painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

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painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:27 am

Being one of the only computer-literate people where I work, people are constantly asking me for help and guidance on how to use their smartphones. To save myself a lot of repetition, I decided to go ahead and write a full-fledged guide to Android phone usage that I can just print out and hand to people when they need more in-depth explanations. I've been making frequent slight revisions and occasional large revisions to it periodically, as new questions come up, as Android versions advance, and as I continue to learn. Over the past couple years, the guide has expanded from a several-page list of useful apps into a 30+ page monstrosity covering most aspects of owning and using an Android phone.

This is not at all related to firearms, but my previous guides were well-received here so I figured you guys might appreciate it.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:32 am

painiac's Essential Guide to Android
version 2013.12.18

All apps are listed in bold.

Table of Contents:
Android Operating System
...Android History
...Version Names
...System Updates
...Why Updates Take So Long
...Which Phone Brands to Buy?
...Contract Phones vs Contract-Free Phones
...Where to Buy Phones?
...Saving a Wet Phone
Basic Usage
...Learning to Use Your Phone
...Customizing Your Phone
...Installing Apps
...Office Apps
...Reference Apps
...Multimedia Apps
...Internet Apps
Security, Permissions, and Malware
...Malware Protection
...Permission Management
...Lockscreen Security
Speed and Battery Power
...Power Management
...Speeding Up Your Phone
...Task Killers
...Unwanted Advertisements and Power Drain
Intermediate Usage - Miscellaneous
...USB Mass Storage and MTP
...Blocking Unwanted Calls
...Hiding media files from Gallery
...Game System Emulators
...Bonus Info - Touchscreen Gloves
...Troubleshooting and Factory Resets
...Backing Up Your Phone
...App Update or Reinstallation Fails
...Troubleshooting Flowchart
Advanced Usage
...Root Access
...Changing System Fonts
...Xposed Framework
Last edited by painiac on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:44 am

Android Operating System

Android History:

Courtesy of Wikipedia:
Android is an operating system based on the Linux kernel and designed primarily for touchscreen mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Initially developed by Android, Inc., which Google backed financially and later bought in 2005, Android was unveiled in 2007 along with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance: a consortium of hardware, software, and telecommunication companies devoted to advancing open standards for mobile devices. The first Android phone (HTC Dream) was sold in October 2008.

The user interface of Android is based on direct manipulation, using touch inputs that loosely correspond to real-world actions, like swiping, tapping, pinching and reverse pinching to manipulate on-screen objects. Internal hardware such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and proximity sensors are used by some applications to respond to additional user actions, for example adjusting the screen from portrait to landscape depending on how the device is oriented. Android allows users to customize their home screens with shortcuts to applications and widgets, which allow users to display live content, such as emails and weather information, directly on the home screen. Applications can further send notifications to the user to inform them of relevant information, such as new emails and text messages.

Android is open source and Google releases the source code under the Apache License. This open-source code and permissive licensing allows the software to be freely modified and distributed by device manufacturers, wireless carriers and enthusiast developers. However, most Android devices ship with additional proprietary software. Additionally, Android has a large community of developers writing applications (“apps”) that extend the functionality of devices, written primarily in the Java programming language. In October 2012, there were approximately 700,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play, Android's primary app store, was 25 billion. A developer survey conducted in April–May 2013 found that Android is the most popular platform for developers, used by 71% of the mobile developer population.

Android is the world's most widely used smartphone platform, overtaking Symbian in the fourth quarter of 2010. Android is popular with technology companies who require a ready-made, low-cost, customizable and lightweight operating system for high-tech devices. Despite being primarily designed for phones and tablets, it also has been used in televisions, games, digital cameras, and other electronics. Android's open nature has encouraged a large community of developers and enthusiasts to use the open-source code as a foundation for community-driven projects, which add new features for advanced users or bring Android to devices which were officially released running other operating systems.

As of November 2013, Android's share of the global smartphone market, led by Samsung products, has reached 80%. The operating system's success has made it a target for patent litigation as part of the so-called “smartphone wars” between technology companies. As of May 2013, 48 billion apps have been installed from the Google Play store, and as of September 3, 2013, 1 billion Android devices have been activated.

