Introduction to Android phones & tablets
Part 2: customizing your phone or tablet
by Alan Zisman (c) 2017
last updated 2018-04-07This accompanies a series of workshops given at Vancouver's Brock House. Part 1 introduced Android hardware and software, looking at your phone or tablet's Home Screen, App Drawer, common icons, and keyboard. This section will focus on customizing your device to make it easier to use, personalized, and more safe and secure.
Let's start by taking a look at your device's Home Screen. What's on it? We're going to look at an older HTC Desire 510 phone - a 2014 mid-range model running Android 4.4 running 2013's Android 4.4 (KitKat) with HTC's custom additions. I reinstalled Android on it and set it up with my Google Account giving us a more or less mint phone. We'll be comparing it with my Nexus 5x - a 2015 phone running 2017's Android 8.10 (Oreo) version.
|Here's the uncustomized Home Screen of the HTC Desire 510 phone - as we described in Part 1 there's a
notifications bar along the top - showing quite a few notifications.
There are icons on the top-right showing it's connected to a WiFi
network but not a phone network and that the battery is charging.|
There's a Google search bar widget, and HTC's default wallpaper image. Lower down, there's a folder labelled 'Google', filled with various Google apps and an app for Google's Play Store - more on that later.
If I swipe my finger from the right edge of the screen, I get a secondary Home Page, with a couple of more apps and a widget showing online TV shows - all courtesy of Bell, the Canadian mobile phone provider who sold (and customized) the phone. If I swipe from the left, I see a screen labelled This is BlinkFeed - your window to the world from your homescreen. Below, it has news items and calendar items, and a suggestion that I can Connect and share with people from all your social networks - tap here to start. BlinkFeed is proprietary to HTC.
Swiping from the right, I'm back at my Home Screen. Towards the bottom, there's a row of icons that also repeats on the second Home Screen page: a phone icon, an icon for text messaging, a grid of 9 squares that opens the App Drawer, a globe icon for a web browser, and a camera icon.
Below that are 3 virtual buttons - back, Home, and multitasking. All pretty similar to what we looked at in Part 1.
To make this Home Screen more personalized, I might want to replace the HTC default wallpaper with one of my own photos. Perhaps a photo of my grandchildren. Or my dog.
And I might want to take all those icons for Google apps out of that Google folder and decide whether I want any on my Home Screen. I can remove the other ones - removing them from the Home Screen doesn't uninstall them - they're still available from the App Drawer.
I can look through the App Drawer and see if there are any other apps that I'd like to display on the Home Screen. As I get additional apps - from Google's Play Store (see below) I can decide whether to add their icon to the Home Screen (or to a secondary Home Screen page), or just leave them in the App Drawer.
tapped on the Google folder icon - that opens up the folder and
displays the contents. It looks like all the various Google
applications installed as part of a standard Android installation. In
most cases, you probably have all of these on your phone or tablet. (A
few Android devices, most noticeably Amazon's Fire tablets, use a
version of Android that doesn't include any of these Google apps -
Amazon wants you to use their services instead, and to buy stuff from
them - many of the Google apps: Play Music, Play Movies, Play Books for
instance are for services competing with Amazon. You can customize an
Amazon Fire tablet to get Google services back on them - but it's a
do-it-yourself project. See my blog post).|
I want to get some of thse off the Home Screen entirely - I don't think I'll be using them that often. To do that, one at a time, hold your finger down on an icon. I did that for the Play Movies icon - when I did that, a Trash Can icon appeared on the top with the word Remove. Dragging the icon up and dropping it on the Trash Can removed it from the folder.
You can do the same with any icon or widget - on any Home Screen, in a folder or not.
Repeat as desired.
Similarly, if you drag an icon and drop it elsewhere on the Home Screen, outside that folder, will place the icon on the Home Screen - and not in the folder.
I'd like to replace the generic web browser on the bottom row of icons with the Chrome browser that's in the Google folder. First, remove the generic web browser icon. That works the same way: hold your finder down on it. A Trash Can icon will appear - drag the icon up and drop it on the Trash Can.
That leaves a space in the bottom row of icons. Open up the Google folder, hold your finger on the Chrome icon and drag it down, placing it in the space.
If you drag an icon to the edge of a Home Screen, you can move it to the next screen over.
Doing this, I moved the Chrome icon to the row of icons on the bottom (in place of the Browser icon) and moved Gmail, Maps, and YouTube to the Home Screen (outside of the folder). I removed the other icons and the Google folder.
