second, populate the home screen with the right apps for the purpose. Netflix and other video-streaming services will effectively turn your old tablet into a cooking-time television. Recipe apps can also be useful, as can cloud-connected note-taking services — like Google Keep, Evernote, or OneNote — for quick viewing of personal recipes or editing of always-synced family-shared shopping lists.

8. Make it a data-based extension of your current phone service

If you use Google Fi (formerly known as Project Fi) for your current phone’s wireless service, take advantage of a little-known bonus feature: the ability to get an extra SIM card that’s connected to your account and able to provide data on any other device — without any superfluous fees.

All you’ve gotta do is order the card from the Google Fi website, pop it into an old phone (or a tablet, if you happen to have one with a SIM slot) — and bam: That device is instantly online and connected. You’ll pay only for whatever mobile data the device uses in any given month, at the same flat rate associated with your regular Fi plan, so it’s essentially just an extension of your primary phone.

That opens up plenty of interesting possibilities: You could use your old device as a ready-to-go backup phone in case your regular one is ever missing, broken, or low on battery; you could use it as a dedicated hotspot to beam out mobile data access without draining your primary phone’s battery; or you could use it as an always-connected on-the-go slate for your kids (hello, airport video-streaming) without having to pay for an extra line of service.

You can even use it to make and receive phone calls — utilizing either your regular phone number or an alternate number — if you get a little creative with your thinking.

9. Make it your live window into the world

Don’t have the greatest view from your desk? Let your old Android phone or tablet be your window to wild and exciting locales.

To get started, grab the EarthCam Webcams app from the Google Play Store. It’ll give you one-touch access to an impressive list of live streaming cameras around the world, from the hustle and bustle of New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street to the swooshing serenity of Niagara Falls. Pull up any view you like, then tap the icon to go full-screen and gaze the day away. If you find yourself craving some variety, you can consider upgrading from the app’s free collection to a set of 175 live cameras for a one-time $5 fee.

JR Raphael / IDG

EarthCam lets you gaze down Niagara Falls — or a slew of other webcams around the world — for a break from the mundane.

You can find quite a few mobile-friendly live cameras on the web as well: Pull up your device’s browser and try out the San Diego Zoo’s assorted animal cams — including a penguin cam, koala cam and tiger cam, among other exotic views — or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s extensive underwater cams for even more “aww”-inducing options.

10. Convert it into a digital photo frame

Ah, memories. Snag an inexpensive stand, plug your device into its charger, and turn it into a cloud-connected photo frame for your home or office.

If you use Google Photos, just open up the app, tap on any photo in your main library or within a specific album and then tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the screen and select “Slideshow.” The app will cycle through your photos and give you plenty of memories to reflect upon whilst relaxing or taking care of business.

11. Use it as a dedicated e-reader

Want a distraction-free reading environment for your next business trip or public transit commute? Load up your old Android device with only the apps you need for reading — Google Play Books, Amazon Kindle, Nook, or whatever tickles your text-ingesting fancy.

You can even borrow books from your local library: Check with your nearest branch for information on how to do it or download the free OverDrive app, which is used by a variety of libraries, schools, and institutions.

Be sure to disable notifications from Gmail and other noisy apps — heck, even switch the device into airplane mode once you’ve downloaded the content you need — and you’ve got the equivalent of a dedicated e-reader without all the usual phone or tablet temptations.

12. Transform it into a dedicated desk calendar

Dock your old device on your desk and put it to work as your personal calendar. Google’s own Calendar app can get the job done with plenty of productivity-oriented elements, or the free DigiCal Calendar Agenda app will give you an even more graphical and customizable interface that’s perfectly suited for this purpose.

JR Raphael/IDG

The DigiCal app looks especially sharp in its landscape (horizontal) orientation.

DigiCal is free with an optional $5 upgrade for extra themes and customization options.

13. Make it a mounted command center for your car

Save yourself the hassle of futzing around with your current phone in your car by turning your old device into an always-available in-car command center.

Find a decent car dock and mount the device somewhere safe. Be sure to plug it into your car’s power port and connect it to the stereo (via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm headphone jack). Then, either use your primary phone as a hotspot to keep it online or go the economical route and download any necessary music and directions before you hit the road, while you’re still connected to Wi-Fi.

Grab the Android Auto app for a simplified interface with large buttons and extra voice commands, and that’s it: Your newly repurposed companion is ready to roll.

