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ALAN ZISMAN ON TECHNOLOGY

Some thoughts for an Android newbie   
 
By Alan Zisman 2016 February 10


translated into Hungarian by Elana Pavlet

A friend of mine, is on the verge of getting his first Android device - an affordable 2012-model Nexus 7 tablet.
He was late to the mobile scene, getting an iPhone - which he loves - about 6 months or so ago.

I sent him an email with my thoughts of things he should know - particularly some of the differences between Android and iOS (the operating system running on Apple's devices). Here's what I said:

1) Just as having an iPhone means setting up an Apple account and using Apple apps - iTunes, iPhoto, App Store, etc, a key part of the Android experience is connected to Google - you need to set up a Google account (though you can use non-Google email addresses); get apps from the Google Play Store. A variety of Google apps - Google Maps, etc. are included on every Android tablet and phone.

2) iPhone/iPad users may sync their device with their computer using iTunes. There's no Android equivalent. If you plug an Android device into a Windows PC, it will appear as an external hard drive - you simply copy music files into the device's Music folder, photos and videos into the equivalent folders on the device, etc. Mac users need to download and install the Android File Transfer app onto their Mac: https://www.android.com/filetransfer/ to do the same thing.

3) Android tablets and phones with the 'Nexus' name offer 'pure' Android; most other devices add custom shells to Google's Android - this has two results: first, there will be differences between what you see on the screen of (for instance) a Samsung phone and a Motorola phone, though increasingly the differences are getting smaller. As well, most non-Nexus models have to wait a while - sometimes a long while - for updates, as special versions of each update have to be created for each of the literally thousands of customized versions of Android that are out there. (Nexus devices are updated immediately as long as the hardware is supported).

4) Android is customizable - much more so than iOS. There's no need to stick with the default set-up. You can replace the standard apps, you can replace the standard app Launcher, you can even replace the entire operating system with so-called custom-ROMs. First thing I do with any new Android device is delete most of the screen junk that Google (or Samsung or whomever) gives me. Again, this means that two people's phones or tablets can look very different.

5) Most recent Android devices have 3 'virtual buttons' that appear along the bottom of the screen when needed - and disappear at other times. This can be confusing. Here's how they look in stock Android 4.x and in the more recent Android 5.x:

Android virtual buttons

Typically (and these can be different with different device manufacturers) these are - left to right:

  • A back arrow. This Back button is, in my opinion, a huge feature that I wish iOS would have... it can move back a screen, move from one application to the previous application, move back to the Home screen, etc. A great feature! Tap on a link in an email message and it opens in the web browser; afterwards, click the Back button to return to the email message.

  • The circle in the centre is the Home button - more or less the equivalent of iOS's Home key. Tap it to return to the Home screen.

  • The square on the right opens the multi-tasking screen, showing all open apps. You can use it to switch between running apps and to close apps if you want. Note that in both iOS and Android there's really little need to close apps to free up memory. Most of the time, both operating systems do a very good job of freeing up memory from apps that are just sitting in the background doing nothing.
6) The other thing that Android does MUCH better than iOS is sharing data and files between apps. Most apps have either a menu icon (three little squares in a vertical line) up in a corner, with a Share item in the menu or a dedicated Share icon: (sort of a < with three dots) - either way you get a list of ways you can share the info. If I go to a web page for instance, I could share it as an email, with Facebook or other social networks I have accounts with, translate it, add it to my Dropbox folder, etc. The list will vary depending on what's currently on-screen - you can Share a photo in different ways from a web page, for instance.

7) The biggest security issue in Android is caused by people installing apps from unknown or shady sources... this is mostly an issue for users in China and other countries. For Canadian users getting all their apps from the Google Play Store, Android is pretty secure. Nevertheless, it's probably not a bad idea to install a free Android anti-malware program. Avast (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.avast.android.mobilesecurity&hl=en) is free and good. The default setting is to not allow installation from 'unknown sources'. This is a good thing!

8) One more thing that confuses some users - by default, Android devices come with two email apps - one labelled 'Email', the other labelled 'Gmail'. If you're a Gmail user you could use either; if you're a non-Gmail user, use the Email one. Alternatively, there are other 3rd-party email apps in the Play Store and some device manufacturers may bundle alternative email apps on their phones or tablets. Similarly, users may find multiple photo-browser apps, multiple camera-apps, multiple music-listening apps, etc etc etc.

Have fun!


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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to alan@zisman.ca are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Twitter or Google + for notice of new blog postings.
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