The first things you should do with that new Android phone

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Credit: Michael Homnick

So Santa came through and answered your wish for a new Android phone. We’re a bit partial to Android here, so obviously we think you’ve (or, the guy in the red suit) made a great choice.

Before you get lost in playing all those cool games, there are some housekeeping details to tend to. Carriers and phone makers do funny things, loading your phone up with bloatware or making odd decisions about default apps. 

By taking a little bit of time to make a few tweaks, you’ll make sure you’re tapping into all the best features of Android. Thanks to its bevy of apps in the Play Store, you can get most of these cool features even if you’re not running the latest version of Lollipop.

Get the Google Now Launcher

A lot of phone manufacturers modify Android with a custom interface that is busy, complicated, or just a poor use of space. The first step towards a cleaner interface is the Google Now Launcher. It puts a persistent Google search bar on the home screen (tap the mic to do a voice search!) and Google Now one swipe away. Not only is it useful, but the Google Now Launcher looks great and provides a nice clean canvas to put your apps and widgets on. 

google now galaxy s4

Just swipe to the right to go right into Google Now with the official Android launcher.

It also puts travel, sports, and even bill reminders right in front of you. Making one swipe to the right to check Google Now has become an essential part of managing the details of my day.

Use Hangouts for better messaging

Some people actually still leave voicemail messages. Fortunately, you don’t have to listen to them if you use Google Voice. It can transcribe all your voicemails (it’s mostly accurate) and store them all in Hangouts or in the Google Voice web interface.

The tools and services inside of Voice have moved inside of Hangouts, which keeps getting new features as part of Google’s effort to make it your central communications hub.

google voice hangouts

Use Google Voice for all your voicemail or other messaging needs.

Hangouts of course does instant messaging, and is a nice way to sync up your communications if you want to chat across the desktop and your mobile device. However, it’s still a little clunky when it comes to SMS and MMS messages. So if you’d rather keep those chats separate, go with another texting app like the great-looking Google Messenger or the equally slick QKSMS.

Back up your photos with Google+

All it takes is an unexpected drop or some other catastrophe and your phone is toast, along with all those irreplaceable photos you had on it.

For a little peace of mind, enable automatic backup through Google+ Photos. Updates to the Photos app come through the Google+ app, though Photos has its own icon and functions independantly.

google photos

Keep all your photos nice and safe in Google+ Photos.

Select to back up at full resolution so you don’t miss anything from the quality of the original picture. Photo backups do count against your 15GB of free Google Drive store, but extra space is cheap enough at $2 a month for 100GB.

It also will automatically merge some of your photos with its Auto Awesome feature, creating some fun mashups. Don't worry, the original photos are there, too.

Browse smarter with Chrome

Believe it or not, some phones still include a terrible default browser. You should be using Chrome - sign in to your Google account and then sync up your bookmarks and open tabs on other devices. 

chrome android browse

Sync up your tabs and bookmarks by signing in to Chrome.

If you want to live on the edge a little, there is a beta version that you can run side-by-side on your Android device. When opening a link, be sure to pick the version of Chrome you want to use as your default browser. 

If you’re a Firefox fan, the same applies: there is a stable and beta version of Mozilla’s browser. It also gets regular updates, with the team hard at work at giving Chrome a run for its money.

Set up your music player

All the major music streaming services offer an Android app - Spotify, Rdio, Beats, Pandora, and Google Play Music. So in one sense, moving ecosystems has never been easier for your music collection. Just download your favorite app, sign in, and start listening to your music.

play music start video

Instead of just listening to that song, play its video from YouTube instead.

If you're coming over from the Apple ecosystem, you might want to take a look at Google Play Music. It has a rather simple method for importing all your music from iTunes through its desktop interface. 

import music google play

Upload your iTunes collection to Google Play Music.

Also, you can use the voice command, “OK Google, play music” and it will start a custom radio station based on your interests (assuming you have been listening to music through the app). 

Get a smarter keyboard

There are several good keyboards you can pick from - don’t restrict yourself to whatever your phone maker slapped on there as the default. Swiftkey, Swype, and Fleksy are all excellent choices. And Google has stepped up its game, steadily improving its keyboard and giving it a nice Material Design look.

swiftkey keyboard note

SwiftKey is one of several good choices as your default keyboard.

And unlike on iOS, your keyboard of choice won’t get booted at any point (Apple restricts you to its own keyboard for filling out secure forms). With so many customization choices there isn’t any reason not to try out different options and see what suits you best.

This story, "The first things you should do with that new Android phone" was originally published by Greenbot.

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