(Note that Google is planning to replace the standalone Android Auto app experience with a new Google Assistant driving mode at some point in the foreseeable future, but it’s not currently clear when exactly that changeover will occur. Until that happens, the Android Auto app remains the best way to interact with your phone while driving.)

Tablets are all the rage these days. These popular devices power up in a split second and are perfect for reading, keeping up with social media and surfing the Internet. Yet bringing a tablet along with a laptop adds noticeably to your travelling burden and negates the sheer portability of the tablet in the first place.

Assuming you don’t do computer-aided design or other intensive media-processing work, why not just leave the laptop at home and use a tablet? Below are some considerations if you’re looking to deploy an Android tablet for more productive work.

Why an Android Tablet? Let Us Count the Ways

Why should companies considering tablets look at Android, given the popularity of Apples iPad? According to ABI Research, the number of Android tablets sold surpassed that of the iPad in the second quarter of 2013. Indeed, the substantial (and growing) market share of Android tablets is the reason developers today target both the iOS and Android platforms. This demolishes the barrier of using an Android tablet — plus it benefit consumers, as they are less likely to be “penalized” by finding apps unavailable for Android.

Shipment volume aside, Android tablets have many other things going for them:

  • There are countless device configurations and price points — all of them less expensive than an iPad with comparable storage and radio.
  • While the iPad once held the throne in terms of display quality, thanks to its Retina displays, many Android tablets today offer Retina-like or even higher resolution.
  • Unlike iOS, the Android file system mirrors a traditional computing environment. As such, computer-literate users will have no problems managing on-board files either with an Android file manager or from a connected PC.
  • Finally, many Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, come with integrated micro SD card readers for cheap storage expansion. Meanwhile, support for USB On-the-Go lets users plug USB flash drives directly into an Android device. Some new tablets, such as Google Nexus 7, do come with micro-USB ports, but vendors such as ADATA are starting to sell USB Flash drive that plugs into micro-USB ports.

Then Again … Tablet Storage: Do You Really Need an Expansion Slot?

Set Up Your Android Tablet for Work

The first step to setting up your tablet for work it to get your email, calendar and contacts properly synchronized. Fortunately, you need to do this only once, and it’s a relatively straightforward process. This typically entails setting up accounts in the form of a Gmail account, LDAP or Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), as well as more traditional email systems such as POP and IMAP servers.

The situation for productivity documents is slightly more complex, mainly because there are so many options available. You can manually load work documents over a USB connection or, if the tablet is equipped with an SD card slot, copy them onto a SD memory card. Cloud storage services such as Dropbox or SugarSync can keep work documents synchronized as well.

Allocate time to configure individual apps properly. For example, many cloud-centric apps such as Evernote and Simplenote will need to be individually configured. Others, such as OneNote for Android, can function in standalone mode but offer greater convenience when paired to a SharePoint or SkyDrive storage location. Finally, Web browsers (Chrome or Firefox) should be set to sync with their desktop cousins.

Finally, there’s one important security matter that most overlook when repurposing BYOD gadgets for work: Setting up a password lock should be non-negotiable, given the sheer amount of personal and work information stored on a typical tablet. It may also be a good idea to encrypt the contents of both the Android tablet and its external SD card.

Related: 8 Essential Android Security Apps

Ultimately, it’s necessary to embrace cloud services in order to realize the full benefit of using a tablet. As such, using a tablet for work may not be suitable for users with strong concerns about data privacy or those restricted by compliance rules.

Using an Android Tablet for Work Means Developing New Habits

Once your tablet is configured, it’s time to get to work. And make no mistake about it: Using an Android tablet in the office requires changes in how you work. Part of the reason is the absence of intuitive multitasking capabilities, as well as the smaller display. Significantly, the Android user interface assumes the use of one app at a time.

For its part, Samsung hasattempted to emulate the PC experience by engineering the capability for apps to run side by side on selected smartphones and tablets. The Dual Screen View feature is generally of limited utility, though, as the UI elements occupy a large portion of the screen’s real estate.

Not all changes are necessarily negative. For one, be prepared for the joy of using a computing device that powers up instantaneously and launches most apps in a split-second. Just like you have your favorite apps on the desktop, you’ll soon find — and easily launch — your favorite Android tablet apps.

As it is, though, don’t expect to hit the ground running the day after making the switch to an Android tablet. Getting used to the interface will take some time.

Accessorize Your Android Tablet With Keyboards, Cases, Chargers

Like it or not, serious content creation requires a physical keyboard. Peripheral makers realize it, too — which explains why there are no shortage of tablet-optimized portable keyboards. While any keyboard with Bluetooth should work fine, one inadvertent disadvantage of the variety of Android tablets out there is that there are fewer keyboards (and accessories) designed specifically for a particular tablet.

