Android tips: 7 ways to get around your phone faster

The following seven Android tips will help streamline your general Android navigation processes

When you think of Android smartphones, "productivity" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind. But you don't have to use a BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 device or another boring "enterprise-friendly" handheld to get a lot done in a little time -- whether it be for work or play.

The following seven Android tips will help streamline your general Android navigation processes so you can move around your device, and access of your favorite apps, media and services, faster and more efficiently.

Also read my Android Battery Tips and Android Security Basics posts for more Android tips and tricks. And checkout my latest list of free Android apps for suggestions on new software.

(Note: The Android tips and tricks described below all work on my Motorola Atrix 4G running Android v2.2.1, but some of them may not be available for all devices or operating system versions.)

1) Customizing Your Android Home Screens

Customizing the individual home-screen "panes" on your Android smartphone is one of the easiest ways to make it your own, as well as reduce the time it takes to access your most frequently used applications. And you can move any application to any home-screen pane.

To move an app from either your "app page," where all your Android software is stored, or from one pane to another, simply press and hold the application for a second or two, until a colored shadow appears beneath it. If you're moving an app from your app page to a home screen page, you'll immediately be returned to the last home screen page you were on before jumping to the app page.

Moving apps around an individual pane, or between panes, is as simple as dragging your finger to the left or right, up or down, after holding the icon for a second to select it. And you can ditch unwanted apps from your home screen panes by holding their respective icons until they're selected, and then dropping them into the trash can, or other similar icon, that appears on-screen.

2) Create Home Screen Widgets for Favorite Apps

One of the coolest things about the Android OS is the ability to use a variety of "widgets," or icons that sit on your home screen and display information so you don't ever have to open the actual applications or services that they're associated with. Widgets can save time and show information you might have otherwise missed.

To assign an Android widget to one of your home screens, just press and hold a blank space on one of those home screens, i.e., a place with no other widgets or applications. And then choose the Android Widgets option for access to third-party app-widgets. On the following screen, scroll through all your third-party widgets and pick the ones you want to display on your home screen panes.

You should see another widget-option after holding your finger on a blank home-screen page, as well, for core system widgets. But its name will differ based on model, manufacturer and OS version. For in example, my Motorola Atrix 4G has another widget-option called Motorola Widgets that offers another set of widgets, including ones that let me toggle my various wireless-radios on and off, and quickly start and stop music, etc.

Not all Android apps offer widget-functionality, but many do, so be sure to check to see if your favorite app has a widget.

(Note: Android widgets that update themselves can drain a lot of battery power, depending on individual settings, so it's not a wise idea to pack your home-screens with widgets that you won't actually use.)

3) Create Android Home Screen Shortcuts for Favorites Websites

Just as you can create home screen widgets for certain applications, you can also make home-screen shortcuts for your favorite Web pages, so you never have to launch your browser and navigate to those pages.

To assign a custom Android shortcut to your home screen, navigate to the Web page for which you want to create a shortcut, tap your Menu key to bring up additional options and then choose More. On the following screen, select the Add Shortcut to Home option. A new shortcut for the Web page of your choice will appear on the home-screen pane you were on last, unless there's no more room for another shortcut, in which case you'll be informed that you can't fit a new shortcut on that pane.

You can also create a shortcut to certain Android system options, such as your Android Settings menu or your Contacts, by pressing and holding a blank space on a home-screen pane for a second or two. But instead of choosing one of the widget-options, as described above, pick Shortcuts. Then choose the specific shortcut you wish to add from the options on the following screen.

4) Quickly View and Jump Between Your Last Used Android Apps

One of the best ways to quickly jump back and forth between frequently-used Android applications is by holding your finger on the Android Home Button for a second or two, until a set of eight application-icons labeled Recent appear on screen. You can la

unch any of these eight apps by simply tapping their icons on the Recent page. The apps included will change based on which ones you've most recently used.

5) See All Android Home-Screen Panes on One Screen

The Android OS lets you quickly view miniature versions of all of your home-screen panes on one page. But the process for accessing this all-pane-view is different depending on your device and OS version. To access this view on my Motorola Atrix, I simply hold down the circular, on-screen Home button until all of my home-screen pages appear. From there, I can easily click on any pane to quickly access it, instead of scrolling through multiple panes first.

To access this multi-pane-view on the HTC Droid Incredible running Android 2.2, you must double-tap your Home button -- not the on-screen "key" but the actual button.

6) Employ Custom Android Folder to Organize Apps

In addition to customizing your home-screen panes and adding both widgets and shortcuts, you can add folders to your Android home screens to further customize and organize content on your smartphone. Create a new folder the same way you would a new shortcutby pressing and holding a blank space on your home screen until an options menu appears. Choose the Folders option, and a new folder will be assigned to your home screen. You can then fill up your folders by dragging applications over the folder-icons and dropping them in.

7) Double-Tap Your Android Home Button for Custom Functions

Some Android devices, including the Motorola Atrix 4G, let you customize your home button, so it performs different functions when double-tapped. For instance, you can set the Double Tap Home feature to open up your camera or your phone's dial-pad, etc., whenever you double-tap your Home button.

To do so, open up your Android Settings, scroll down and click the applications option, and then, on the following page, choose Double tap home launch. Next, pick the function you wish to launch after double-tapping your home button, and you're good to go.

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Al at asacco@cio.com

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Al Sacco

CIO (US)

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