10 simple tips for brand new Android tablet users

Android tablet newbies (whether that's you, your dad, or your users) will find these tips helpful in getting acclimated to their new device.

As someone who primarily writes about Windows, I have to admit that I felt a bit like a fish out of water the first time I used an Android (Honeycomb) tablet. That being the case, I thought that it might be helpful to provide a few pointers for the benefit of others who may also be new to Android tablets.

Before I begin

Before I get started, I need to point out that the information presented here is based on an Acer A500 tablet. Since Google allows manufacturers to perform a high degree of customization on their devices, some might behave differently from what I describe here.

1: You can use the tablet as a USB mass storage device

Connecting the Android tablet to a PC through a USB connection provides direct access to the device's file system. You can easily copy pictures, music, and videos to the DCIM, Movies, and Music folders. There are also dedicated folders for things like podcasts and ringtones.

2: You will need a Google account

When you set up your Android tablet for the first time, it will ask you to provide a Google account. If you already have a Google account, you can use it. Otherwise, you will have to create one.

3: You have to get past the lock screen

Once the initial setup is configured, turning on the tablet (at least in the case of my Acer A500) reveals a lock screen with a lock icon. To get past this screen (assuming that the tablet is not password protected), tap the lock icon. This causes a different icon to appear, one with a small circle inside a larger circle. The outer circle has the lock icon displayed within it. To unlock the device, drag the small circle to the outer edge of the larger circle.

4: You can use USB flash drives

Android tablets support the use of USB flash drives (although my tablet does not seem to recognize 32GB flash drives). Media files that are stored on flash drives are automatically recognized by the tablet's apps. For example, opening the Acer Media app and clicking on the video option takes you to a screen that gives you a choice between playing videos that are stored in the tablet's Movies folder and videos that are stored on a flash drive.

5: The OS supports a variety of media types

Some tablet devices severely restrict the types of media you can play through the device. Thankfully, the Android operating system supports many standard media types. For example, you can play .WAV, .MP3, and even MIDI audio files. Supported video formats include H.264 and MPEG-4. As you would expect, Android also supports JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP images.

What all this means is that if you have non-DRM protected media files in your collection, you will most likely be able to copy them to your Android tablet and play them without any problem. The Android site lists all the supported media types.

6: There are two main spots for acquiring apps

Countless apps are available for Android tablets, ranging in price from free to $20 or more. The two main sources for acquiring Android apps are the Android Market and Amazon's Appstore for Android.

7: You may need to check app compatibility

Android apps are not universally compatible. A number of versions of the Android operating system have been released. So when you get ready to download an app, make sure that your operating system is supported. The app stores list a minimum supported operating system for each app.

If you have just purchased a tablet with the latest Android operating system, you won't have to worry too much about operating system compatibility (at least not until the next operating system is released). However, you need to check one important factor: Many Android apps are designed specifically for Android phones. Because tablets have a different screen resolution than phones, a lot of the apps that were designed for phones will not run on tablets.

When you visit one of the app stores, some vendors say upfront whether an app works on tablets. But this critical tidbit of information is not always provided, so you may need to scroll through the user reviews until you find someone who says whether the app works on tablets.

8: Screen orientation might need a little help

For the most part, the screen orientation is completely intuitive. If you rotate the device, the screen rotates, too. But occasionally, I have found that the screen fails to rotate. In some extreme cases, it might even be displayed upside down.

If the screen doesn't rotate properly, try holding the device in a completely vertical position. This will often fix it. If that doesn't work, the problem is most likely the app you are using. Some apps don't support screen rotations at all; others support them only in certain directions. For example, this morning I used an app that would display only upside down. I had to rotate the device a full 180 degrees to use it.

9: There is more to the desktop than meets the eye

The Android desktop spans beyond the boundaries of the physical screen. You can flick the display to the left or right to access more desktop real estate. These extra pages are referred to as home screen panels.

There are also three icons in the lower-left corner you need to know about. The icon on the left (the one that looks like a left arrow) acts as a back button. The middle icon (the one that looks like an up arrow) takes you to your desktop. The icon on the right displays the last several apps you used. You can use this interface as a shortcut to get back to something that you were previously working on.

10: You can delete a desktop Icon by dragging it to the trash can

Android gives you a lot of freedom to customize the desktop, and you may want to add or remove some desktop icons. You can move an icon around by pressing and holding it. To delete an icon, press and hold it and then drag it to the trash can icon. On some Android devices, the middle icon in the lower-left portion of the screen changes to a trash can whenever you're dragging an icon. On other devices, the trash can icon appears in the center of the black bar at the bottom of the screen. On my device, the trash can icon shows up in the upper-right corner of the screen in place of the Apps icon.