9 Ways to Customize your Android

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

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 9 ways to make your Android device all about you.  

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Transfer Your Contacts, Apps, and Other Data

Woman using smart phone in subway
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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 device 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. Read more about using Tap and Go and third-party apps to move data to a new device.  

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Replace Your Home Screen with a Launcher

Guess what? You don't have to use the home screen and app manager that's built into 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. Read about the best Android launchers

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Install a Better Keyboard

Smartphone keyboard
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Again, 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 personal lingo to avoid awkward interactions and general frustration.

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Add Widgets to Your Home Screens

I've said it before: one of my 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. Here are a dozen ways to use widgets

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Download Wallpaper

Android screenshot

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 own wallpaper, using your favorite colors and patterns. Best of all, most of these apps are free, or very low cost.

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Set Up Default Apps

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 launch 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 very easy to do if you're running Marshmallow, Lollipop, or have a stock Android device. Read my full guide to setting and clearing default apps.

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Customize Your Lock Screen

Google Smart Lock
Getty Images

Like everything else, you're not stuck 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 the 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.

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Root Your Device

Focused college student studying at computer
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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 your 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 any of that annoying bloatware from your carrier. Rooting can be intimidating, but if you follow the instructions carefully, the good definitely outweighs any drawbacks

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Flash a Custom ROM

When you root your Android smartphone, you can opt to install aka flash a custom ROM, though it's not required. Custom ROMs are essentially modified versions of Android. The most popular are CyanogenMod (now LineageOS) 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.