Get SMART! (a smart phone that is...)

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Don Adams as Maxwell Smart

A couple of weeks ago we had a phone call from my son seeking help with setting up his first Android Smart Phone. My wife and I have been using one for about six months so have already gone through much of the learning curve. We are using the non-contract provider Straight Talk and a ZTE Merit 990 phone. The Straight Talk service is half the cost per month as compared to a contract service and there is unlimited data, texting and phone calls. The only down side is the phone cost is not subsidized through a contract so you will be paying whatever the going cost is for the model you choose. But, you will quickly recoup that cost in relation to the much higher cost of a contract service.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how much we had learned about setting up and using the Smart Phone. Remember, the phones are small computers. They have a CPU, memory (RAM, ROM and an SD Card slot for external memory); displays that are touch screens, operating systems and applications. Learning to use and manage them takes a bit of time and effort as the manuals that come with them do not give you much insight as to how this is done. So here is some of what the first time user will be faced with on an Android based Smart Phone. Note - I am not going to recommend a particular phone as there are many choices available with plenty of reviews to back them up. Basically the choices have to do mainly with individual preferences and what you’re willing to spend.

For a fully interactive tutorial of Android go to: < >

The tutorial uses the phone I have (ZTE Merit 990G), but should be pretty close to what you will encounter on most Android phones.

No matter which version of Android is installed on the phone you choose the interface was designed for the touch screen. It responds to a tap to select an item or double tap to launch an app. Swiping a finger across the screen left to right, right to left, up and down will scroll in the direction of the swipe. Touch and drag will move an item or, in the case of text, select all between starting and stopping points. Touch and hold will usually bring up a popup menu of actions to take.

Most phones have accelerometers to see the orientation of the phone. When using the on screen keyboard it is really nice to turn the phone sideways to get a wider screen and more spread out keyboard. Also, if the screen does not respond to the turn or goes dark a light shake of the phone it will wake it up to the action. You will quickly get used to using the screen.

After you turn on the phone and unlock it the first screen you will see is the home page.

The home page is the Android equivalent of the Windows desktop. Most phones have home pages that are a few screens wide. To move between them you swipe your finger across the screen to the right or left. You will find some icons or small control panels on most screens. At the top right of the home screen you will see status icons showing time, battery level, signal strength for Wi-Fi and provider signals (2G/3G/4G), Bluetooth (if turned on) and GPS (if turned on). On the left top will be notify icons for when you get a text message, email, or voicemail message or other items such as application updates. If a notify icon shows up you can touch the notify area and drag down to open a drop down menu. At this point you can touch the item to open it or clear the box by touching the clear button. At the bottom center of the screen there should be an icon that will take you to the main screen showing all of your installed applications (apps). On my phone it looks like a square of tiny dots. When your phone is new, all of the apps you see come hardwired to the Android OS and cannot be uninstalled. I highly recommend that you do not update any of the apps that you do not use. When an app is updated it takes more internal phone memory than the previous version. The built in apps must reside in the phones internal memory. You will find that not using up all of your phones free internal memory will be a constant challenge (more on that later). To put the icon of often used apps on the desktop just touch and hold the icon. A copy of the icon will be put on your home page. As the home page fills with icons or you want to group icons on different pages just touch and hold the icon until it changes size and then drag it to the bottom corner to the right to move it to a screen to the right, left for left. You can also delete an icon by dragging it to the trashcan in the middle. It will not delete the app, just delete the icon from the home pages. I found that if you have large fingers you will get the best result moving icons with your little finger.

Many phones will have on screen buttons at the bottom or actual buttons at the bottom of the phone below the screen. The button with the house symbol will take you from an app directly to the home screen. The one with a ¾ round circle with an arrow at one end will take you back one screen. The button with a symbol that looks like lines of text or bars will open a menu box with functions appropriate to the active screen.

On one of the home screens you will have an icon that looks like a gear. That is the settings icon. It is the Android equivalent of the Windows Control Panel. It takes you to a menu of utilities and control panels for the various phone functions. You will want to take a few minutes looking around in here to familiarize yourself with this area.

The Contacts icon is what you touch when setting up your contacts. You enter names, phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses and any other info you want to add. Caution, when you put in phone numbers for your contacts, always include the “1” and area code. Make sure you do this even if the phone number is in your own area code. When you make a phone call or send a text message to someone in your area code the “1” and area code portion will be ignored. However, when you respond to a text message that has been sent to you the messaging system needs the “1” and area code for your response. Without them you will get an illegal error code from the messaging system and the reply will not be sent. While in Contacts touch the extra menu items button (at the bottom of the screen phone and looks like lines of text). Select the Import/Export and export your contacts to the SD card. Then if you lose your contacts you can import them back in. There is also an app that will assist you in storing your contacts in your Google account.

When you are ready to add apps to your phone you will want to use the Google Playstore. There will be a Google Playstore icon on one of your home screens that will take you there. During the initial phone setup you will have created an account with Google that identifies what phone you have. The Playstore is tied to your account so will indicate to you if an app you are looking at is compatible with your phone and will not install anything that is not compatible. During the app installation there will be a checkbox for allowing automatic updates of the free or purchased application. This choice can be changed at a later time, but only through the phone connecting to the Playstore. If you log onto the Playstore from a PC the checkbox for changing the update selection will not show.

