May 07, 2010, 11:43 AM — Android can do a lot for you--but you have to know where to begin.
Compared to the cut-and-dried interface of the Apple iPhone, the Android operating system gives you ample room for customization and control. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you make the most of your Android phone's many features.
The first thing you'll notice about Android is that its desktop differs somewhat from those on other smartphone platforms. You have a lot of freedom to customize the Android desktop--and you aren't limited to four simple rows of perfectly aligned square icons. As a result, you can customize the Android desktop to reflect your interests, and you can make it as full and dynamic as you like.
The Android desktop is composed of multiple home-screen panels. Depending on the version of Android that your phone uses and on whether your device has a specialized "skin" such as MOTOBLUR, you may have from three to seven home-screen panels.
When you power up your phone for the first time, you'll see the main home-screen panel. This panel is typically centered; you can access additional panels on either side of the main one by swiping your finger left or right. Starting with the 2.1 version of Android, you can also see thumbnail-size icons of all of your panels at the bottom of the screen; to jump directly to a panel without swiping, simply tap the associated icon.
What goes on the home screens is up to you. You can fill the space with any combination of shortcuts, widgets, and folders you like.
As you'd expect, shortcuts are small icons that let you load apps or other functions on your phone; they function much like the ones you see on a PC desktop. You can set a shortcut to do anything from a opening a program to linking to a specific Web page to initiating a phone call to a favorite contact.
To add a shortcut, simply press and hold your finger on any open space on your home screen, and select Shortcuts from the resulting pop-up menu. From there, select Applications (to add an app), or Direct dial or Direct message (to create a shortcut for calling or texting a friend), or Bookmark (to open a Web page), or Directions (to activate turn-by-turn navigation to a specific destination, in Android 2.0 or higher).