Google’s open mobile operating system is bursting with capabilities you probably don’t even know about. These tips will make you a master of Android, inside and out, no matter how you use your Lollipop or Marshmallow device.
FEATURES AND SETTINGS
Make a Contact a Favorite
If you frequently contact the same people, why bother searching for them? Tap the star in a person’s Contacts entry to ensure that that person always appears in the Favorites section (of both Contacts and the dialer).
Share Data Between Apps
Tap the Share command when you’re looking at an image or have highlighted text, and then send it to any other relevant app with just one more tap on the proper icon.
Beam Content to Another Device
A part of system sharing since Lollipop, Beam lets you send photos, files, contacts and more to another Android device when it’s nearby. Just select “Android Beam” from the sharing menu and put the two devices back-to-back to transfer.
Fidget With Widgets
Widgets let you keep basic Android functions on your home screen at all time—no tapping required. To add them, tap and hold on your home screen until the Widgets option appears. Tap it, then tap and hold to select a widget, and drag it to where you want it on the screen.
Track Battery Usage
Check out Settings > Battery for an organized breakdown of what’s consuming power on your phone, with the hungriest apps and features at the top. You can then make educated choices about what to disable or remove in order to improve battery life.
Use External Storage
If you have a phone that supports USB On-the-Go (check your Storage options under Settings) and an external drive with a micro USB connector an adapter, you can plug the drive into your phone and easily move around files without needing a PC.
Correct for Color-Blindness
If you or a family member is color-blind, a setting will let you “correct” certain screens to make them easier to read. Find it in Settings > Accessibility > Display > Color correction. (You’ll be warned that enabling this feature may affect performance.)
If you’re not using Smart Lock, you’re missing out on some handy security features. You’ll need to have full security on your lock screen (via either a pattern, PIN, or password), but once you do, go to Settings > Security > Smart Lock. Tap “Trusted places” to configure your device to always be unlocked when you’re at home (or anywhere else you feel comfortable).
Configure a Trusted Bluetooth Device
Also under Smart Lock, you can tap “Trusted devices” so you can tell your phone that you always want it unlocked when a certain Bluetooth device is nearby.
Unlock Your Phone With Your Face
What’s with you all the time? That’s right: your face. From the Smart Locks menu, tap the “Trusted Face” option. Follow the instructions to take a photo for face unlocking. You can also train your phone to improve matching to account for different lighting, hairstyles, and so on.
Set Up Guest Access
Let someone borrow your phone but not access your apps, data, or settings, or send text messages. Swipe down twice from the top of your phone to open Quick Settings. Tap “Add guest” to start up a bare-bones instance that keeps your information and your privacy safe.
Pin Something to Your Screen
Don’t lose your place when you need to loan out your phone for a minute. Enable Screen Pinning in the Security settings, then tap the pushpin icon in the Overview screen to lock it down; no one will be able to access anything else. Unpin the screen again by tapping and holding both the Overview and Back buttons at the same time.
Disable the Phone for Guests
Want to further restrict what a borrower can do on your phone? Tap the gear icon next to the account for Guest (or any other user you control) in the “Users” section of your system settings and disable the “Turn on phone calls” or “Turn on phone calls & SMS” setting.
Find Your Lost Phone
Android Device Manager can be a tremendous help if you lose your phone. Enable it in the Security settings (under “Device administrators”). If you misplace your phone, type “find my phone” into Google’s search engine, and you’ll see your device’s last known location. You can either ring it, lock it, or erase it altogether the same way.
Encrypt Your Phone
Full encryption is one of the best ways to keep all the data on your device safe. If you’re using Marshmallow, good news—it’s already enabled by default. If you’re using Lollipop, you can (and probably should) enable it yourself. Make sure you have a password set up, then go to your Security settings and choose the encryption option. (If you choose, you may later decrypt your phone from this same menu.) The process can take more than an hour, so fully charge your phone and keep it plugged in the whole time.
Don’t forget important events or activities. Type “set an alarm” into Google to configure an audio reminder at the date and time you specify.
Change Default Calendar Event Duration
Not every event you want to schedule is an hour long. Access additional options by going to the app’s settings then looking in General > Default event duration. From there, you can change the time to 15, 30, 90, or 120 minutes.
Customize Calendar Notifications
To change notifications for a calendar, tap it in the app. Under “Default notifications” or “Default notifications for all-day events” you can specify when you’ll receive the notifications. Note that you have to do this per calendar, not once for the app as a whole.
Send Maps Directions From Your Computer to Your Phone
Google’s various mobile and desktop apps are well integrated with each other. How well? If you’re looking at a map on your computer, you can transmit directions to your phone for hassle-free navigation. Click the “Send to Your Phone” button on the Maps screen, and the directions you need will appear there.
Share Maps Directions
Once you have a route and a transportation option set in Google Maps, you can help others get to your same destination by tapping the menu and selecting “Share directions.” This will let you send the directions to Gmail, Messenger, or any other supported app.
Save Maps for Offline Viewing
You may not always have connectivity when you need it to get around. Work around this by tapping in the Maps search bar and selecting “Download a new offline area.” Select the area of the map you want to save, tap the Download button, then name the area. You can access the maps you download by tapping “Offline areas” in the app’s settings. Note that they’ll delete automatically after about a month.
Restrict Chrome’s Data Usage
Chrome can be a bit of a data hog, but there’s a way to fix that. Open the Settings in Chrome and turn on “Data Saver.” This disables some features and reduces image quality in some cases, but you’ll still be able to access most sties—and more efficiently than before.
Zoom In on Any Page in Chrome
Not every webpage lets you zoom in when you need a closer look, but you can change that. In Chrome’s settings, open the Accessibility section and select “Force enable zoom.”