Review: The 5 Best Wireless Keyboards for Your Tablet

Still, some vendors have made custom cases, such as the ZAGGkeys Folio keyboard designed for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. To cater to users who may own multiple gadgets, the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810 offers shortcut keys to toggle between three paired devices within seconds.

The Android platform offers good support for external keyboards, as keyboard navigation such as Alt-Tab works. Regular mouse usage with Android works, too, and should go a long way toward eliminating Gorilla arm syndrome caused by constantly lifting your arms to navigate the touchscreen. (In that vein, check out Ergotron’s tablet arm, which accommodates a large variety of tablets for comfortably working at a desk.

Luckily, many accessories designed for iPads works great for Android tablets, too. This includes the Compass Mobile Stand and BookArc for iPad from Twelve South, as well as the Griffin PowerDock 5.

With Android Tablets, You Can Leave the Office Behind

The versatility of the tablet means that its usefulness doesn’t end when you leave the desktop. Its sheer portability and built-in capacitance touch display also give it capabilities that traditional laptops lack.

Apps such as SignEasy and DocuSign, for example, make it possible to annotate or sign digital documents while riding the subway or waiting in line. Obviously, it will be easier if your Android tablet of choice comes with a built-in digitizer and stylus, though there’s no reason why a generic stylus designed for tablets, or your finger, shouldn’t work.

Feature: 10 Android Tablet Apps for IT Pros on the Go

More: 15 Best Free Google Android Apps for Newbies

Like your smartphone, your tablet can function as a GPS navigation device when on the road. The TomTom Navigation app for Android on the Samsung Note 8 effectively transforms the tablet into a large-screen GPS capable of offline navigation, which is quite useful when travelling out of town. Many rely on the navigation feature in Google Maps, too, though an Internet connection is required. (Offline access is possible with Google Maps, but be prepared to download the relevant maps ahead of time).

Finally, tablets’ built-in cameras lend themselves for use to capture snapshots of important documents for immediate filing. Apps such as Google Drive offer the feature built in, while others such as CamCard are designed to quickly capture the information on business cards for automatic data entry.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

For anyone who’s been living with iOS for years, getting started on Android — Google’s mobile operating system — can be daunting. And if you’ve never owned a smartphone before, the prospect of navigating new software might be a concern. Although there are many different versions of Android, and some companies put their own customized user interfaces on top of it, there are some basic tips that everyone can use to master Android.

To help you get started, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on using the platform and its various functions. You can also check out our list of the best smartphones and smartwatches, if you want to get a better idea regarding the Android ecosystem.

Setting up your new phone

Before you can do anything on Android, you need to boot up your phone and set it up. When you switch on your device for the first time, you’ll be asked to select a language. Press Start when you’ve picked a language, and connect your phone to a nearby Wi-Fi network. This should be easy — simply choose the right network and enter the appropriate password.

Android is built by Google, and as such, it works best with Google’s proprietary services. To take full advantage of your device, you’re going to need a Google account.

If you have a Gmail address, you already have a Google account. If you don’t, simply select Get an account and follow the on-screen instructions. You don’t technically need a Google account to use your phone, but it is required if you want to download apps, back up your data, and use other Google apps and services. Manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei may ask you if you want to create an additional, manufacturer-specific account, but you don’t really need to unless you want to use that company’s services as well.

You should also make sure that you enable backups on your device so your data isn’t lost if there’s a problem later. Head to Settings > Accounts, select your Google account, and check everything you want to sync. To ensure that all your photos are saved for posterity, you should (if it’s not on your phone already). It offers unlimited cloud storage for all your pictures, and you can access them on any device, whether it be your PC, Mac, iPad, or Android.

During the setup process, you may be asked if you want to add a passcode, pattern, or fingerprint to lock your device. Doing so will add extra security to your device, and if your phone has a fingerprint sensor, you should set it up for Google Pay, Google’s all-in-one payments platform. To set up the fingerprint sensor, simply place your finger on the sensor multiple times until your digit is registered. You’ll also be asked to set up a passcode or PIN for backup purposes, just in case your fingerprint can’t be read.

Once you’ve set up your device, you should check to see if there’s a software update available. To do this, press on the Settings app, scroll to the bottom, press About phone, and select System updates. On the next screen, you’ll see a Check for update button. Press it, and your phone will check to see if any updates are available. If so, you can download and install them.

