Are you getting the most from your Android smartphone? We recently sat down with Gareth Beavis at techRadar to find out the tricks and tips most people miss...
Are you using your Android to its fullest? We know that some of the tricks and features found in today’s phones can slip by you, while there are some lingering falsehoods out there about how to get the most from your phone that are pretty questionable.
How do we know? Well, we’ve been chatting to TechRadar’s longstanding smartphone guru Gareth Beavis. Gareth’s used and lived with more Android phones than most people will ever even see, so he’s the man in the know when it comes to squeezing the most from your device. Here’s his best advice to Android owners, old and new alike…
Installs, uninstalls and launchers
First up, let’s talk about your first few hours with your new phone. What are the big ‘new phone’ musts?
“The first thing you should always install is a new keyboard,” he tells us. “If you’ve used the one built into your phone for a short while and you don’t find that it’s very responsive, it’s worth having a quick look on the Google Play Store and downloading a new one.
“SwiftKey is a really good choice,” Gareth says. We’d also recommend checking out GBoard from Google, which includes a Google search button for looking up info on places, events and news, alongside the ability to scour the web for GIFs and use Google Translate while you type.
After that, Gareth explains, your must-have downloads depend on what you’re going to use the phone for: “If it’s your entertainment machine you need to grab a good video app for your saved videos [we recommend Plex], as well as the big streaming services like Netflix. If you’re more of a business user, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got your security up to date; there are loads of good, free security apps out there.”
And how about on the other side of the coin; is there anything new Android owners should uninstall?
“The good thing is that phones in the UK come with far fewer pre-installed bloatware these days,” Gareth tells us. “That said, it’s quite easy to get rid of anything you don’t want; just open up the app tray and have a look for anything you didn’t download that you don’t think you need. Pre-installed network apps [like the My Vodafone app] are useful for checking your data allowance or receiving offers, but it’s rare that other kinds of ‘bloatware’ will be useful to you. Getting rid of the unnecessary stuff will save you some space.”
We recently posted a breakdown of our favourite Android launchers – the apps that act as a replacement for your phone’s stock home screen experience – but which ones does Gareth recommend?
“Personally,” he says, “I’m a big fan of using the phone as it comes, and most of the user interfaces found in today’s phones are quite good. That said, Apex Launcher is a good option, since it offers some clever customisation.
“I’d say launchers are more for people who have a real problem with the way their phone’s setup, though, and often it’s better to just try and learn your phone’s interface. In the last couple of years there are clever nuances built into these UIs that make Android very simple to use, but also incredibly powerful.
“A good example of that is what Huawei’s doing with ‘Emotion UI’. That’s gone from quite crazy to a much more refined experience over the years, and it’ll reward you for learning its hidden features.”
Unsung features and urban myths
Speaking of hidden features, Gareth thinks there are a couple of awesome ones that many Android users might not know about;
“Split-screen is definitely the one. Android 7+ has this as standard now, where you open up your multitasking view and you can easily press and hold one app, then choose another to have them run top and bottom or side-by-side. It’s not something you’ll use every single day, but it’s incredibly useful to have that option there for certain use cases.
“A lot of the other new bits and bobs in modern Android are behind the scenes, like graphical interface tweaks and battery management. Those are the things people don’t necessarily notice, but they’re worth having. So do be aware if you’re eyeing up a phone with an older version of Android.”
And it’s that evolution of the platform that brings us onto an area of Android ownership that we know lots of people get wrong: task killers. Think you need a dedicated app for killing off background processes? Think again:
“Task killers aren’t necessary at all anymore,” Gareth says. “The problem with them is that they shut everything down, meaning your apps need to boot back up again to run. That not only causes delays in refreshing your news feeds etc., but it takes much more system processing power and battery than it does to leave them idle in the background.”
So what’s changed?
“Nowadays most phones are intelligent enough to do that kind of job for you in the background,” he explains. “But more importantly, apps are put to sleep in a much more effective way so as to not take up those valuable system resources. Maybe if you’re super aware of what every single app on your phone is doing behind the scenes then you might want to selectively shut some down, but doing that as a blanket approach is a bad idea.
“Some new manufacturer-made UIs will even have features that pop up and tell you when certain apps are using more data, power or processing power than they should, and that’s the trend with most newer phones.”
You can catch more of Gareth’s mobile musings over at TechRadar.
This month’s must-have downloads… Check out our pick of this month’s best new apps.