Access Your Computer From Your Phone
With the free Chrome Remote Desktop app on both your phone and your computer, you can access necessary files and programs on your PC, no matter where you are.
Change Your Default Web Browser
Chrome not shiny enough for you? If you have more than one browser installed on your phone, change it under the Apps screen in Settings. This will let you avoid the prompt to select a browser every time you open a webpage.
Turn Off App Suggestions
The Google Now Launcher will put recommended titles at the top of the app drawer. If you don’t like this, turn them off by swiping in from the left edge of Google Now, tapping Settings, and then toggling “App suggestions.” Lastly, tap “Turn off” to confirm.
Shed Light On Anything
Previous versions of Android relied on external flashlight apps, but Lollipop and later incarnations have one built in. Pull down the notification pane, tap the flashlight icon, and never get caught in the dark again.
Make Reading Easier on the Eyes
Night Light, a feature of the latest version of the Google Play Books app, automatically adjusts the color of what you’re reading to improve low-light reading (and your odds of falling asleep afterward). Turn it on within the book you’re reading.
Use Custom Notifications for Labels
Choose how you’re alerted when different kinds of email arrive for you. Start by creating custom labels in Gmail (use the Web-based interface for this). Then go into the settings and select the appropriate account for the app. Make sure that the Notifications option is checked, then tap “Manage labels.” Tap the label you want, then tap “Sync messages” and specify “Last 30 days” or “All.” Check the box next to “Label notifications,” and then select the sound and vibration options you want.
Work With Multiple Messages
Don’t waste time archiving or deleting messages one at a time. Tap and hold each message you want to select, then choose the action you want to perform. It will automatically apply to all the messages you have selected. (You can undo this if you change your mind.)
Configure a Vacation Response
You don’t need to answer emails when you’re of town or out of the country. (For that matter, do you want to?) In the Gmail app’s settings, tap on any account name and then tap Vacation Responder to configure an automatic reply message for the time you’ll be gone.
Add External Email Accounts
You’re no longer limited to just Google accounts in the default Android Gmail app. Tap the menu icon in the top-left corner, select “Add Account” from the Settings, and you can input the specifics of your external POP or IMAP email account.
NOTIFICATIONS, NOTES, AND REMINDERS
Interact With Notifications on the Lock Screen
You can interact with many notifications right from the lock screen. Swipe one left or right to dismiss it, double-tap it to open it, or swipe down to access any associated quick actions.
Suppress Notifications on Lock Screen
Don’t want notifications to appear on your lock screen at all? In the “Sound & notification” settings, tap “When device is locked.” Tap “Don’t show notifications at all” if you’re looking for complete privacy.
Don’t Get Interrupted
People, companies, and apps vying for your attention can be distracting, so shut off some of the aural clutter by going to Settings > Sound & notification. (You may need to go into Interruptions or App notifications, depending on which Android version you’re using.) You can block all interruptions from the app or just those you don’t consider priority. (You can determine priority apps in the Apps notification screen, too.) If you’re in Do Not Disturb mode in Marshmallow or if you select Priority when you hold down the Up Volume button in Lollipop, you can specify to get notifications only from these apps, for the time period you choose.
Don’t forget to run that important errand. Type “remind me to” in the Google app, followed by what you want to remember. Google will remind you either at the time you choose, or when you’re in the location you specify. Then you can type “show me my reminders” into Google anytime you’re logged in to see all your upcoming and past reminders.
Mirror Your Screen to Chromecast
If you have a Chromecast$35.00 at Best Buy, it’s a snap to display your phone’s screen on it. Turn on your connected Chromecast and open the Chromecast app and tap “Cast screen” from the navigation tools. Then just select the appropriate Chromecast device on your network.
Make Google Play Kid-Friendly
Don’t want your kids to see more mature content in Google Play? Tap “Parental controls” in the Play Store app’s settings and then touch the slider to turn on the option. After you enter (and confirm) a PIN, you can restrict games, movies, and TV shows by rating, or books and music that are considered to have explicit content.
Identify a Song
“What was the song?” is one of the most annoying questions to have spinning in your head. Luckily, a built-in Google Now feature makes it easy to answer. Tap the microphone in the search bar, say, “Okay Google, what’s this song?” and let Google do the rest. Of course, if the song is on Google Play, you’ll be given a link to grab it there.
Voice Search From the Lock Screen
Another handy Marshmallow feature lets you look up information without unlocking your phone. Just swipe up on the microphone icon on the lock screen and start your voice search.
Set Exceptions for App Power Saving
If you don’t want Marshmallow to put inactive apps to sleep automatically, go to Settings > Battery > Battery optimization and turn off the “Optimize” option for any of the apps you see there. You can turn an app back on by going back to this screen.
Change App Permissions
Marshmallow gives you more control than ever over what apps can do what. Tap on any app in Settings > Apps and then tap Permissions and you can toggle access to any phone feature.
Bring Back the Google Now Home Button
Not a fan of Now on Tap? Turn it off in the settings (under Google > Search & Now > Now Cards) by unchecking “Now on Tap.” Access Google Now at any time by tapping and holding your Home button.
Tweak Your System UI
Open quick settings (swipe down twice from the notifications) then tap and hold the gear icon until it spins. This adds Custom UI Tuner to the settings, so you can specify what’s displayed on your status bar and how it appears. These tweaks are experimental, so you’ll have to confirm that you’ll accept associated risks before you can use them.
One-Touch Do Not Disturb
Shut up your phone on a second’s notice. Press and hold the Volume Down button to turn on Do Not Disturb Mode, and turn it off again later by pressing and holding the Volume Up button.