If you got a new Android smartphone for the holidays, here are some things you want to do right away!
1. Don’t Skip the Google Account Setup
When you set up your Android for the first time, you’re asked to provide your Google account credentials. Doing so is the fastest way to set up your email, calendar, and contacts (core PIM functionality), but it’s optional, some people don’t have Google account, or for whatever reason they decide to skip the step. If you skipped it, go back and complete it, even if you’re using someone other than Google for your basic PIM functions.
Why? There are a few reasons. Not only will your contacts be synchronized with your Google account, they’ll also be synced with any Android’s you get in the future (if your current phone is lost, stolen, damaged, or in a year or so when you decide to upgrade). Additionally, you’ll need it for the Android Market.
While it’s probably true that you don’t need the Android Market to install apps on your phone, there is one case in particular where you’d want to: if your phone is lost. To the best of my knowledge, the Android Market is the only app store for Android that allows for remote installation of apps. Simply log into the Market using a desktop browser, then find an app called Plan B and install it (remotely) to your phone. Within minutes you’ll have an email telling you exactly where your phone is! Of course there are other apps that let you do similar things, but most have to be installed and configured before you lose your phone. The appropriately named Plan B app takes care of all of that for you, all you have to have done is set up your Google Account.
2. Get a Car Kit
It’s becoming illegal in more places — and is generally frowned upon everywhere — to use your phone in your car. Take that as an opportunity to trick out your ride for Android!
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Two things you’ll want to get are a Bluetooth headset and a USB car charger, but if your phone has a car dock built specifically for it, you’ll probably want to consider that option first.
A car dock usually attaches to your windshield or dash and holds your phone where you can see it. Many have a charging solution built in (some will plug into your phone’s USB charging port, others, like the dock for Nexus One charge using three gold dots to carry the power — the dock for the Galaxy Nexus isn’t readily available yet). Some also connect to your phone’s audio, which not only lets you listen to music on your car’s sound system, they also do double-duty as a speaker phone.
Whether or not you opt for a car dock with these features built-in or opt for a USB charger and Bluetooth headset, you’ll appreciate having a fully-charged phone when you start your day at school or the office, and will be much safer keeping your phone out of your hands while driving.
3. Turn on Your WiFi
There are three reasons why you’ll want to turn on your WiFi right away.
WiFi is probably faster than your phone’s 3G or 4G data connection, so when you’re under a WiFi bubble, your phone will be faster!
WiFi uses less power than traditional cellular data, so your battery will last longer when using WiFi rather than cellular data.
With almost all carriers throttling or limiting your data once you hit their data threshold, using WiFi whenever possible could save you quite a bit of money and frustration, which lets you save your cellular data for when you need it.
4. Set Your Data-Hungry Apps to Update Less Often
If you’re like me, you’ve got at least a couple social networking apps, a couple news and RSS apps, and maybe even a couple weather apps installed. These apps try to connect to various data services to keep the information on your phone up-to-date. This makes their apps feel faster because the information is already on your phone, before you ask for it. Unfortunately that means the app is going out on the Internet frequently to get updates — updates that you may never see.
To help keep data usage down and battery life from magically disappearing, you should open each type of app that I mentioned above and check its settings for “Update Frequency”. Some social apps are come set top update every 15 minutes. I set mine to update every 4 hours, or “only when charging”. Some apps even have an option to only sync when connected to WiFi. Keep in mind that some of the smarter apps use something called “push notifications” which only update when the server “pushes” a notice to them that there is something to update.
Check your apps and set them to something that’s more in-line with how often you actually use the apps.
5. Log in to Google Talk
Google Talk is the chat app that comes built-in to your Android, and it’s terribly under-used. You can use Google Talk not only to instant message people with other Android smartphones, but also those who use Gmail on their desktop and laptop computers.
What’s really cool is that many of those computer users have microphones and speakers, and with the right plugin can audio chat with you. This is essentially a free way to make voice calls to anyone in the world with a Gmail account — and it’s built in to every Android out there.
What’s more, if your Android Smartphone has a front-facing camera, you can also use Google Talk to make and receive video calls! You can video call with other Android users, or computer users that have a webcam. This comes in particularly useful during the holidays when friends and family may not be able to come together. Unlike other video chatting solutions, Google Talk should work just fine over 3G, 4G, or WiFi.