What is Android?

by: Team AAJanuary 27, 2016
173

Best Android smartphones flagships 1

Android has evolved a lot over the years and has quickly become the dominant mobile platform across the globe. While most of us know exactly what Android is, and how to use it, there are still a number of folks that are new to Google’s mobile OS, finally ditching that old-school mobile phone or making the move from iPhone, Blackberry, and another Android rival.

Are you among those that are newer to Android? This article is just for you. So let’s dive in and explain some of the basics.

What is Android?

Android comes in all shapes and sizes

Android comes in all shapes and sizes

Android isn’t a phone, or an application, but is an operating system based on the Linux kernel. No clue what that is? In its most simplistic definition, Linux is an operating system most commonly found on servers and desktop computers. Android isn’t just a version of Linux, due to the many changes found under the hood, but it is related.

So Android is an operating system designed with mobile in mind, the place where your phone’s functions and applications live. Everything you see on the display of your device is a part of the operating system. When you get a call, text message, or email, the OS processes that information and puts it in a readable format.

The Android OS is divided into various version numbers, implying significant jumps in features, operation, and stability, which usually have codenames. So, if you hear someone say Android Lollipop or Marshmallow, that is just the name of the version of Android you might have on your device.

Most modern smartphones and tablets feature Android 5.x Lollipop these days, with some of the newest devices offering up Android 6 Marshmallow. On the extreme-budget end of the phone spectrum it is still possible to find Android 4.4 KitKat or older, but such devices are increasingly less common in 2016.

Most Android device manufacturers, such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony, and numerous others, usually have a skin on top of the OS. A skin, or UI overlay, is basically a custom design that adds extra features to your phone, different icons, and other tweaks designed to provide an experience unique to your chosen phone maker. The most popular skins include Samsung TouchWiz, HTC Sense, and LG UI. A phone without any major customizations is generally referred to as “stock Android”, and UIs with only minor changes (such as found with Motorola phones) are often called near-stock

Getting started

Before we begin, it’s important to note that the steps shown in the video are done using a device running stock Android, that is, without an UI overlay. The version in the screenshots is an older build (as the original version of this post was written in the Jelly Bean era), but the steps remain essentially the same.

In other words, there may be a few differences between your device and what is shown below, but the options and settings are similar, and should be easy to follow along.

Getting started Android 4.4

Starting at the beginning, there are a few steps you’ll need to do to set up your Android device. When you switch on the device for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a Welcome screen, where you will have to select a language. Scroll up or down to make your selection, and then go to next step by tapping the arrow/play button.

If you haven’t put one in yet, the next screen will ask you to insert a SIM card. Don’t worry if you don’t have one around, you can skip this step and continue with the setup, and add a SIM card to the device later.

Copy of Screenshot_1970-01-11-02-45-07Up next, you will be given the option to select a Wi-Fi network. If you’re in the range of a Wi-Fi network, we recommend connecting to it, as the setup wizard may sync your Google information on the device, which takes some time, and more importantly, requires data. Once again, you can skip this step as well if you’re not around a Wi-Fi network, and sync your device later. If you can connect to one, do so by tapping on the name that shows up on the list of available networks, and enter the password.

On the next screen, you’ll be asked whether you have an existing Google account. If you’re unsure, remember that if you use Gmail, the answer is yes. If you don’t have one, we recommend signing up. Having a Google account will make your Android experience a lot easier. Having a Google account setup on your smartphone or tablet will give you easy to access to all Google apps including Gmail, the Play Store, Calendar, Google+, and more, without needing to sign in each and every time. You can sign up for a Google account on your PC or from the phone directly.

If you have a Google account ready, tap on “yes,” after which you’ll be prompted to enter your email address and password. On a side note, if you need to enter numbers, you can get to the numbers on the keyboard by pressing the “?123” button, which will take you to the number layout. To return to the previous layout, press the “abc” button, which will be in the same location.

Backup and restore android 4.4

Next, you’ll be able to set up some key Google services, which by default, are all selected. First is “Backup and Restore,” which will let you back up all your information including downloads and contacts, which will then allow you to easily restore this information on a secondary, or future Android device, easily. All the information backed up is associated with the Google account you entered in the previous step.

The second and third options are with regards to your location. It’s entirely up to you about what options you’d like to select. Location services may be important, since some apps may require this information to work accurately, such as yellow pages, and Google Maps. These options can be accessed in the Settings menu at a later time, if you change your mind. Finally, you will be asked whether you would like to receive emails about news and offers from Google Play. Now you can add a device name, and personalize it. If you’ve added a Google account, your first and last name should already be stored.

Finally, at the end, you’ll see a couple of slides explaining one of the latest, and very useful, features of Android, Google Now. Google Now gives you information based on your activities, allowing you to set up home and office locations to show commute info such as traffic, weather, travel info, and upcoming games and live scores of your favorite sports teams. It serves a centralized hub for all the information you’ll need, and you should definitely give it a shot.