Most phones have slots for micro secure digital or some other type of digital memory. When you add memory you might be thinking that you will never run out of memory. Well, there is internal phone memory that is a fixed part of the phone and there is external memory. For this discussion we will call external memory the SD card. You cannot move any of the built in apps from phone memory to the SD card. Any extra apps you add to the phone install to phone memory by default. Most apps will require cache memory to function which is stored in phone memory. Also, text messages, documents, and pictures taken from the built in camera or saved from other sources will go into phone memory. So you may have a 16 or 32 GB SD card installed, but you will still have the internal phone memory as your biggest limitation.

So you may ask, what do you use SD memory for if everything wants to natively store to phone memory? After installation, some of the added apps can be moved from phone memory to the SD card. Others will require residing in phone memory and will not move. I have found that an app called “AppMgr” (also known as App 2 SD) by Sam Lu will help to quickly determine if an app will move from phone to SD and easily complete the action. It also has the added benefit of clearing cache files for all apps with one click, a job that would otherwise take opening each app in the built in Android Application Manager. It also shows you at a glance what apps are installed in which memory and how much internal phone memory if free for use. Another app called “Send to SD” by Denis Nelubin will help you to quickly send pictures and documents to a folder in your SD card by adding a SD Card item to the Share menu. The Share menu is accessed by touching the extra menu items button that looks like lines of text at the bottom of the screen or physical button at the bottom of the phone.

Most versions of Android have a built in file manager app called Filer. You will find it grouped in with the Apps when you touch the Apps main screen icon. Filer is kind of limited as it only allows you to see what the developers thought was safe. Kind of like Windows Explorer at its default setting of not allowing you to see system files. For viewing directories and file management I like to use “ES File Explorer” by ES APP Group. It has no restrictions and many nice features. I used it to create a folder on the SD card for moving pictures from my phone memory to the SD card using the Share menu item “SD Card” created by the “Send to SD” app.

For keeping the bad guys at bay I installed the Avast! Antivirus app located in the Playstore. Avast has the best ratings for protecting Android devices and is free.

Other apps that we have found to be extremely useful are:

  • SwiftKey Keyboard by SwiftKey – Replaces your Android dumb keyboard with a keyboard that learns your writing style and makes auto corrections and saves typing by allowing you to select words as you type. It is spooky how it quickly gets to know what you want to write. After the trial period the free version does not give you guesses to select word insert. We paid out the $3.99 for the Pro version because we found the word insert to really save time.
  • Split N Tip by Handy Apps – This free tip calculator app not only calculates tips quickly and easily but also helps to split the bill between any number of people.
  • Wi-Fi___33 Analyzer by Farproc - Turns your android phone into a Wi-Fi analyzer!! Shows the Wi-Fi channels around you. Shows signal strengths and info for wireless routers within range. Helps you to find a less crowded channel for your wireless router.
  • Epson iPrint by Seiko Epson Corp – Easily find your wireless or networked Epson printer and print to it from your phone. You can also scan documents or photos to your phone. If you do not have an Epson printer you should be able to find other similar apps for your printer brand.
  • Barcode Scanner by Zxing Team – This free app scans barcodes on products then looks up prices and reviews. You can also scan Data Matrix and QR Codes containing URLs, contact info, etc. Also share your contacts, apps, and bookmarks via QR Code
  • iHeartRadio by Clear Channel Digital - iHeartRadio offers free music in an all-in-one, digital internet radio service that lets you find more than 1,500 live radio stations. With the free music app for Android, create commercial-free, all-music Custom Stations featuring songs from the artist you select and similar music. We especially like listening to talk radio shows.
  • SugarSync by SugarSync, Inc. - SugarSync is the easiest and most advanced way to sync, share, as well as search and access all of your files – documents, photos, videos and music. SugarSync for Android puts all of your files from across all of your computers right at your fingertips, making you more productive when you’re on the go.

My phone came with 512 MB of internal phone memory. The OS and pre-installed apps take up 350 MB leaving me 162 MB free for my installed apps and contacts. Updates to pre-installed apps also take up internal memory. So with all the stuff and apps that I have loaded I am left with 32 MB of phone memory free. Not a whole lot, but I am managing it. My son had to one up the Old Man with a more current Smart Phone that came with 1 GB internal memory. So I am envious as he has yet to get the dreaded “Out of Memory” warning that I get if not diligent with keeping everything clean. Oh well, maybe on my next phone…

If you have not used a Smart Phone before you will be delighted and amazed at just what you can do with them.

PS from his better half - With this wonderful article Bob forgot to mention the fact that you have Google, Google maps, and Google navigation readily available on these phones. Even if you don’t have the GPS active the phone will triangulate your location on Google maps from nearby cell towers. By the by, I use the voice recognition on my phone for quick texts and emails. After six months I’m a smart phone junkie!

By Bob Woods, Webmaster, UCHUG (Under the Computer Hood UG), CA

April 2013 issue, DriveLight

webmasters (at)

[* Read more about Get Smart, Maxwell Smart, and the original smart phone, aka shoe phone, circa 1965 – UCHUG Editor] < >