Version Names:
Android is officially numbered chronologically with an API (Application Programming Interface) number, but this is rarely seen by the end-user. Starting with the third release in 2009, each major version was given an alphabetical codename.
v1.5 – Cupcake
v1.6 – Donut
v2.0 – Éclair
v2.2 – Froyo
v2.3 – Gingerbread
v3.0 – Honeycomb (this version is exclusive to tablets)
v4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich (frequently abbreviated as “ICS”)
v4.1 – Jelly Bean
v4.4 – KitKat

System Updates:
There are three types of Android updates: bug fixes, feature additions, and OS upgrades (which contain both of the former plus significant interface changes). Bug fixes must be done to appease customers and don’t cost much in development terms, so major bugs usually get fixed with over-the-air updates. Feature additions DO cost money to develop, and with new and better phones coming out every year, manufacturers have very little incentive to spend money improving a device that you already paid for. ("Suck it, consumer!")

The low-end Android devices are much pricier versions of the "free" dumb-phone throwaways, barely capable of the tasks they advertise and not at all capable of running some of the processor-intensive features that come in OS upgrades. They are nothing more than sleazy money-grabs. You can expect updates for the cheaper devices to be extremely rare, if they even happen at all.

The higher-end phones often receive an OS upgrade. Even when they don’t, the flagship phones have a significant user-base of hackers who work to improve them far above and beyond what the manufacturers do for their own phones.

If you’re running a stock device (that is, you haven’t rooted your phone and installed a custom ROM), when an update becomes available you will receive a notification that is pushed to your phone over the network. It is not necessary to download an update on your computer and then put it on your phone (although this is often an option). Rather, by clicking on the notification the update can be downloaded directly to your phone and installed automatically.

To spread out the extra bandwidth load on the network, carriers don’t notify every subscriber at once when an update becomes available: instead, they notify subscribers in phases. This is why you may hear an update is available several days before you receive it. You can force an update check at any time by opening your dialpad and calling the number *#*#checkin#*#* (that’s star pound star pound 2432546 pound star pound star). Note that this is a USSD code, which are discussed in a little more detail in the Security chapter.

Why Updates Take So Long:
This is one of the biggest complaints that users have: they don’t understand why system updates take so long. Even though Google announces new Android versions on a regular schedule (every six to nine months), it typically takes six or more months for them to roll out to existing devices (if these devices are ever updated at all).

Buster Heines summarized the update process very well. ( ... re-updates) Rather than trying to rephrase it, I’ve just pasted it here:

The guys over at Gizmodo decided to talk to both manufacturers and wireless carriers to find out what’s the hold up. It seems like a software update would be a pretty straightforward process, but what they found was a myriad of problems that can take months to answer before your Android phone gets an update.

With each Android update there are three processes that have to completed. First, the chip-makers have to create new code that allows the new Android to communicate with your smartphone’s chips. There are a ton of different chipmakers in the Android ecosystem, so each one takes more time to develop that code, but it usually takes about a month or two.

Once the first step is completed, then it’s the manufacturers turn to fix things up. Samsung, HTC, LG, and Motorola have to custom-tailor the new Android update to each of their phones. Each phone has different components and features, so this part takes up a lot of time.

One misconception is that the process would be faster if the manufacturers didn’t put their own skins on Android, but that’s not accurate. Even if Samsung didn’t use it’s TouchWiz UI on Jelly Bean, it would still have to sync up the software with the hardware components, and it takes about six to eight weeks no matter what the UI looks like.

After the manufacturers have got Android all ready for their devices, the last part of the process is ready to begin – getting approval from the carriers. The wireless carriers are the biggest hold up in the Android update process, but it’s not their fault. You see, before a software update can be unleashed on the world, a carrier has to test it on all of their phones to make sure it’s safe, and that takes months.

“The wireless carriers have to test not only every single new phone they plan to offer, but also every software update to every phone that they are already carrying. Simply put, they have to be certain that the phone will work on their network as advertised.”