And we’re done!

The homescreen

Left: TouchWiz, Right: stock Android Marshmallow

Left: Android Lollipop with TouchWiz, Right: stock Android Marshmallow

Once you’ve completed the simple steps to set up your device, you will arrive at the homescreen. Once again, the actual look of the homescreen (its icons, design elements, etc) may differ significantly depending on what device you have. Most homescreen experiences will have the same basic elements, however, including an app drawer, notification shade, and a dock with a few key apps such as dialer, messaging, etc. Keep in mind that some Chinese OEMs do remove the app drawer from the equation, however.

nexus 6p first look aa (6 of 23)

At the top of the screen is the notification bar, which includes icons for any pending notifications you may have, such as missed calls, messages, emails, Facebook alerts, and even game alerts. You can access the notifications by swiping down from the top. Once the notification center is open, you can swipe the notification away, or press the notification to open the corresponding app.

In this notification bar, you can also access some quick toggles for select settings such as alarm modes, enable/disable Wifi/Bluetooth/Airplane mode, and more. Keep in mind that the image above shows the layout for stock Android’s notification center, though your actual experience could vary depending on the version of Android, and the skin on top of it.

At the bottom of the screen, you will see the aforementioned dock, which includes several icons. These icons will be available on every homescreen window. You can choose which apps to include in the dock, and should ideally be those that you use frequently.

Depending on your device, below the dock you might have a navigation bar, made up of a “back” button (takes you back to the previous screen), a “home” button (takes you to the homescreen), and a “last accessed apps” button (shows the apps that you have opened recently). Stock Android, LG, HTC, Sony devices and some others have this navigation bar. Other devices, such as Samsung Galaxy phones, have physical buttons below the screen, instead of the on-screen navigation bar, that usually have the same functionality.

The Note 5 has physical keys, while the LG V10 uses on-screen

The Note 5 has physical keys, while the LG V10 uses on-screen

To move between homescreens, just swipe from left to right. When you reach the end, they will no longer move to the next screen, unless you have infinite scroll on. You can also see dots that correspond to which screen you are located on. Pressing the home button takes you back to main screen.

Diving into Android

While that gives you a very quick look at Android’s setup process and the homescreen, we are really just scratching the surface here. Some of the other aspects of Android you’ll want to get acquainted with include Google Now on Tap (for those with Android 6.0+), the basics of Android 6.0, the best apps, and more:

Also be sure to check out Google’s Android website, with more insight on the history of Android, how to use it, and more.

  • Shark Bait

    You missed the bit about how its the best!

  • Shark Bait

    I think its time to stop calling what OEM’s do to android a ‘skin’ or ‘overlay’. These offer much more than UI changes, they go much further than skin deep, offering new features and functions not available in normal android.
    This makes these inherently different to normal android (not just a skin) , a distribution of android if you like, similar to what Linux mint is to Ubuntu

    • Luqmaan Mathee

      Yep I’d call it a ROM. I’m so sick and tired of people saying Nova launcher replaced TouchWiz.

      • Shark Bait

        Yeah I suppose it’s Samsung’s ROM. In the past it was OK to say its just a launcher but it’s so much more now

        • Magneira

          I dont think the fact that it has a separeted app that has voice recognition makes it like a totatly new thing, you could call the fire os an diferente distribution of android but touch wiz is just a skin with apps preloaded, like s voice and s that s this.

          • Shark Bait

            Its not just S voice. Their are things inherent to the OS, like split screen, eye tracking, air gesture and more that make it very similar to what Amazon have done, the only difference is samsung still has play services

    • mikegonzalez2k

      Agreed. S Voice isn’t an overlay if Google Voice. It’s a completely separate voice recognition AI. Changes that manufacturers make to vanilla Android go much deeper than the visual aspects. They are down at the core functional level.

    • MasterMuffin

      Or a Samsung/HTC/Sony etc. DE (desktop environment)

    • NeedName

      Totally agree and have been saying this same thing for years, often calling them “proprietary Android” or “OEM Android.”

      However, I would say they are much more invasive into Android than Mint is to Ubuntu.

      • Shark Bait

        It is very invasive yes, I’d guess the code is very different and it brilliant how they still keep compatibility

    • teotsi21

      I agree. Try uninstalling all the bloatware from a Samsung Galaxy device. Mission impossible.

  • najiy91

    agree.

  • great article about android :)

  • Lisandro O Oocks

    Android is FREEDOM!

    Continue thread with what is Android to you..

  • teotsi21

    when i got my first android phone, i was coming from an apple product(ipod touch). My knowledge on apple products made me feel so stupid that i couldn’t use android at all…but, as i started to get the point, i became an android guy!

    Android FTW!

  • Android Developer

    “Linux is an operating system most commonly found on servers and desktop computers” – desktop is mostly Windows. But, it’s very common on almost any machine that has an OS…