How to Set Up Your New Android Device in 4 Steps

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How to Set Up Your New Android Smartphone or Tablet in 4 Steps

Welcome to Android
Welcome to Android. Photo by jugglerpm (Flickr)

If you're the new owner of an Android smartphone or tablet, congratulations! Whether you're new to Android or even if you've been using Android a while, when you're starting afresh with a new device, it helps to have a checklist of sorts to get you started. This is that checklist (in a simple slideshow format).

For your particular Android phone or tablet, the exact menu options might be different, but they should be similar to the steps shown here. I've included instructions from initial setup to customizing your homescreen.

Here are all the steps you need to get started with Android:

  1. Unpack your phone and sign in with your Google account
  2. Set up your phone or tablet security options and wireless connectivity
  3. Install essential Android apps
  4. Tips and Tricks: Customize your home screen and more

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Unpack your phone and sign in with your Google account

Android Setup - connect to Google
Android Setup - connect to Google. Photo by warrenski (Flickr)

Unboxing the phone or tablet is a great part of the experience. In the box, you may find a quick setup or getting started guide, which would tell you if you need to put in a SIM card (included in the box) into the phone (usually in the battery compartment). If your phone has a removable battery, you would also need to insert it. You should have enough of a charge to finish all the steps to setting up your new Android device, but if you're near an outlet, might as well plug in and start charging the battery.

When you first turn on the phone or tablet, Android will guide you through the initial steps of getting started. You'll be asked to sign in with your Google account (e.g., Gmail login) or create a new one. This keeps your device in sync with Google's services for email, calendar, maps, and more.

During setup, you'll also be able to link other services, such as Facebook and Yahoo! Mail, but you can add those accounts later if you just want to get into your phone as quickly as possible.

You'll also be asked some basic settings questions, such as what language you use and if you want to turn on location services. Location services are needed by many apps to do things like give you driving directions and show local restaurant reviews; the information is gathered anonymously.

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Set up your phone or tablet security options and wireless connectivity

Android Setup - Security
Android Setup - Security. Screengrab by Melanie Pinola

This might be the most important step of all. Since phones and tablets are easily lost or stolen, you want to make sure it's as protected as possible in case anyone else gets your device.

First, head to your device's settings by hitting the menu button (usually the leftmost one that looks like a simple menu). Select Settings, then scroll down to and tap Security.

In that screen, you can set a PIN code, pattern, or, depending on your device and Android version, another means of locking the phone or tablet (e.g., face unlock or password). A long, multi-character password has the highest security, but if that's too daunting to enter every single time your screen locks, at least set up a long PIN.

Depending on your device and Android version, you may have other security options, such as encrypting the entire device (important if you're using your phone or tablet for work) and locking the SIM card.

If you have the option to enter owner information, definitely set that up (your name and an alternate phone number), just in case you lose your phone and a Good Samaritan finds it.

Finally, you'll want to set up remote wipe as soon as possible. This allows you to erase all the data on the phone or tablet from afar, in case it gets lost or stolen.

Set up wireless connectivity

At this point, you'll probably also want to connect to your Wi-Fi network. Leaving Wi-Fi on all the time isn't a great idea for your mobile device's battery life, but when you're at home or at a known wireless network, it is best to use Wi-Fi.

Head to Settings again from the menu button, then go to Wireless & Networks and tap Wi-Fi. Enable Wi-Fi and tap the name of your wireless network. Enter the network password (if any) and you're ready to roll.

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Install essential Android apps

Google Play
Google Play. Screengrab by Melanie Pinola

There are thousands of Android apps to download and play with. Here are a few suggestions to get you started with your new Android smartphone or tablet.

I posted 9 Essential Apps for New Android Users and Top 5 Business Apps for Almost All Smartphones two years ago, but some of these apps are no longer available or may be replaced by better alternatives. Of the ones I still use, I recommend Evernote for note-taking, Documents to Go for editing Microsoft Office files, Skype for free video calling and instant messaging, and Wifi Analyzer to help you improve your wireless network. 

I also think you should install avast! for antivirus/complete mobile security (free and highly rated by AV-Test, GasBuddy (because we all could stand to save on gas), and Camera ZOOM FX (probably the best camera app for Android).

If you use your phone or tablet to catch up on news and websites, Google Reader, Zite, and Pocket are awesome.

You'll find all of these apps and a whole lot more in the Google Play app (formerly known as Google Market). Pro tip: You can remotely install apps to your phone or device from your laptop or desktop computer from the Google Play website.

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Tips and Tricks: Customize your Android home screen and more

Android Setup - Widgets
Android Setup - Widgets. Screenshot by Melanie Pinola

After you set up your device's security and download some essential apps, you'll probably want to customize the phone or tablet so your favorite apps and information are at your fingertips. Android offers a ton of customization features, including the ability to add dynamic widgets. Here are the basics of customizing your home screen and device:

  • Your Android device comes with several home screen panels. Swipe right or left to access the other ones.
  • To remove an app from one of the screens (but not delete it entirely), tap on the app and hold it for a few seconds (i.e., long press) until you see a trash can icon at the bottom of your screen. Drag the app to the trash can to remove it.
  • To add an app to one of the screens, tap the Applications icon and then long press the app you want to add. Drag it to the panel you want to place it on.
  • You can add folders to a screen too. Long press an empty area of the screen and select Folders. Depending on your system, you may be able to set up not just a new basic folder to contain your apps, but also specific folders such as All contacts or Recent documents. Move apps into a folder by dragging them to it.
  • To add a widget, shortcut, or change the wallpaper, long press as above on an empty area of the screen. Widgets can contain dynamic information, such as weather, news, a clock, and more. Shortcuts are quick links to an app, a contact, a bookmark, settings, and so on.
  • My Color Screen is a great resource to find beautiful Android homescreens shared by others--and learn to create your own customized versions.

There's a whole lot more you can do with Android, but this basic setup guide should get you started. Enjoy your new phone or tablet!