The carriers take the smartphones and test them extensively for months to make sure that the update won’t bork people’s phones. Because the entire process takes so long, and requires so much manpower, that a lot of older smartphones get neglected while the carrier is busy testing the newest smartphone that they’re advertising.

“I can tell you that when we release a new product to carriers, we can have it running in our labs for six months before it’s released by the carrier,” says HTC’s Bamford. “It can take a long time.” T-Mobile’s Young confirmed that it is typically three to six months from the time they get the new software until it goes live. Simple addition, then, will tell you that it may be as much as nine months for that new software to make it to your device, and that’s only if the manufacturers and carriers agree that it’s worth devoting the time and resources to update it at all.

The entire process is pretty fascinating, especially when you consider that Apple has to go through the same carrier testing phases for iOS, but they’ve managed to make it appear as though the process is happening faster.
Last edited by painiac on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:15 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:52 am


Which Phone Brands to Buy?:
The phones are so fast now that it probably doesn't much matter which you get, as long as you stay away from the bottom-rung "free phones" marketed to people who won't do anything but pay an extra $30 a month for email they won't check. If you'll be watching a lot of videos, consider one of the huge screens (but be aware that a phone with a larger screen is clunky to hold, and the larger the screen the more it has to be backlit and so the faster it sucks battery power).

Be extra careful because a lot of Android phones these days steal a page from the iPhone suck book, lacking user-replaceable batteries and lacking SD card slots for expanding storage space.

HTC – makes pretty good phones (though it seems their quality has been slipping), and they get points in my book because they are much more in tune with how their customers want to use their phones.

Motorola – used to make good phones. Google recently bought them, so their quality may be on the rise again.

Samsung – has a reputation for well-made hardware with their high-end phones.

Google – Google’s Nexus phones are made under contract to Google’s specifications by various manufacturers. More on these in the Advanced Usage chapter.

LG, and others – Avoid bottom-rung money-grab manufacturers like LG, because most of their phones are so substandard as to barely run their own operating system, and they rarely maintain their phones with system updates: In fact, both LG and Samsung pretty much never bothered to do updates at all until Google sat them down and told them they had to.

Contract Phones vs Contract-Free Phones:
If you’ve ever tried to purchase a latest-generation smartphone at retail, you know that they’re very expensive. This is reasonable: there’s a lot of tech crammed into a small device.

The phones are much cheaper (sometimes even “free”) when you sign or extend a contract with a carrier: the carrier then subsidizes the cost of the hardware. That’s why they lock you into a two-year contract. The carriers actually make little to no money on the phone itself, but instead make their money on the monthly fees for voice and data service. This is a decent way to get the latest-and-greatest phone, if you don’t already have a contract with that carrier or if you like the newer terms better than your previous contract.

If you do like your contract and don’t want to lose its terms (like those who are still holding onto Verizon’s unlimited data plan), it’s often in your best interest to pay for the entire cost of the phone up front and just have it activated under your existing service contract. A cost-effective option is to skip the latest-generation phones and go with the previous generation: they are still plenty powerful, and you can easily pick up discounted or used models much more cheaply than the typical $600 price tag of a brand new model at retail.

Some phones and some carriers tie certain model phones to use their service only. This usually involves a SIM card that can be swapped out. It is possible to buy a phone that isn’t tied to any particular carrier and can be activated by any one of them: this is known as a “contract-free” or “unlocked” phone.

The Google Nexus phones are created by Google and manufactured by an OEM company: they come unencumbered by any carrier’s modifications or bloatware apps. They also have an unlocked bootloader (meaning the phone is left open to modification), and they are always the first phones to receive Android system updates.

Where to Buy Phones?:
There’s always the old standby of going to the carrier’s storefront. It’s pretty important to actually handle the phone you’re looking at, to see how it feels in your hand, how bulky it actually is, how clear the display is, and how responsive the touchscreen is. Pictures online cannot communicate any of these things. Sometimes I like to go to a Best Buy to use them as a free showroom, then buy the phone somewhere else (because, seriously: screw Best Buy).
A great comparison resource is This site aggregates reviews and allows you to do side-by-side comparisons of each phone’s features and hardware specs.

