Software optimize

Lesser-known Android tips and tricks

Jack Wallen shares five Android tips he's learned that may improve your mobile computing experience. He covers using voice activation, the power strip widget, 3D maps, and more.

I use the Android platform for my mobile phone and for my tablet, and I've collected a number of lesser-known tricks that make the Android experience much better. I hope these tips help you have a great experience on the most flexible mobile platform on the market.

Caveats

Not all of these tips and tricks will work on every Android device because many of the devices have their carrier's take on the Android interface. If a tip is applicable to a specific device, I make that clear.

Use voice activation

If you're walking down the street and need to send a text message, you can use the voice activation feature to instruct your Android phone what to do. This is a much better option than potentially falling headfirst into an open manhole or crashing into a pole and winding up on YouTube, only to become the laughingstock of your company and friends.

To use voice activation, long press the Search button on the handset (it looks like a magnifying glass) and then speak into the phone. It is also possible to use the voice activation for various purposes, which include the following:

  • Text: send text to [recipient] [message] example: send text to stephanie meet me for burritos after work
  • Email: send email to [recipient] [subject] [body] example: send email to jack wallen reminder don't forget to pick up pizza
  • Directions: navigate to [location] example: navigate to bazos
  • Place phone call: call [contact] [phone type] call stephanie mobile
  • Listen to music: listen to [artist/song/album] example: listen to rush tom sawyer moving pictures
  • Write note: note to self [note] example: note to self found model for among you book cover
  • Search Google: [query] example: jack wallen books
  • Open website: go to [website] example: go to amazon
  • View a map: map of [location] example: map of munich

Copy a block of text from a web page

If you need to copy text from a web browser, it's quite simple. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the web page and then zoom in so it's easier to tap on the correct text.
  2. Long press somewhere near the beginning of the text you want to copy and then drag the handles to the last bit of text you want to copy.
  3. When you release the handles, a new menu will pop up (the device you're using will determine the type of menu and where it pops us) that allows various options to be selected.

Figure A

The Verizon Motorola Xoom tablet with web copy in action. (Click the image to enlarge.)

I find this trick works on many of the Android models: AT&T Samsung Captivate, Verizon Droid X, Incredible 2, and the Xoom tablet.

Add the power strip widget

Since Android 2.1, a new widget that is a power control strip allows for the easy control of battery-destroying services such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. To add this widget, long press the Home screen and select Widget | Power Control. When the widget is added (Figure B), you can turn various services on and off with one tap. Figure B

The power control strip on the Verizon HTC Incredible 2.

Add bookmarks to the Home screen

If you want to add a shortcut to a website you frequent on the Home screen of your device, you can do that by following these steps:

  1. Go to the website in the browser.
  2. Create a bookmark for the site.
  3. Go to the Bookmark Manager.
  4. Long press the bookmark for the site to be added to the Home screen.
  5. Select Add Shortcut To Home from the pop-up menu.

Now to get to the site, simply tap the shortcut, and the browser will open to that address.

View maps in 3D

The latest release of Google Maps offers a 3D view of maps. To view a map in 3D, swipe your fingers from the top to the bottom of the screen. To move around the map in 3D, place two fingertips on the map and move them in a circular pattern. Figure C illustrates how this 3D view looks on a Verizon Incredible 2. Figure C

A 3D rendering of a map could be helpful to those of who are directionally challenged, such as yours truly.

Stay tuned for more tips

In a future column, I'll share even more Android tips that I've learned. If you have a cool Android tip that you want to share with the TechRepublic community, post it in the discussion.

Additional Android tips on TechRepublic

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.

25 comments
pflores
pflores

I have a Droid, not an X. None of the tips above worked on my phone. Sorry!

mgauley
mgauley

I'm surprised by all the voice command problems. My Evo was dead on almost every time.

joerocket!
joerocket!

Voice activation is completely worthless in Andriod. It cannot get the correct contact....ever.

Qoppa Software
Qoppa Software

Qoppa Software recently released a PDF annotator / form filler for Android, and has a viewer and SDK coming soon! This tool is written in Android, so it will run on all devices, and is built on our own PDF technology so no server or other software is required. Check our website for description or get it (qPDF Notes) from the Android marketplace.

