Pixel 4 XL screen on table 4

Android has evolved over the years and quickly become the dominant mobile platform across the globe. Android holds over 74% of the global mobile OS marketshare as of August 2020, according to StatCounter.

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 an iPhone or another Android rival. Are you among those who are newer to Android? This article is just for you.

Also, you should check out our list of the best Android phones. We’ll link to that article below.

Also read: Here are the best Android phones you can buy


Android is an operating system

Android 11 logo stock photo on smartphone 7

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Android isn’t a phone or an application, but an operating system based on the Linux kernel. No clue what that is? In its most simple 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’s related.

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.

Android 10 Q

Shot on Nikon D610

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 Marshmallow, Nougat, Oreo, Pie, or the latest Android 11, that is just the name of the version of Android you might have on your device. Modern smartphones and tablets released this year mostly run Android 9 Pie or Android 10, but the Android 11 update will start rolling out soon.

Android device manufacturers, such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony, OnePlus, 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’s One UI and OnePlus’ OxygenOS. 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 with Android

Android 11 logo stock photo on smartphone 15

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Before we begin, it’s important to note that the steps described in this post are done using a device running stock Android without a UI overlay. 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.

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 the 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.

Up 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. This 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 then enter the password.

Also: The first things to do with your Android phone

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 set up on your smartphone or tablet will give you easy access to all Google apps including Gmail, the Play Store, Calendar, 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.

Gmail logo on Android smartphone stock photo 1

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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.

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.

Google Maps - best location sharing apps for android

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

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.

And we’re done!


The home screen

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

Huawei P40 Pro Notification shade

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.

Related: Tame your Android notifications with these five tips and tricks

In this notification bar, you can also access some quick toggles for select settings such as alarm modes, enable/disable Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Airplane mode, and more. At the bottom of the screen, you will see the aforementioned dock, which includes several icons. These icons will be available on every home screen window. You can choose which apps to include in the dock, and should ideally be those that you use frequently.

Realme X50 Pro 5G navigation buttons

Depending on your device and the Android version it’s running, 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 home screen), and a “last accessed apps” button (shows the apps that you have opened recently). Older handsets have physical buttons below the screen instead of the on-screen navigation bar, which usually have the same functionality.

On the latest Android phone, the navigation bar has been replaced with gestures that take some getting used to, but provide a faster experience and a cleaner look. On Android 10 phones, for example, you can go back by swiping in from the edge of the screen instead of tapping the dedicated back button. Learn more about Android gestures here.

To move between home screens, 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 the main screen.


Explore the Google Play Store

Google Play Store on smartphone stock photo 1

Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Google has the largest mobile app store around with nearly three million applications available to Android users. Just go into the Google Play Store and start browsing for great apps you may like. You can also check out some of our best apps lists to get a head start.

Here are some of the best apps you can download: 


Diving into Android

While that gives you a very quick look at Android’s setup process and the home screen, we are really just scratching the surface here. Some of the other aspects of Android you’ll want to get acquainted with include Google Assistant, the basics of Android 10, the best Android apps, and more:

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

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