If you want to talk to a carrier’s representative who has a clue, then oddly enough your best bet is to go to one of the carrier’s mall kiosks rather than to one of their dedicated storefronts. Malls are very high-traffic areas with much greater potential for impulse buys than storefronts (which require people to deliberately enter them) so the kiosks are usually staffed by the more experienced and knowledgeable employees.

Once you’ve handled a few phones and have an idea what you want, you can search for it on Amazon, particularly if you’re looking to get the newest phones on the market. These are sometimes accompanied by online deals that you won’t get in the carrier’s store.

A great website to buy used smartphones is It’s common to see some of the newest phones here, because occasionally people buy them and decide very soon that they don’t like them. It’s also an excellent place to buy phones from people who like to upgrade as soon as they can, so they use their phone carefully and then use the sale of it to finance the upgrade. This is a strategy you can adopt if you have the itch to always use the latest tech.

The charger that comes with your phone is (almost) always higher quality than the cheap ones you’ll find on eBay or Amazon. Decent chargers will avoid over-charging your battery. The phone should also have circuitry to prevent over-charging, but this is no guarantee (particularly with cheap phones). If your battery is very warm or even hot to the touch after being plugged in for awhile, this is a sign that your charger is bad and that your battery’s working life has been diminished.

A wall charger will typically be faster than a USB charger. Inductive chargers (which charge with a very short-range electromagnetic field instead of a plug) are typically slower than a wall charger, but technology is quickly closing this gap.

One great way to obtain good chargers is to ask at local hotels: phone chargers are probably the most frequently forgotten item when people check out of their hotel room. They’re not worth driving back for, and most people don’t bother to have the hotel mail them back, either. Most hotels end up with a box full of chargers in Lost-and-Found that they keep around in case guests forget to bring a charger with them. If you ask nicely, some front desk people will let you pick through the box and take one. Most of them will be cheap travel chargers, but often the better-quality branded chargers that came with the phones are left behind.

Saving a Wet Phone:
If you act very quickly, it may be possible to save a smartphone (or any electronic gadget, for that matter) that’s been submerged in water. You must immediately remove it from water, quickly dry off the exterior, and remove the battery. The damage actually occurs when the water shorts out electrical connections, so removing the power source as quickly as possible as essential.

Do not press any buttons if you can avoid it because this can move water around and push it into the guts of the phone, but if your model of phone doesn’t have a removable battery you’ll have to risk holding in the power button to turn it off.

Next, remove any remaining pieces of the case, any accessories, and pull all of the cards out of it (SD card and SIM card) to get better ventilation.

Then, put the phone in a bag or container with uncooked rice, and leave it there for at least 24-48 hours. This works because the rice actually attracts Asians, who will fix your hardware for you while you sleep. No, wait…that’s not right. Don’t laugh at that. Actually, rice absorbs moisture. Even better would be desiccant beads if you have them, but dry rice absorbs moisture surprisingly well.

You must resist the urge to turn on the phone to “check it” for at least the first day: if any moisture remains when you power up the phone, something will probably short out and all of that work will have been for nothing.

Avoid dubious remedies: Do not freeze your phone or attempt to dry it with a hair dryer or other heat source, because either of these methods is likely to damage the fragile circuitry and/or touchscreen.

By the way, if you’ve ever noticed those little white stickers with Xs on them inside your phone’s battery compartment and wonder what they’re for: when they get wet, they turn color to indicate that liquid damage has occurred, which voids your warranty.
Last edited by painiac on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 4:58 am

Basic Usage

Learning to Use Your Phone:
A smart-phone isn’t so much a cell phone as it is a handheld computer that can make calls. Its capabilities are broad, which means it can be confusing.
The best way by far to learn what your phone and your apps can do is to explore the menus and options. When you first get the phone, whenever you want to figure out how to do something, and any time you install a new app, you should press the “menu” button and explore every screen you find there. It’s not possible for you to screw anything up permanently, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated.

If you can’t figure out something on your own, the best method is to search Google for your phone model (or even just “Android”) and a concise description of what you’re trying to do, and you’re almost certain to find where someone has asked the same question and received an answer. If this fails to yield an answer, you can always ask in one of the many Android-related forums.