The navigation buttons and gestures

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Unlike the home button in iOS, manufacturers typically equip Android devices with either three touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen, or rely on gestures for software control. Various manufacturers have received flack in the past for deviating from Google’s vision. However, the most recent versions of the OS are relatively devoid of inconsistencies. Many Android devices are still totally controlled by the three buttons, found below, though newer devices, running Android 9.0 Pie or later, may have switched to the newer gesture-based method.

Back Button: The back button, on the left, will take you back to the last thing you did in an app, or revert to the last page in your mobile browser. Additionally, holding the button down when using your browser should automatically open up a menu that makes it easy to access your favorite bookmarks, browsing history, and the websites you visit most often.

Home Button: The home button, located in the middle, will simply take you back to your home screen. In the most recent version of Android, holding down the home button will also activate “Screen search,” which pulls up the Google Assistant, Google’s AI-powered helper, from any app. More on that later.

Overview Button: The overview button, on the right, functions like the multi-tasking function in iOS. Pressing this button reveals a vertical list of every open and active app on your mobile device, allowing you to quickly navigate and jump between various apps with a simple tap of the screen. Double tap this button and you’ll jump straight back into your last used app.

If you don’t see the three buttons at the bottom of your Android screen, your device probably relies on Android Pie’s gestures instead. From the bottom of the display, you can swipe up, which will show the multitasking view. You can also press on the lone pill-shaped button to go home at any given moment.

Multiple home screens

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Much like the iPhone, Android devices allow you to manage multiple home screens — up to five in earlier versions of Android, and as many as you like if you have Android 4.4 KitKat or above. Android used to center the home screen, though now your primary screen will be located second from the left — directly next to the Google Feed screen.

Users can create shortcuts and group apps together within folders, but Android doesn’t force you to store apps on the home screen the way iOS does. Instead, you can install and store apps in the App Drawer located within the dock. Android also allows you to create, resize, and arrange various widgets on the home screen. Widgets display real-time information from apps on the home screen, and some of them are interactive.

The Quick Settings bar

The Quick Settings bar is a convenient way to quickly access your most-used toggles, and it’s also where you can see and dismiss all of your notifications. However, it may not be obvious how to use it at first. The good news is that the Quick Settings bar works the same way regardless of which version of Android you have on your smartphone.

To use it, swipe down once from the top to reveal your notifications. If you swipe down again, it will reveal all the quick toggles. If you don’t like swiping down twice to reveal both the quick toggles and the notifications, you can swipe down using two fingers.

Now that you can see your toggles and notifications, there are various ways for dealing with both. To deal with notifications, you can either tap to open a notification, you can swipe to dismiss it, or you can tap the three horizontal bars in the bottom right of the notifications to clear them all at once.

The toggles are easy to deal with. If you want to turn something on or off, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, just tap the icon once. There is another hidden feature that is extremely useful, and that is a tap and hold gesture. If you tap and hold an icon in the Quick Settings bar for a couple of seconds, the full settings for that toggle will open. This can save you a lot of time digging through the settings menu. For example, if you are trying to pair Bluetooth headphones with your phone, you can tap and hold the Bluetooth toggle, and that will take you to the Bluetooth settings, where you can pair your device.

You should also be aware that you can tap the icons at the top of the Quick Settings bar. You can tap the battery icon to reveal the battery settings, for instance, or the cogwheel icon to access your system settings. And if you tap your profile picture, you can add more users.

It’s also worth mentioning that every new version of Android will slightly update the Quick Settings bar, and that some manufacturers make their own tweaks. This bar is one of the most important features of Android and one of the features you will use the most. If you purchase a device running Android Pie, for example, you will see an Edit option in the lower-right corner. If you tap this, it will let you drag and rearrange the icons in your tray. You can also drag new icons and get rid of the ones you seldom use. All these features are useful, but if you follow our simple guide, you will at least have the basic information on how this bar works, regardless of how Google updates it in future iterations of Android.

What apps should I get?

This is totally up to you. There are, however, some basic apps you should consider. For example, right away you might want to download apps from your favorite social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter. You might also want some entertainment apps, like Netflix. And, of course, you might want to get a few good games to play on those long flights.

For more suggestions on some great apps, check out our guide on the best apps available on Android.

Extensive customization

At first, Android’s terminology may seem a little foreign. Launcher refers to different skins your Android phone can run. Different launchers change the look and functionality of your home screens and your app drawer. Although you’re always welcome to install a third-party launcher, the default launchers, created by Google or phone manufacturers like Samsung, do a pretty good job of letting you arrange your content in an attractive way.