DLogan@OmegaHealthCare.com
DLogan@OmegaHealthCare.com

Please keep the Android tips coming! I need a good utility for capturing screen shots from mobile devices - iPad, Zoom, cell phones and etc. that I can use to create training documentation. Can you tell me what you used for your screen captures?

nobleskill
nobleskill

Specifically thumb keyboard 4.0 and Tabltet 7" is my favourite as it has some other very handy features like a hideaway panel for custom keys and a fantastic layout. Has helped me replace my PC as my main browsing/posting method while at home. Tapped this out in about 45 seconds all told. http://market.android.com/details?id=com.beansoft.keyboardplus

jayohem
jayohem

Any of these useful for us Android Phoneless Rooted Nook Color device owners?

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

It's a way better example. You can actually see the shapes of the buildings. It's fantastic. It makes it way easier to spot landmarks to help you get around. At least, as I bicycle tourist in SF, I thought it was great. I could have pulled my phone out every two blocks, but this was better. @Get-Smart I can sort and/or display by first or last name. i can filter by phone or e-mail, and I can pick which integrated contact lists by which to filter at any given moment. I didn't even realize I had seven until I looked at the options. Best E-V-E-R.

smccullor
smccullor

I'd trade all of those tips for a set of cursor keys on my Dell Streak 5. It's frustrating to attempt to edit one letter in one word by touching that word over and over to click the right spot!

Get-Smart
Get-Smart

I've never EVER gotten voice activation to work right. Add that fact that the Contacts can't be listed by last name and it drags the user experience down into mediocrity. I like the openness concept and love my Droid's screen, but Android simply is not user-friendly. Unfortunately, I've never found "the one" phone that gives an above-average experience. I hesitate to say it, but my Pocket PC Phone came the closest.

MarlinUX
MarlinUX

I would also like to add the 2 second tap on a button or option. So man users forget about this even though its a huge part of the Android OS mobile user experience (i.e. holding down the home key to get the last 8 apps run or holding down a contact name to edit, call or delete.) Follow my Mobile UX blog at http://www.marlinmobile.com/blog

jackcholt
jackcholt

The power widget is great. It truly is a pain to have to navigate through the home page menu to get to all those settings without it. But what is vastly superior to it is the Notification Power Widget available on CyanogenMod (and its derivatives). It's available in any app that doesn't hide the notification area (stock android requires you to go to hit the home button first and then swipe to the one that has the widget). It's configurable and has many more options than the home screen widget. For me it is the "killer app" of CyanogenMod. I hope someday stock will include it.

m.t.skelsey
m.t.skelsey

OK I can get the copy/cut handles to move on my nexus S but then it also moves the entire web page, preventing me fromn selecting the desired text- Arrrgh! How do you stop the web page moving while attempting such a basic task?

JJFitz
JJFitz

and all of the tips work. Hmm

iannorris
iannorris

Voice Activation works fine also try Vlingo

smccullor
smccullor

I actually bought and installed thumb keyboard before I saw your comment. Still getting used to it but at least it does have the cursor key. If I can figure out how to configure it for cursor keys and no number pad, I may have it licked.

JJFitz
JJFitz

This is a customizable keyboard with cursors and a row of editable keys. It costs less than $3 and it adds a lot of features to your keyboard. I use it for my HTC Flyer to type in landscape with my thumbs. It works great.

fire622
fire622

HTC Legend - Makes it a pain to try & edit. Very frustrating, and I usually end up simply back-spacing through everything and retyping the entire entry.

bestbenwade
bestbenwade

Go to the market and search for "keyboard" and download a new keyboard that has cursor keys.

junk
junk

I've had bad luck with voice based software in general since day one. I have to agree though that PocketPC was years ahead of iPhone and Android. I had a TouchPro2 with Win Mobile 6.5 and the SPB front end, and it beat them all. I was very disappointed when Microsoft abandoned the system, but can't help but wonder how great it would have been on a modern gigahertz+ CPU

Insuranceman2
Insuranceman2

I didn't even know the Android platform had a voice option until I read this article, and then I got all jazzed about trying it, and then I encountered the same troubles as you. It was an emotional roller coaster. Also, in the age of singles, most people won't know the album of the song they want to listen to. Is that a mandatory command to get your music running?

JonHusen
JonHusen

On my Captivate I have the option to sort by first or last name and to display by first name first or last name first. In the contacts app it's under Menu > More > Display Options

ozzie212
ozzie212

I used to keep tapping on a word to find the right letter to edit until I accidentally discovered that the rollerball on my M860 does just that. So now I just tap on the word and use the rollerball to get the exact letter I want to edit and bingo, done.