Customizing Your Phone:
The great thing about Android is that every single aspect of the phone can be customized, or even completely reprogrammed if you are inclined to learn how. You can use any image as wallpaper and any sound file you want as a ringtone, making criminal pay-per-download customizations a thing of the past. It’s even possible to replace the manufacturer’s entire operating system with a custom ROM (more on these in the Advanced Usage chapter).

When you first turn on the phone, after it boots up you are presented with what’s known as the “lock screen”. This requires at least sliding a button to unlock the screen, to prevent pocket dialing. The lock screen can also be set to require a pattern or PIN to unlock, to prevent casual unauthorized access. Many music player apps are able to add music controls to the lock screen. Some apps, such as WidgetLocker, allow you to place additional widgets on the lock screen as well.

After bypassing the lock screen, you are presented with the home screen, which is governed by the “launcher”. A launcher handles your phone’s version of a computer desktop. By holding your finger down on the home screen, you will be presented with a menu of options. Using this menu, you can place shortcuts to apps on the home screen. Modern launchers allow you to place folders to organize your shortcuts on the home screen, as well. With older versions of Android, use Apps Organizer to accomplish the same thing.

You can also place “widgets” on the home screen, which are active objects such as a clock, calendar, news display, local weather, setting toggles, etc. Since widgets are active, they use some processing power. If you have a lot of widgets and especially if you have a low-end phone, you will probably notice some sluggishness with your phone.

The status bar at the top of the screen displays the time, various network statuses, and notifications about missed calls, text messages, app updates, etc. By dragging down on the status bar, you open the notification menu. Clicking on a notification there clears it and, usually, opens the app associated with it. Some apps, such as Elixer 2 and Tasker (see its entry in the Advanced Usage chapter), are able to add additional info or options to the notification area. Custom ROMS usually have options for placing additional functions and controls in the notification menu as well.

Every other function of the phone is just an app, whether it’s your contacts list, phone dialer, keyboard, text messaging, etc. Even the home screen is just an app: you can replace it with an alternative launcher from the Play store.

When you have more than one app installed that performs the same function (such as the stock text messaging app and an alternative you downloaded), when either attempts to perform that action you will be prompted to select which app you want to use by default. If you later change your mind, you can always clear your default preference from the app’s listing in the “application management” settings screen. Likewise, uninstalling one of those apps will reset the default association.

While we’re on the subject of apps: you should very rarely, if ever, consider paying for apps. Android is based on the operating system Linux, and Linux is founded on the principles of free and open-source software (meaning that anyone can download the source code of a program to inspect it and to make contributions to it if desired). Many developers charge a modest fee for apps, but in almost all cases this fee is not justifiable, and there is usually a good (or better) free alternative.

Apex Launcher – If you’re on an Ice Cream Sandwich or newer device, this alternative launcher (and its nose-to-nose competition Nova Launcher) blow all of the other launchers out of the water. If you’re on an older device, see the LauncherPro entry below.

Apps Organizer – Very useful for older versions of Android, but still somewhat useful for newer versions, this app allows you to sort all of your apps by tagging them with a category name. Then you can place a folder on your home screen for any category that automatically contains all the apps you tagged. These folders will update dynamically if you change the tags or tag new apps.

Current CallerID – WhitePages app that attempts to identify incoming callers by name and display as much information about them as it can find (such as their city, their local weather, most recent Facebook post, etc). A more basic alternative is City CallerID, which replicates the iPhone’s basic function of showing which city an incoming call is coming from: this one isn’t in the Play store anymore due to a patent infringement claim from Apple, but you can still find it if you look around on Google).

Dialer One – Replaces your phone’s contact list and dialer with one that is more customizable, with some great features such as making your contacts list searchable by simply starting to type the contact’s name on the number pad. Popular alternatives are Go Contacts, aContact (extra features are downloadable), and exDialer.

DIGI Clock – This clock widget is my favorite, because it allows you to use any font you want off of your SD card, but more importantly it is one of the very few clocks with the option of displaying a seconds counter (but this does give the processor a little more to chew on). Popular alternative clock widgets are DashClock and Minimalistic Text.

