Many people are excited about their new Android phones or tablets. Like any new technology, it’s a toy. As with any toy, there are some certain things you should know. So, instead of reading the operating manual (because who does that?) here are my five.

1. Set up security

Before you delve too far into the operation of your Android device, it’s important that you secure your devices. This is especially true if you’re using your phone or tablet to keep and transport personal data. The easiest start to protection is by setting up password or pattern unlock.

I’m still shocked by the number of attorneys (it’s mostly older lawyers) who fail to set up this feature on their phones or tablets. I’m even more surprised because setting protection is one of the first tasks when you initially access your device. The task isn’t difficult, so you can still redeem yourself if you’re in this small minority.

Access Settings > Security:

Android Security

Choose Screen lock:

Android Screen Lock Setting

And you’ll be prompted to choose your screen lock:

Android Choose Screen Lock

Note: in this picture the first two options, “None” and “Face Unlock”, are unavailable because I’m using Google Apps Device Policy that forces a minimum password strength and type.

You have several screen lock options, ranging from least secure (None) to most secure (Password). I like Pattern unlock for ease of use, but I also set password lock on my tablet.

Pick a method, enter the specific code, pin, or pattern, and you just secured your device.

The second security feature you’ll want to have is from malicious applications. Sometimes, Android takes flak because “it’s too vulnerable.” Basically, that vulnerability refers to Android’s open architecture. Google restricts very few applications from its Play Store, and since you can “sideload” an application, you have a higher risk of infecting your operating system.

Don’t worry though, like a desktop computer, if you follow some simple rules, you’ll be fine.

Rule 1: don’t open it if you don’t know the source, or it “looks funny”.

Rule 2: don’t open it if you don’t know the source, or it “looks funny”.

Rule 3: don’t open it if you don’t know the source, or it “looks funny”.

Rule 4 . . . you get the idea. The game we play on Android is diligence. Be mindful of your sources and their contents. If you “have a feeling,” trust your gut. It’s probably right.

Malicious apps are out there, but if you’re following the rules, you lessen the chance of harmful infection. But sometimes, even when you’re following the rules, you can run into trouble. So, install virus protection. I like Lookout or Bitdefender, but virus programs are a dime-a-dozen in Google Play.

2. Disable Apps

One of the reason I push everyone to buy a device running Android 4.1 or greater is because of the ability to disable apps. This is especially useful for bloatware and other junk pre-installed on your device. If you can’t fully uninstall the app, then Android does the next-best thing: disables it.

Check out this post for the easy steps on getting rid of bloatware on your Android phone or tablet.

3. Hard reset

Sometimes, nothing can save your device from inevitable malfunction. Or, you just want to clean up your phone or tablet. Performing a hard reset can help fix both issues. If you’re having app problems, check out this post. Anything else, time to reset.

You should be aware of some rules before beginning the factory reset. First, you will lose everything on your device. That means you’ll need to backup the pictures, text messages, and other documents or files you don’t want to lose.

Many phones have backup options (check Settings > Backup & reset for details), but you can use apps like Dropbox, Bitcasa, ASTRO File Manager, or MyBackup Pro  (Titanium Backup for rooted devices) to preserve your files.

In my case, I use Bitcasa to automatically backup my photographs and SMS Backup & Restore to protect my text messages. Since I sync my contacts, email, and calendar with my Google Apps account, the information returns the minute I connect my phone or tablet to Google. This is true for my apps and other settings as well (verify that Automatic restore under Settings > Backup & restore is checked).

After preserving the files, you’re ready to reset. Click Settings > Backup & reset:

Android Backup & Reset

Next, select Reset phone (or tablet) to erase all data:

Reset Android

Just to check and verify that you really want to erase everything, the system asks you to confirm your selection.

Reset confirmation

Click the button to initiate reset.

Once the device is finished resetting and restarting, you’ll set up your tablet or phone by entering information and clicking “OK” a number of times.

4. Get to know your app store

Fortunately, Android users aren’t tied to one distinct store to get your applications. Android has two main stores – Google Play and Amazon Appstore for Android – and a half-dozen or so “alternative” stores. Newbies, and even most “experts,” will want to avoid the alternative stores. These apps sometimes contain malicious code that can harm your system. Plus, there are very few apps that aren’t available in Google Play or on Amazon.

Google Play

This is the biggest app store in the world. Yes, there are over 1,000,000 apps available, with more being added all the time. I prefer using Google Play to acquire apps. I especially love the “send to device” feature when you’re installing from the web.

Google Play Install to Device

Google Play was the first app store to offer over-the-air install, and I think Play’s installation system works the best. Google Play also offers movies, music, and books, which work universally across all of your Android devices.

Finally, check out these posts for an assortment of apps to whet your app-etite.

Amazon Appstore for Android

Honestly, months have passed since I’ve really used Amazon’s app store. Sure, I go there to grab the free app (which usually sucks) each day, but that’s it. Amazon’s app store is a great alternative for devices (i.e. cheap) that cannot use Google Play because of the manufacturer’s settings. Or, if you own a Kindle Fire. Otherwise, Google Play has more apps.

5. Feel free to customize

Part of the fun of owning an Android device is the ability to customize the look and feel of your phone or tablet. My two biggest customizations are always my folders and launcher.

Check out Nova Launcher if you want to add more control over your home screen functions. I’m especially fond of the gestures setting, which allows me to add specific commands to the home screen. For instance, swiping up with one finger on my devices will open Google Voice Search. Other swipes, rotations, and pinches perform different functions.

Nova Launcher Gestures

I also like to customize my device with folders. This allows me to de-clutter my home screen and provide order and organization.

Android Home Screen Folders

Folders allow me to combine like apps and give some structure to the hundred-plus apps on my device. Without much effort, I can find social media apps, document apps, or other similar apps.

The conclusion

Of course, these five recommendations merely scratch the surface of the Android potential. You’ll also notice that I haven’t recommended “rooting” your device or installing “custom ROMs”. You can have so much fun with the basics, so why spoil that?

If you want more information, check out all the how-to posts, and my Android 101 tips.

Jeff Taylor

I'm just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I'm also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.

Let's discuss this (you can use Markdown in your comment)