Well, it’s been a couple months since I first put my hands to my Droid X. Things have changed a bit since then:
- I have more experience with the device
- I’ve had some time to go through more applications and compare competitors
- Android 2.2 has come out
- 3 people who have seen my phone in person and listened to me rhapsodize over it have purchased the Droid X, while others have lamented that they’re still stuck in contracts
With this in mind, I’d like to provide an overview of how I use my device day to day, how it’s configured, and what you should do when you get yours.
To start with, understand that your Android device is not a phone in the traditional sense. It doesn’t have a week’s worth of battery in it. While a “feature phone” is just that (just a phone), your Android device is a computer in your pocket. Think of it like a laptop. That fits in your pocket.
Next, the first thing you want to do when you get your new Android device is update it to the latest and greatest version of the operating system, if it’s not already there. I’m not talking about rooting your device and installing a custom ROM; just using Menu (the leftmost key) > Settings > About Phone > System Updates to see if there’s a new version. At the time of this writing, the Droid X 2.2 update is being pushed out in waves, but you want to install it before you do anything else. It will take a little while to download and install, and will require a device reboot.
Good. You’re all up to date. Now you need to understand how this phone operates and should be used. It’s different from the iPhone.
At the top of the screen there’s a bar with your clock, battery meter, and cell strength on the right hand side. On the left hand side you may see some other icons. This bar can be “drawn down” like a shade with your finger. This is your notification area. If you get an email, text message, IM, or reminder, the detail will appear here. Touching a particular item will open the associated application (usually) to view that particular item. Oftentimes, when you get a notification, the device will make a sound, will occasionally vibrate, and if there are still pending items needing your attention a little light on the top will occasionally blink to let you know something happened. Think of this as a really awesome version of the iPhone’s mail icon letting you know how many unread messages you still have.
A long press on your Home button (which looks like a house; it’s the second button) will bring up something similar to an Alt-Tab display on Windows. Just select the recently active app you want to go back to and you’re there.
Your desktop is not for shortcuts. Let me say that again: shortcuts (by and large) don’t belong on the desktop. Your desktop is not a glorified start menu. You do yourself a disservice to treat it as such. Your desktop is for widgets. A widget is like an application that is always open on a particular portion of your desktop to relay specific information and allow specific interaction.
An example is the Audible.com widget: it takes up 1 row on your desktop and is 4 columns long. It displays a play/pause toggle button, the name of the book you’re listening to, and a bookmark button. When you touch the name of the book it opens the full application to that book, and the other buttons work as you’d expect them to. You are able to interact with the application directly through the widget.
On my primary desktop, I have a widget that displays an estimate of my remaining battery life in hours, a note taking widget, a widget that displays pending tasks, a widget that displays my agenda from my Google calendars for the next couple of days, the Audible.com widget, a flashlight widget, and a Launcher Pro folder called “Location” that I keep some location based applications in.
To add a widget, simply press on an empty space on your desktop and hold your finger there for a little while. This will cause an options dialog box to come up.
While LauncherPro isn’t the only launcher / home screen replacement out there, it is one of the absolute best. Using it will increase usability significantly. Another reasonable alternative is ADW Launcher, which has a focus on skinning and themes.
LauncherPro gives you the ability to create folders on your desktop that can contain other items. Just create a folder and drop the items into it (directly from the app drawer if you like). I keep folders for Games, Location based apps, and Reference materials. You create a folder when you have a context in mind rather than a specific application.
There’s also a scrolling bar at the bottom that has links to 5 apps. Your main one (and you have 3, for a total of 15 apps) should have things like “Open the dialer” and “Send an SMS”. The others should be used for applications that you use a lot that don’t provide a useful desktop widget. Another nice thing is that you can create a “swipe” action for each of these 15 buttons. Simply swiping your finger over it will cause it to take a different action than just touching it. So touching the center icon causes the app drawer to open, but swiping over it causes AppBrain to open.
Also on your main launch bar you should keep Gesture Search. This is an application that allow you to draw letters on the screen with your finger, and it will show a list of matching applications, contacts, settings, etc. It’s great for when you have a specific application you want to open but it’s not available via the desktop or launch bar.
Now that you’ve covered the basics of interacting with your device, it’s time to install some applications. I mean, what good is a computer with programs to run?! The cool thing about this computer is: it’s portable, it’s location aware, it’s movement aware, it’s light aware, it has an integrated camera, and possibly some other cool stuff (like magnetometers). There are applications that allow you to use these abilities in new, unexpected, and exciting ways. Everyone has different needs and interests, but there are a couple things you should know…
AppBrain App Market
The way that Linux (you did know that Android was built on Linux, right?) works for installing files is different than on Windows. Here, you have a central clearinghouse of applications. If you want one, you just go ask for it and it automagically downloads and installs for you. And when an update is available for an app you’ve got installed, it will let you know (or if you let it, automagically download and install it for you). In the Linux world, these clearinghouses are called “repositories”, and you can have more than one configured on your machine. On Android, we call it the “Android Market”, which is a central repository operated by Google. You can configure your device to be able to install “Non-Market Applications”, which is kind of like being able to download an .exe file on Windows and just install it. The program works, but it isn’t necessarily tapped into the Market for updates.
So, what does the “stock” Android user do when he wants an application he’s read about online? He:
- gets his phone out of his pocket
- unlocks it
- opens the Market application
- searches for the application name
- selects the application
- instructs the device to install it
- accepts the warning message about what the app is asking to be able to do
I don’t know about you, but I look for ways to make my own life easier. Fortunately, so have the developers of the AppBrain App Market. I can browse and search for applications online and install them with a couple of clicks. Once you’ve linked your Android device to your AppBrain account, you can use the Fast Web Installer to click the “Install” link on the app page, accept the permissions warning, and the application will automatically begin installing itself on your device.
There is another easy way to install applications, however…
Android makes pretty wide use of QR codes. These are square barcodes that look like this:
These QR codes are more than just normal barcodes (which have strait lines that represent numbers based on the thickness of the line). By using digital dots, they can contain a lot more information. Like a URL. Or your contact information. Or other stuff. The barcode above is actually a URL. When you scan it with a scanner app, it will open up a webpage. So you can think of them as something like physical hyperlinks. The best barcode scanner app I’ve found is called QuickMark, designed by the original creators of the QR code itself. Some applications want to make use of barcode scanning, and will often make bindings to an app called Barcode Scanner, so it’s probably good to have that installed as well. But for day to day use, QuickMark is … much quicker. To lock in and respond with the result, that is. Barcode Scanner doesn’t seem quite as smart.
As I’ve stated, everyone has their own preferences. However, I’ve done some rather extensive experimentation and trolling through various apps (installing multiple apps for the same purpose and finding out which ones work best), so I’d like to share with you my own personal favorites. I keep a separate post for these apps. You can find them here.
Enjoy your new Android device!