LauncherPro – Alternate home screen launcher that is ideal for older phones: highly customizable, and much faster than stock. This one has not been updated by the dev for a couple years, but it’s still quite good. A few good alternatives are ADW.Launcher Ex and Go Launcher Ex (both of which are highly customizable) or the blazingly-fast Zeam (a barebones launcher that sacrifices features for speed, making it ideal for low-end phones).

RingDroid – App that allows you to easily make your own ringtones by cropping any sound file, such as an mp3 from your music collection.

SwiftKey – Not free, but it's my favorite keyboard replacement. Its learning and predictive typing is amazing: I can usually tap out most of a sentence without having to spell out the words: select the first couple letters and it gives you suggestions, and tries to predict the next word based on what you already typed and on what you've typed in the past. If you give it access to Gmail and Facebook, it can use your text from there to learn your typing style even further. A popular alternative that comes with most phones these days is Swype, which allows you to drag your finger over the letters instead of tapping them (but I found its prediction to be subpar). SwiftKey now implements similar functionality of dragging your finger over the keys, while maintaining its excellent predictive ability. Swiftkey is better at predictions, and Swype is better at, well, swiping.

Zedge – Huge searchable database of free ringtones, notification sounds, and wallpapers. Under no circumstances should you be paying for a ringtone, and wallpapers should never be installed if they are structured as an app because these are often just a cover for adware or malware. Unless you’re addicted to searching for new apps and ringtones on a frequent basis, I suggest using this to get some stuff you like and then uninstalling it.
Last edited by painiac on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:07 am


Installing Apps:
The best thing about smartphones is the huge variety of applications. By far the most common (and convenient) way to find and install apps is through the official app repository. You will find a link to it on your phone under the non-descriptive name “Google Play”. (Play was originally known as the “App Market”, which is a more logical name and the one that was in use when I started using Android phones, so I tend to still refer to it as such). There are alternative websites that try to do a better job making Apps searchable, such as AppBrain.

Play is inextricably entwined with your phone’s Gmail account. One advantage to this is that any apps you install or buy through the Play store will be re-downloadable at no charge if you have to reset or replace your phone, and purchases do carry over to an entirely new device. In most cases your phone will download and reinstall the apps automatically without prompting, though any settings you had configured will have to be set again manually if you haven’t made any system backups. The other, bigger, advantage is that you will be notified whenever a new version of the app is released. You have the option to allow automatic updates, which require your approval only if the app’s required permissions have changed.

Play allows you to browse Apps by category or search through them by keywords. Once you find an app that looks interesting, click on it to read a more in-depth description and reviews by other users. It’s always a good idea to read at least some of the reviews to see if any obvious problems are mentioned. You can then select “install”, which will first take you to a screen listing the “permissions” the app requires you to consent to in order for it to run. See the Security chapter, which details these permissions and what to watch out for. If you approve the permissions, the app will download and install automatically.

The other, less common, method of installing apps is to “side-load” them. You first download the Application Package (which will always have the file extension .apk), usually from a website. You can download an APK using your phone’s browser, or to your PC and then transfer it to your SD card. You will then have to use a file manager to browse to and open the file, at which point Android will detect it as an installation package. The installer pops up, and the app is installed using the same approval procedure described above. If you install an app this way, it will not be linked to your Play account so you will have no way to be notified of updates unless the app has update checks built in, and the app will not be restored automatically if you have to do a factory reset or get a new phone.

Side-loading APKs in this way is a little more hassle, but has its advantages. Some very useful tools are not allowed in the official app repository, such as advertising blockers. Pirated apps are distributed in this way as well. Side-loading should be done with extreme caution: malware is rampant in (but not exclusive to) pirated versions of apps.

Office Apps:
For lack of a better term. These are what you use for viewing or manipulating documents, scheduling, etc.
AK Notepad – Great notepad. For taking notes. To yourself. Or, whatever. Just don’t forget to export the notes to your SD card periodically to back them up, since their online service is now discontinued.

