I spend a lot of time on the Android platform. Whether it’s supporting clients who have the mobile OS, using my own phone, writing mobile content for TechRepublic’s Smartphones blog, or working on my Verizon Wireless Motorola Xoom tablet, I know Android well and I know how to make the best of this incredible mobile platform.

Because of Android’s flexibility, there are many ways to improve the Android experience. But I want to focus on the issues I see pop up most often. If you follow these tips, your Android experience will outshine those around you using the same platform.

1: Know your Exchange information before you begin setup

One common support request I get for the Android OS is connecting to an Exchange server. Yes, Android does have built-in support for Exchange, but setup isn’t always as user-friendly as we’d like it to be. The information necessary (to connect to a Corporate Sync Exchange account) is:

  • Mail server address: This will need to be the same address that can be reached outside the domain.
  • Username/password: The credentials you use to connect to the Exchange server.
  • Domain: This isn’t always needed, but if it is, make sure it’s available. And this is the Active domain, not the FDQN of the mail server.
  • SSL: Check the enable box for both options relating to SSL.

If you get all this set up, get no errors, and yet no mail comes in, make sure the Data Network is actually turned on. I have seen a number of situations where the data network was turned off.

2: Create shortcuts

Don’t accept the default desktop shortcuts, because they aren’t always the most efficient approach. Since the Android desktop offers multiple workspaces, create different ones to handle specific tasks. I always set up the following screens:

  • Quick dial shortcuts: Single-tap icons to quickly call numbers you frequently call.
  • Settings: Set up icons to open specific settings, such as Bluetooth, wireless, and GPS. This will enable you to gain more battery life by managing those services manually.
  • Social network: If you are a social network addict, set up widgets or icons to launch your favorite social networks.
  • Bookmarks: Create shortcuts for all your most important bookmarks on this workspace.
  • Blank: Keep a blank workspace as a neutral location. This is especially useful if, like me, you use a lot of swiping gestures (such as opening the app drawer).

3: Install a different launcher

Some of the user interfaces for Android are simply not up to par. The Samsung interface is not nearly as good as HTC Sense. But other launchers (such as ADL Launcher) are more flexible, faster, and more reliable than some of the stock interfaces. I highly recommend playing around with a few of them to find the one that best suits your style and needs. The best place to find these — Android Market.

4: Connect to your Google account

The Android platform was designed to seamlessly interface with Google on every level. That means connecting to a Google account is more than just getting your Gmail and checking your calendar. Everything that uses your Google account to authenticate will automatically connect. You can easily save all your contacts to Google so you don’t have to worry about backing them up if you need to get another phone. One of the first things you should do when you purchase an Android phone is connect it to your Google account. If you don’t have one, set one up.

5: Use desktop folders

If your mobile desktop turns into your PC desktop and is filled to overflowing with icons, get to know folders. Long-press your desktop (to add a launcher/widget/etc.) and select Folders. Within the Folders menu, there are various types of folders (depending upon what you have installed on your device). For example, on my Android device I can add the following folders:

  • New folder: This is an empty folder that can hold whatever.
  • All contacts: This folder will store all your contacts.
  • Contacts with phone numbers: This folder will store only contacts with phone numbers associated with them.
  • Inkpad notes: Inkpad is a notepad application and this folder will hold files created by that app.
  • Received list from Bluetooth: This folder will contain a listing of files received via Bluetooth.
  • Starred contacts: All contacts that have been starred will be listed here.

Using folders will not only keep your workspaces from getting too cluttered, it will make your phone quite a bit more efficient.

Other tips?

These five simple tips will make your Android experience much, much better. But the tips don’t end there… oh no. If you have a method of using Android that makes the experience easier, share it with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

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