9 Ways to Customize your Android

How to customize your lock screen, wallpaper, apps, and more

Woman using smart phone in subway.
Guido Mieth / Getty Images

You've got a new Android smartphone or tablet. There are many ways that you can make it your own, from transferring contacts and apps to installing widgets to downloading fun wallpaper. Once you dig in, you'll be surprised at the many ways that you can customize your Android device, even without rooting it. (Though rooting has many benefits too, and it's easier than you might expect.) Once you've transferred all of your data and wiped the old phone, don't let it sit around gathering dust: it's easy to sell an old device, or donate or repurpose it. And remember to back up your new device regularly so you don't have to worry about losing data should you lose your device. Plus, you can eventually move that data to the next new thing.

Speaking of new, shiny things: here are nine ways to make your Android device all about you. 

The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

of 09

Transfer Your Contacts, Apps, and Other Data

Woman using smart phone in subway
Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Before you activate your new Android, you can take advantage of a feature called Tap and Go that lets you transfer the data of your choice from one device to another, using NFC. So if you have your old phone on hand, this is a painless way to go. You can also use a variety of apps to back-up your data on one device, and transfer it to the new one. The Google Pixel line of phones come with a cable for fast and easy transfer; the set-up process will guide you through it.

If you're coming from iOS, have no fear, you can still transfer most of your data to an Android.

  1. Download the Google Drive app on your iPhone.
  2. Launch the app and sign in.
  3. Go to Menu > Settings > Backup.
  4. Choose what you'd like to backup or back up everything by tapping Start Backup.
  5. Sign into your Android device using the same Google account.

Turn off iMessage on your iPhone to avoid issues with text messages getting to your new Android. Tap Settings Messages > move the iMessage slider to Off.

of 09

Replace Your Home Screen with a Launcher

Nova Launcher on Android

Guess what? You don't have to use the home screen and app manager that comes with your phone. Without rooting, you can easily download and install a third-party Android launcher that cleans up your interface, and lets you customize your home screens beyond app shortcuts. Added features include resizing icons, setting up personalized gesture controls, and changing the color scheme. 

of 09

Install a Better Keyboard

SwiftKey Keyboard on Android

Smartphones running stock Android (or close to stock) default to GBoard, Google's well-regarded keyboard. Devices that run a custom version of Android may default to the manufacturer's keyboard, such as Samsung. 

If you're not happy with your built-in keyboard, try another one. There are so many third-party keyboards available via Google Play, including the top-rated Swype and Swiftkey, as well as any number of GIF keyboards and other specialty apps. And while you're at it, whether you keep the stock keyboard or install a new one, be sure to customize the autocorrect settings to match up with your lingo to avoid awkward interactions and general frustration.

of 09

Add Widgets to Your Home Screens

Android widgets

We've said it before: one of our favorite Android features is the large selection of widgets you can add to your home screen. The options are endless: weather, time and date, calendar, sports scores, music controls, alarms, note-takers, fitness trackers, social media, and more. Plus, many widgets come in multiple sizes so you can make the most of your screen real estate. 

of 09

Download Wallpaper

Set a custom wallpaper on Android

Most of the wallpaper options on smartphones and tablets are boring, not to mention that thousands of others are walking around with the same designs. Have a little fun. Spice up your screen with your favorite photos, or download a wallpaper app, and find something that fits your preferences. You can even cycle through your favorites, so you're not stuck with just one background. There are also apps that let you design your wallpaper, using your favorite colors and patterns. Best of all, most of these apps are free or cheap.

of 09

Set Up Default Apps

Set Default Apps on Android

Ever clicked a link in an email and your smartphone launched an app instead of a browser? Or tried to view a Tweet only to have it open the browser instead of the Twitter app? That's frustrating. But you can save your sanity by setting up default apps and clearing any defaults that you've already set and no longer work for you. It's straightforward to do if you're running Lollipop 5.0 or later or have a stock Android device

of 09

Customize Your Lock Screen

Customize Android lock screen

Like everything else in Android, you don't have to stick with the out-of-the-box lock screen on your Android device. In addition to choosing the unlock method, you can also opt to show notifications and designate how much information you want to display to protect your privacy. Third party apps let you add widgets to the lock screen and add to the variety of unlock options. If you've set up Google Find My Device (previously Android Device Manager), you can also add a message and a button that calls a specified number, just in case a good samaritan finds your lost phone.

of 09

Root Your Device

Android root apps

Of course, rooting your Android smartphone opens up a host of options. When you root, you can access the latest Android features first, and update your OS whenever you want; you're no longer at the mercy of your carrier and manufacturer. That also means that you can use stock Android, without any skins your manufacturer might build in, or annoying bloatware. Rooting can be intimidating, but if you follow the instructions carefully, the good definitely outweighs any drawbacks

of 09

Flash a Custom ROM

Flashing LineageOS on Android

When you root your Android smartphone, you can opt to install aka flash a custom ROM, though it's not required. Custom ROMs are modified versions of Android. The most popular are LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod) and Paranoid Android, both of which offer added features beyond stock Android, such as custom button configuration and the ability to hide screen elements that you don't like or use. Each also tends to offer bug fixes at a faster rate than Google, and sometimes the best features show up in official versions of Android.