Already my Home Screen is more usable.
|Next, I looked in the App
Drawer - by tapping on the grid of 9 squares in the middle of the
bottom row of icons on the Home Screen (your symbol may look
different!). It shows all the apps installed on the device, listed in
alphabetical order. I'm looking to see if there are any apps I might
use often enough to want an icon on my Home Screen.|
I frequently check Facebook on my phone. I could open the app by going to the App Drawer every time - but it would be easier for me to have an icon on the Home Screen.
When I hold my finger down on the Facebook icon, I see what's pictured on the right. Note that up top, there are two choices - Cancel (to call the whole thing off) and a Trash Can labelled Uninstall. If I drag the app up here, it uninstalls the app - not just removing it, as it did from the Home Screen. It's entirely gone from my phone. (I can always install it again if I change my mind).
Note that you can't uninstall all of your apps - many apps from Google, from your phone manufacturer and from your mobile phone provider may not allow you to uninstall them.
In the middle of the screen, I've got scaled down images of my multiple Home Screens. I can place the Facebook icon where I'd like it be on one or another of those screens. Pick up my finger and there it is.
Again, repeat as desired - adding icons for the apps that you think you'll use regularly. My advice though - don't clutter up your Home Screens.
|Now we're ready to do some last touches to personalizing our Home Screens. I'd like to do two things:|
If you choose to add a widget you'll be presented with a list of widgets available on your phone. You may be surprised how many apps that you've already got installed include built-in widgets. Pick one - you may have to choose between several different sizes. Then - as with adding an icon to a Home Screen, you'll be prompted to pick with of your (possibly) several Home Screens to use and where on the screen to place it. Don't worry if you don't like the results - you can always remove it from the Home Screen and try again.
Note that when you install a weather app or widget, you may have to fiddle with its settings. Open the app version (even if it's a widget), check the 'hamburger' and '3-dots' menus for settings. Make sure it knows your location and whether you want temperature in degrees F or degrees C, etc.
Then you're done!
(Here's the Home Screen on my Nexus 5x phone - customized with the apps I use most often, the Transparent Weather widget and a wallpaper photo of my grandchildren and my dog).
|Notice that each category
includes a description, making it reasonably straightforward to find
what you're looking for. As well, there is a Search bar on the top, so
if you're not sure where to look, give it a try.|
Some of these settings may be more easily accessed by pulling down from the top - along with notifications, most phones and tablets include a set of icons for accessing common settings - you can turn WiFi on and off this way, for intance.
In addition, on my phone, a quick tap on a down-arrow below that row of icons opens up a set of quick-access settings for more easy access:
|The first section is labeled Wireless
& Networks: |
|Display has a number of useful settings - you may find this as a sub-section of a section named Device:|
|Security includes a must-do item - choose a screen lock!
This gives you a lock screen that you need to open when your phone
starts up and optionally when it wakes up from sleep. This can seem
like a bit of a pain, but I strongly recommend it.|
Pick one of the options other than None. Try them all. I tend to pick PIN - entering a 4-digit number of your choice. From then on, you'll have to enter that number to log into your phone, protecting it from casual strangers. Go back to the Settings/Security page - you may see a little Gear icon beside the words Screen Lock - if you tap on it, you'll get some options for the screen lock page. For instance, on my phone, it's set to automatically lock 5 seconds after the phone goes to sleep - leaving me a tiny bit of time to change my mind and wake up the phone without needing to enter my PIN. The option that pressing the power button instantly locks the phone is turned on. The third option lets me enter a custom Lock Screen Message. Tap that and you're able to type a line that will appear on your lock screen. I've added my email address and my drivers licence number. You might prefer to add a different phone number that someone finding the phone could call - it's up to you!
I've found four cell phones over the past few years - typically, the owner tries to call their phone (which of course will only work if the phone's battery is charged). Hopefully if you lose your phone, someone will answer it and let you get it back. If you've installed Google's Device Manager app, you can try to locate your phone, or remotely ring it (handy if the phone is under the couch), lock it, or even erase it. See instructions.
Much further down the Securities list: Unknown Sources allows or disables the installation of apps from sources other than the Google Play Store. By default, it's turned off - it's a good idea to leave it that way unless you have a really good reason to install something from another source - and know it's safe and secure. (On an Amazon Fire tablet, you need to turn this on to allow you to install Google Play Services and get apps from the Google Play Store, for instance).
On my phone, the Security section includes Location - whether you have it turned on (which uses the GPS radio) or off, and which apps have recently made use of your location information. There are valid reasons for turning location off if you aren't needing mapping information and you don't want apps (Facebook, for instance) to be tracking you. (You may find Location included in a section labelled Personal).
More - see: The Android privacy and security settings you need to know about