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.


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