Android

Android 101: Make the most of your home screen

Jack Wallen provides an introductory post about working with the home screen for new Android smartphone users.

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If you're new to the Android platform, you might be a bit overwhelmed with all of the possibilities and  options. This actually is fairly common. Why? Because Android has so much to offer users. From apps, to widgets, to panels, to third-party home screen launchers -- there's a never-ending buffet of things to sample and consume. In this particular post, I want to help new users get up to speed with using the home screen on their Android devices.

There's one caveat here. Not all Android devices are created equal. You could have a Motorola with Moboblur, an HTC with Sense, or even a Samsung Galaxy with yet another flavor of Android. Because of this, there's no single solution for any task. With that said, I will discuss those items that are included on most Android home screens. Note: I will be using a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S4 to demonstrate these features.

Definitions

First, let's take a look at some definitions:

Home screen: The home screen is the user interface for interacting with the device. And while the definition of “home screen” is often up for debate, for the new user, the home screen should be thought of as the desktop for the smartphone. 

Page: On nearly every Android home screen, you'll find multiple pages. A page contains all your launchers and widgets. If you swipe to either the left or right, you move from page to page. Some devices limit the number of pages you can have, and some do not.

Launcher: A launcher is, in simplest terms, an icon on a page that allows you to launch an application.

Widget: A widget is basically a front end for an application that lives on a home screen page and allows you to “use” an application without having to go through the process of launching said app. Some widgets only display information, whereas some allow you to actually interact.

Notification bar: This is a bar at the top of your screen that can be swiped downward to reveal information such as: Network connection, alerts (incoming email, text messages, missed phone calls, etc), and more.

Panel: Most Android home screens offer some form of panel. The panel is a bar that lives at the bottom of the screen. The panel allows you to add launchers (and, in some cases, other tools like "actions"). Most panels have a limit to the number of launchers that can be added -- some allow more than others.

App drawer: All of those applications you have installed on your mobile phone can be accessed from within the app drawer. When you open the "drawer," every launchable application will be represented by a launcher.

With those definitions out of the way, let's now take a look at how you can make the most out of your home screen.

Adding/removing launchers

To make your Android experience more efficient, you'll want to have launchers on your home screen for the applications that you use the most. You can add launchers to pages and to the panel. When you first get your phone, there'll be a number of launchers you probably won't use. To delete those launchers, follow these steps:

  1. Tap and hold (also called a “long-press”) the launcher to be removed
  2. A new popup will drop down, asking if you want to Create a folder or Remove the launchers
  3. Drag the launcher to the Remove option

As I mentioned earlier, depending upon your device, the above steps may vary. For example, if you're using the Nova Launcher (which can be found in the Google Play Store), when you long-press the launcher to be removed, you'll see a popup where you can edit, remove, get app info, or uninstall the app (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Nova Launcher running on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S III.

To add a new launcher to your home screen, follow these steps:

  1. Long-press a blank spot on one of the home screen pages
  2. From the resulting popup, select Apps and Widgets
  3. Tap the Apps tab (Figure B)
  4. Slide the screen to the right or left until you find the app you want to add
  5. Long-press the launcher to be added, and drag it to a location on the screen (the screen will change so that you can do this)
  6. Release your finger from the screen to finalize the action

Figure B

Figure B
The Android app drawer in action.

Widgets are added in the same way. The only difference is that you must tap the Widgets tab to access the available widgets that can be added. The major difference in widgets is that, in most cases, you'll have different sizes to choose from. Widget size is measured in page space taken up by the widget. A 1x1 space is the same size as a typical launcher. Widgets range from 1x1 to 4x4 (and everything in between).

Once a launcher has been placed on a page of your home screen, you can move the launcher to a different location by doing the following:

  1. Long-press the launcher
  2. When the screen changes (Figure C), move the launcher to the position on the page you want
  3. If you want to move the launcher to a different page, drag it to the bottom of the screen where outlines of the corresponding pages reside

Figure C

Figure C
This screen also shows the Remove and Create folder locations for removing launchers from the page.

You can also drag launchers to the panel. Understand that most panels can only hold a set amount of launchers. So, if your panel is at the limit, when you drag a launcher to the panel, it will take the place of the launcher that currently occupies that space. To move a launcher to the panel, that launcher must first be on a home screen page. Once the launcher is on the page, long-press and drag it to the panel where you want it to live. Release your finger, and the launcher will remain on the panel. To remove a launcher from the panel, do the opposite -- long-press the launcher on the panel and drag it to a page.

Notification bar

The notification bar is a very important component to the Android platform. This is where you can get quick access to notifications, including:

  • Available connections
  • Missed calls
  • New emails
  • Notifications from apps like Facebook and Twitter
  • Available updates

To gain access to these notifications, you simply tap the top of the screen and drag it down. Within the notification bar (Figure D), you can also get quick access to certain functionality configurations (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Vibrate, Smart stay, etc).

Figure D

Figure D
Quick access to numerous items is at your fingertips from within the notification bar.

This introductory piece should give you a solid understand of where to start with your new Android smartphone. Now you can begin functioning with your device without having to drop into panic mode.

Are there other introductory smartphones topics that you'd like to see on TechRepublic? If so, please let us know in the discussion thread below.


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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