If you’ve got a new Android phone you’ll want to get it set up and ready to use as quickly as possible.
No matter whether you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy, Moto G, Sony Xperia or any other the process for getting started is basically the same.
In this guide we’ll show you:
- how to set up your Android phone for the first time
- how to find your way around the interface
- how to use the home screens, the app drawer and the notifications pane
- what the main navigation buttons do
- how to install and uninstall apps and widgets
- setting the wallpaper and ringtones
We’ll also give you tips on getting more from your phone.
Let’s get started!
The setup process for any Android phone is very straightforward. It’s a step by step system, and you simply need to work your way through and complete each step.
When you turn your phone on for the first time you’ll be asked to enter your name, connect to your wi-fi network—make sure you’ve got your password handy—and to enter your Google account details.
If you don’t have a Google account you should create one when prompted as you will need one to download apps as well as for storing contacts, calendar information and other data. You can add more than one account if you have them.
As part of the setup process you may also be prompted to sign up for an account for the device manufacturer, e.g. Samsung or HTC.
It’s best to do this as well. These manufacturer accounts are less essential, but it’s a good idea to have one ready should you ever need it.
Once you have worked your way through all the steps the phone will complete the setup and you’re ready to begin.
Find your way around
The interface on an Android device is split into three main parts: the home screen, the app drawer and the notifications pane.
The home screen
The home screen is the main screen on your phone. It’s the one you’ll see when you turn the device on, or when you hit the home button.
The home screen is split into multiple panels that you can access by swiping left and right.
Fill each of these home screen panels with your favourite apps and widgets for easy access. Once you have set the device up properly all of your most used apps and features should be accessible from the home screen.
To move icons around the screen hold your thumb down on one then drag it into place. You’ll also see an X icon at the top of the screen when you do this, and dragging the icon here will remove it from the home screen (but this will not uninstall the app itself).
You can group apps into folders within a similar genre by holding your thumb down on an icon and dragging on top of another one. These will instantly be turned into a folder, and you can add a name for the folder so you know what it contains.
You can also add widgets to your home screen. On most devices this is done by holding your finger down on an empty part of the home screen and waiting for the widgets menu option to appear.
The app drawer
The app drawer is a folder in which every app installed on your device is stored.
You open the app drawer from the home screen by tapping the app icon. This is normally either a circle or square with dots inside it and located in the bottom at the centre.
After you have opened the app drawer you can place apps on the home screen by holding your finger down on an icon, then when the home screen appears position the icon where you want it.
Placing an app icon on the screen like this does not remove the app from the app drawer. The app drawer will always contain an icon for every app on your device.
The notifications pane
The third main part of the user interface on an Android device is the notification pane.
Swipe your finger down from the status bar at the top of the screen (the bar containing the clock, the signal and battery indicators and so on).
All your incoming notifications can be found here. Examples of notifications include:
- new emails
- incoming Facebook messages and Tweets
- app updates that are available
- low battery
- calendar alerts
- reminders from within apps
When you get a notification here, just tap it to launch into the associated app, or swipe it sideways to remove it from the list.
Removing the notification will not remove it from the app itself, eg. removing a New Email notification won’t mark that email as read.
It is possible to turn off notifications for individual apps if you need to.
There are three buttons below the screen on your phone, used for navigation purposes.
The Home button, in the centre, always returns you to the home screen whenever you press it, no matter what app you are in at the time.
The Back button, indicated by an arrow or triangle, takes you back to the previous screen within the app you’re using. If there isn’t a previous screen in the app it will take you back to the home screen.
The Recent apps button, usually labelled with a square icon, list all the apps you have recently opened, enabling you to switch back to them quickly.
You can close an by tapping the recent apps button, locating the app and then swiping it away to the left or right.
See our guide on why you don’t need to close apps.
Some devices may have a Menu button instead of a recent apps button, in which case recent apps will be accessible by holding down the home button.
The menu button has been phased out on most Android devices—where menus and extra settings are available in an app you’ll see them indicated on screen with an icon made of three vertical dots.
One of the first things you will want to do is install some apps.
Apps are installed via the Play Store, which is Google’s app store and comes installed on every device.
Tap the App Store icon to launch it. Assuming you added or created a Google account when you set up your device it will log you in. (If not, it will prompt you again to add your account details.)