Nonetheless, installing a new launcher allows you to cram more into your dock while utilizing a more distinct theme and interface. For instance, the Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher provide two vastly different ways of using the platform, each adorned with its own display aesthetics and navigation components. You can check out our favorite Android launchers here.

Aside from the default launcher, Android allows you to customize nearly every component of the OS right down to the wallpaper. You can customize the virtual keyboard you use for texting and browsing the web, too, just like you can on Apple’s iOS operating system. Keyboard customization might seem like a small feature on the surface, but choosing a proper Android keyboard from Google Play is crucial making your Android experience a productive and enjoyable one. You can check out our list of best Android keyboard apps here.

Google Assistant integration

Android’s virtual assistant, Google Assistant, is available on all Android devices running Marshmallow 6.0 or later, and it has one major advantage over other mobile operating systems: The search engine. In many cases — though, not all — Google Assistant is a more comprehensive resource than Siri. For example, if you opt in, Google Assistant will use your search history to display relevant news stories and sports scores. It will also analyze your travel habits to bring up relevant travel information, while additionally providing you with a time estimate and the best directions for driving to your next location. It will even tell you when to leave, so you don’t miss your next appointment.

To access Google Assistant, tap and hold the home button for a couple of seconds. You can also activate it with your voice using the “OK, Google” or “Hey Google” voice command. If those commands aren’t working, or you would like to tweak the feature’s settings, open the Google app on your smartphone.

Google Pay and Google Play

Google Pay only further the unifies the experience Android offers. Like other mobile payment services, it allows you to store physical gift cards, use loyalty cards, pay for items in-store, and more. Here’s our guide on Google Pay and how to set it up:

  • Google Pay comes preloaded on many devices, but if your phone doesn’t have the app, you can download it from the Google Play Store.
  • If you already have a card in your Google account, you just need to confirm the details to add it to Google Pay. Alternatively, you can add a new card from any participating bank by snapping a picture of your card and confirming the details.

Google Play — the Android equivalent to Apple’s App Store — operates as Google’s official digital store, allowing you to purchase apps, books, movies, music, and more with a few simple taps. It even lets you install apps remotely, meaning you can download an app on your tablet when you’re at work and it’ll be there when you arrive home.

A unified Android experience across platforms

No other operating system offers the same level of diversity as Android. The Android OS has expanded beyond smartphones into the realm of tablets and wearable devices, including a swath of smartwatches. What’s more, you can download files on your Android device, open them when you’re offline, and share them with other Android users at a moment’s notice.

Google even takes it one step further, allowing seamless integration between recent Android devices and Google’s Web-based OS for computers, Chrome OS. You can also use your Google account to share bookmarks and browsing history across devices through the Chrome browser.

Android Setbacks

No OS is perfect, and there are a few notable issues with Android devices. Despite all the convenience and the modular features, Android is an open platform and there are inevitably inconsistencies given the plethora of manufacturers making devices for it. A budget Android smartphone running an older version of the platform offers a radically different experience than the latest Samsung flagship. Thankfully, most problems have pretty easy solutions.

Battery Life

Long battery life hasn’t always been Android’s strong suit, but it’s getting better. Most recent devices, including Google’s Pixel 3 line of phones and the Samsung Galaxy S9, come with power-saving modes. What’s more, most recent Android phones charge using a simple USB-C cable — the kind you can find nearly anywhere, and many of the best Android phones support wireless charging, too.

Inconsistent updates

Since many manufacturers design devices that run on Android OS, every Android user is at the mercy of their phone manufacturer when it comes to getting the latest Android updates. Consider a stock Android device, like the Pixel, if you want to make sure you get the latest Android flavor as soon as it’s released. The Pixel line of phones is Google’s official smartphone range, and they’re guaranteed consistent updates.

The downside to inconsistent updates isn’t just missing out new features, but the security risk. Major hacks like Stagefright and Heartbleed have prompted Google to act with monthly security patches for devices, but many manufacturers and carriers stall those updates, resulting in millions of vulnerable Android phones.

Bottom line

Android is more customizable and versatile than iOS, which makes it pretty darn irresistible if you can forgo Apple’s ecosystem. Though it may be difficult for someone who owns a fleet of Mac products at home to make the switch, it can be done with a little patience and perseverance. We even have a comprehensive tutorial on switching from the iPhone to Android for you, complete with instructions for moving your music, photos, and contacts.

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