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Getting Up to Speed with Your Android Device

It's time to get familiar with your Android device! This chapter from Android Tips and Tricks will show you how to identify skins, manage notifications, enter text, set up a tablet for multiple users, optimize battery performance and manage storage.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

This chapter will get you familiar with your Android device so that you can get the most benefit out of the rest of this book. You’ll start by establishing which version of Android your device is running and whether it uses stock Android or a skin. You’ll then move into setting volume levels for your various audio sources; managing your notifications; and entering text using the onscreen keyboard, hardware keyboards, and dictation. After that, it’s time to examine how you set up a tablet for multiple users, get the best battery performance from your device, and manage files and storage on it.

Identifying Your Device’s Android Version and its Skin

At this writing, you can choose from a vast range of devices that run the Android operating system (OS). These devices not only have widely varying capabilities but also run different versions of Android. To make matters even more confusing, many devices also use what’s called a skin, a layer of software that runs on top of the Android OS, makes it look different, and gives it additional capabilities.

All this means that, to get the most out of this book, you need to know not only exactly what device you have but what version of Android it’s running—and what skin, if any. Armed with this knowledge, you can identify which tips and tricks apply to your device, its version of Android, and its skin.

Understanding Android Version Numbers and Names

Table 1.1 shows Android’s versions as of fall 2014, starting with the latest version. Each version has a number and a name. For example, the latest version is Android 4.4, which is called KitKat; Android 5.0, Lollipop, is imminent.

Table 1.1 Android Version Numbers and Names

Version Numbers

Version Name




Jelly Bean


Ice Cream Sandwich













At this writing, the current version of Android is KitKat (4.4). Jelly Bean (versions 4.1–4.3) is widely used, but so is Ice Cream Sandwich. Some Honeycomb (versions 3.0–3.2.6) are still in use.

Finding Out Which Android Version Your Device Is Running

To find out which version of Android your device is running, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the list.
  3. Tap the About Phone button or the About Tablet button to display the About Phone screen or the About Tablet screen. (On some devices, the button and screen may be called About Device.)
  4. Look at the Android Version readout. You’ll see a number such as 4.4.2 (which means your device is running KitKat) or 4.0.4 (which indicates Ice Cream Sandwich).

Establishing Whether Your Device Is Using a Skin

A skin is an extra layer of software that makes the Android user interface look different and work differently. Skins typically provide extra functionality that is not available in stock Android, so by adding a skin, a manufacturer can provide extra features to a device, make it more attractive, or make it easier to use.

These are all points in favor of skins. But because implementing a skin involves running extra software, a skin tends to make your Android device respond more slowly. If the device has a powerful processor and plenty of RAM, it may have enough punch to run Android and the skin without slowing down. But if the device is underpowered, a skin may make it slow and cumbersome to use.

Google periodically issues new versions of Android with new features, new looks, or other improvements. If you have one of Google’s branded devices, such as the Nexus 5 phone or the Nexus 7 tablet, you can update to the newest version immediately. By contrast, manufacturers that provide custom versions of Android need to create new custom versions for their devices, which takes time and money. So if your device has a skin, you will likely have to wait months before a new version becomes available—and that’s for one of the manufacturer’s latest or biggest-selling devices. For older or lesser devices, manufacturers may not provide updated versions of Android.

The easiest way to tell whether your device has a skin is to see whether it’s different from the stock Android screens shown in most of this book. For example, Figure 1.1 shows the Settings screen in stock Android on the left and the Settings screen in Samsung’s TouchWiz skin on the right. You can clearly see the huge differences between the two.


FIGURE 1.1 Samsung’s TouchWiz skin (right) makes huge visual changes from stock Android (left).

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