From the Play Store you can access Apps, Games, Movies & TV, Music, Books and Newsstand (magazines and newspapers).
Tap the Apps icon to enter the app store. Now tap the search icon to search for an app name, or swipe left and right to view Categories, Top Selling and so on for app recommendations.
When you find an app you want to install, tap on it. If the App is free to install you’ll see a large Install button. Tap this to begin.
If the app is paid, the Install button will be replaced with one showing the price. To install this you will need to set up a payment method for your Google account.
This can be a credit or debit card, Google Play gift card or, in some countries, PayPal or carrier billing (where the app cost is added to your phone bill at the end of the month).
You’ll be asked to enter your password when buying apps, or making in-app purchases. Check out our guide to preventing in-app purchases.
The app will begin downloading. When it has finished the Install button will be replaced with an Open button. You’ll also be able to find the app in the app drawer, and can move it from there to your home screen.
How to uninstall an app
You can uninstall an Android app using basically the same process as installing one.
Open the Play Store app, then swipe your finger from the left edge of the screen to open the sidebar. Select My Apps.
You’ll now see all the apps installed on your device. If there are any updates available these will be listed at the top. Tap Update All to install those updates.
To uninstall an app select it from the list. To the left of the Open button there’s another button labelled Uninstall. Tap this and confirm when prompted. The app will now be removed from your device, along with the data stored within it.
Get a refund on a paid app
When you buy an app you get a two hour trial period in which to test the app.
If you uninstall the app within two hours of installing it, your payment will be refunded. While the refund window is open the Uninstall button will be labelled Refund.
You can get a refund on any paid app, but only once. If you have previously bought and refunded an app, you will not be able to get a refund if you buy it again.
What are widgets?
Widgets are one of the most unique aspects of Android, and they’re often easily overlooked by new users.
A widget is like a miniaturised version of an app. It goes on your home screen, and gives you a real time glimpse into the content or features of an app.
For instance, the widget for your email app will show you a list of the latest messages in your inbox, while a widget for your music app will give you music controls to skip, replay and pause tracks, and Twitter widget might show your timeline, or enable you to quickly compose a tweet from your home screen.
In short, a widget gives you instant access to the most important part of an app without needing to open the app itself.
How to add a widget
The method of adding a widget can differ from one device to another, but the basic process is the same.
Tap and hold your finger down on an empty part of one of your home screen panels. A menu should then open with Widgets as one of the options.
Choose Widgets to see a list of all the available widgets—not every app has one.
The list of widgets will also indicate their size. Most phone home screens use a 4×4 grid: four spaces horizontally and four vertically. A 1×1 widget will be the size of an app icon; a 4×1 widget will fill a single row; 2×2 a quarter of the screen an so on.
Some widgets can also be resized.
Pick a widget that will fit in the space you want to add it then tap or hold on it and drag it into place.
You can move widgets at any time by holding your thumb down on them and moving them into the required position.
You can also remove widgets at any time by holding your finger down on it then quickly swiping it upwards, as if throwing it off the screen.
To add the final touches to your customisation you will want to change the wallpaper.
On many devices this can once again be done by holding down your finger on an empty area of the home screen and selecting the Wallpaper option when it appears.
Alternatively, go to Settings > Display and choose the Wallpaper option there.
To find the best Android wallpapers there are a number of apps in the Play Store that collect them together from a variety of sources.
Premium Wallpapers HD is a good place to start, as is Backgrounds HD Wallpapers.
For something a little different try Muzei. This app supports a number of plugins that will download new wallpapers from online sources like Flickr or Reddit, and will change the wallpaper on a set schedule to ensure you’ve always got something new and interesting to look at.
To set your ringtone go to Settings > Sound & notifications. There you can set the ringtone for incoming calls as well as the default notification ringtone. This will be used by all apps that make audible alerts.
To set a custom tone for incoming text messages, tweets, emails and so on go into each app separately and set your chosen sound within the Settings.
Android phones do also support MP3 ringtones that you can make yourself from your favourite songs. The easiest way to do this is to download the free Ringtone Maker app. You can use this to edit your MP3 down to a more manageable size, and save it in the correct folder automatically.
The next steps
Your phone is now ready and set up and you can proceed to explore all the things your can do with an Android smartphone.
We’ve got guides for all levels of user, from speeding up your phone to using Bluetooth to discovering the best looking Android apps and much, much more.