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2,854 Tutorials

How to customise an Android smartphone or Android tablet

Set up your phone to work just the way you like it

Make your Google Android hardware truly your own with some personalised tweaks.

One of Android's biggest strengths is its flexibility. You can tweak just about every aspect of the interface to customise your Google Android tablet or Google Android phone, from the desktop wallpaper to the blinking LED indicator light. Here's how to give the system a personal touch.

Google Android: Look and feel

The first thing you might want to change is the wallpaper. This couldn't be easier: simply tap the Menu key, then pick Wallpaper. You can select a picture from among your own photos or from the collection of backgrounds supplied. Beginning with Android 2.1, you can also choose any of several ‘live wallpapers' that move and even respond to your touch.

Another way to set your wallpaper is directly from the picture gallery. With an image selected, just tap anywhere on the screen and select Set As. You'll be given an option to make the current picture your wallpaper. To extend your options, try using an app such as Backgrounds, a free download from the Android Market. This program gives you thousands of wallpaper designs to choose from and apply directly to your Android desktop.

As we've already seen, the wallpaper is only the beginning: with Android, you can set up your home screens exactly as you like. Another element to play with is widgets. These come in all shapes and sizes; several are pre-loaded, and many others are available either as standalone downloads or as part of fully fledged applications in the Android Market. When you see an app refer to a ‘1x1 widget', that means the item will take up the space of a single shortcut-size square on your home screen; a 2x1 widget is two squares across and one high, and so on. While some take up entire rows, many useful widgets occupy only one or two squares, helping to make the most of your screen space.

To get you started, check out the free Weather Channel app. This includes a nice 1x1 widget that will detect your current location and keep you up to speed with the latest weather conditions.

For calendar power, try the highly customisable CalWidget, also free. It can put your forthcoming appointments on your home screen in practically any size and colour scheme you could want.

Pandora's free music app includes a 4x1 widget that gives you on-screen controls over playback. The free vizBattery widget puts a 1x1 battery icon on your home screen, so you can always see exactly how much juice you have left.

If you run a blog or website with Google Analytics, take a peek at the Analytics Widget. This shows you your total page views for the day in a 1x1 size.
Remember, each home-screen panel can hold any combination of widgets, shortcuts and folders.

Google Android: Set Your Own Sounds

Itching to make your Android phone's ringtone sound just the way you want? Tap the Menu key and select the Settings menu. From there, tap Sound and Display.

All the basics should now be in front of you, including options to set the default system ringtone, the notification sound, and the volume levels. You'll notice that your own MP3s don't appear in the list of ringtone choices. That's because your phone doesn't yet see them as system sounds. Fortunately, this isn't hard to fix: make a new folder on your memory card called 'ringtones' and copy MP3s into it, and they'll automatically show up in your selection list.

Want to set your own MP3 files as notification sounds or alarms, too? Just repeat the process described above, naming the folders ‘alarms' or ‘notifications' respectively. If you find yourself wanting to use only a certain portion of a song grab the free RingDroid app from the Android Market. With this, it's easy to edit MP3s so that you can get the exact clip you need.

Google Android: Light entertainment

Most Android devices come with an LED indicator. By default, this usually flashes different colours to alert you to a missed call, or to a new email or text message. But you can make it do much more.

Missed Call, a free app, harnesses the LED to expand your device's notification functionality by making the light flash in specified colours when particular events happen. You could program it to flash orange when you miss a call from your boss and purple when you miss a call from your partner. You can even set flashing LED colours to alert you to calendar items.

Google Android: Make Android do the Work

Personalisation doesn't just mean making your Android device cooler, it can also make your life easier.

Got an annoying colleague who can't take a hint? Route their calls directly to your voicemail and they'll never disturb you again. Just make sure you've entered the offending person's information into your contacts list, then open their profile and press the Menu key. Select Options and select the tick box for Send calls directly to voicemail.

You can control more closely how your phone handles calls and other tasks by installing FoxyRing, free from the Android Market. This app allows you to set custom parameters based on your location. You could have your phone always switch to silent when you're at the local cinema, for example. FoxyRing also allows you to set ‘sleeping hours' during which your phone won't ring at all.

For even more robust options, consider two paid-for apps: Setting Profiles and Locale. Available in the Market for £2.50 and £6.25 respectively, these let you set your phone to do all sorts of things based on conditions such as location, day and time or battery status.
The apps can alter everything from advanced sounds to power settings, and even perform complex actions such as opening other programs when preset conditions are met.

Google Android: Navigate in Style

Depending on your device, using hotkeys to navigate the operating system might save you some time. Android has a built-in set of keyboard shortcuts, but you can create your own. From your home screen, tap the Menu key and select Settings. Next, choose Applications and Quick Launch to set hotkeys for any app.

When it comes to web navigation, you're not stuck with Android's default browser. Third-party alternatives offer powerful extra functionality. Try Dolphin Browser (free from the Android Market, or £3.10 for a licence to remove in-app adverts) for options such as multitouch zooming, gesture-driven control, and seamless link-sharing to social networks.

As for file navigation, you can browse an Android device like a PC using a file manager such as Astro, free to download from the Market. This lets you browse through your phone and memory card directories and move files at will.

Google Android: Autocomplete Yourself

Finally, a word on Android's autocomplete technology. This can do much more than merely suggest words as you type into the Search box; it can also help you by filling in the phrases you use most often when entering text. The secret is to edit Android's custom dictionary. Tap the Menu key from your home screen and go to Settings, Language and keyboard, then select User dictionary. Try adding your name, your street address, or any phrase you find yourself typing often (for example, ‘I'm in a meeting – will call you back when I can'): from now on, those terms will pop up in the autocomplete list as you start typing them.

See also: Group test: what's the best Google Android app?

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