Google Voice – Replace your carrier’s {inappropriate language} voicemail, and it’s free. Pushes a notification to your phone like an email with the time, number, and an attempted transcription of the voice message (the speech-to-text algorithms still aren’t great, so you sometimes get hilarious results). As a bonus, you can even use it to make free calls (including international calls) and send text messages for free.

Touch Calendar – There are many great calendar options. I like Touch Calendar, but it isn’t free. All of them will sync up to your Google calendar, which is incredibly useful. You can share your calendar with people of your choosing, allowing them to sync up with yours as well. A good alternative is Business Calendar.

Kingsoft Office – The only good free office suite. If you’re willing to pay for an app, the best two office suites are QuickOffice Pro and Documents to Go.

Reference Apps:
Andie Graph – No self-respecting nerd should be without this emulator for Texas Instruments graphing calculators. You need to install the calculator ROM images yourself for copyright reasons, but that's not difficult. Texas Instruments is fine with the emulator itself. You can rip the calculator software ROM from your TI calculator with easy-to-find instructions, or hypothetically you could find them online somewhere if you were so inclined. (

Cargo Decoder – Electronic searchable version of the Emergency Response Guidebook. Type in the 4-digit hazmat placard code to find the MSDS sheet, or search by name.

ConvertPad – Tons of useful unit conversions. I like this one because when you select unit type and choose the base unit, it displays a table showing the conversions calculated for all of the other units in that class. Very customizable.

Earth – Google Earth in all its glory, on your phone.

EasyToys – Uses the sensors on your phone to give you several useful measurement utilities such as a bubble level, plumb gauge, ruler, etc.

Google Translate – Uses voice to text, runs that through a translator, and speaks what it translates. I haven't gotten to try this one very much, though. When you need something like this, it can be invaluable. This is especially important for communicating the three most important statements in any foreign language: “where’s the toilet?”, “go {inappropriate language} yourself”, and “I swear, this hooker was already dead when I got here!” There are apps with similar functionality, such as Talk to Me.

Multimedia Apps:
FX File Explorer – File explorer for viewing and manipulating your SD card contents: absolutely essential! FX is by far the best one I’ve found. Popular alternatives that get more publicity are Astro and ES File Explorer. FX and ES both have the advantage of being able to navigate to directories that require root access.

Barcode Scanner – This is just cool. Reads barcodes and inputs them into Google to do a price search for shopping comparison. Also reads QR (Quick Reference) codes for viewing/sharing URLs and apps, which I find useful for opening complex URLs without having to type them in. You should make it a point to ignore QR codes you see in printed advertisements, because marketers are lame. Also beware of legitimate QR codes being replaced by a QR code that leads to phishing websites.

GigStar – Scans the names of bands whose songs you have on your SD card, then tells you where and when those bands are performing live in your area.

MoboPlayer – The best free video player available. Handles most video formats, and does it well. If you have exotic needs, use RockPlayer (it’s not free, it’s big, and it doesn’t have the greatest interface, but no other app comes close to handling as many video formats.) If you’re a little adventurous, the supremely versatile and free VLC Player from computer fame is now available in mobile beta versions for some phones.

PlayerPro – Very good music player. Equally capable is PowerAmp. You can also add controls for them to a WidgetLocker lockscreen using Phantom Control Widget.

QuickPic – Smooth and fast picture viewer with pinch zooming. Insanely fast. You need this. Use it instead of the stock Android Gallery. Also supports animated .gifs

Soundhound – Listens to a song and attempts to identify it for you. Its close competition is the app Shazam.

TubeMate – Download videos from YouTube to watch them stutter-free on your phone at any time. This one was removed from the market, but you can download it for free from the dev’s website, Beware of fake versions.

Internet Apps:
Adobe Flash Player – You need this to get full use of the internet, and it doesn't always come by default. Sadly, some alternate browsers do not support Flash, which is puzzling because so much of the internet requires it. Adobe at one point discontinued development of this app, so get it now while you can.

aDownloader – Free bittorrent client.

AirDroid – Opens up a server on your phone that allows you to log into it from a computer over the internet to control your phone remotely through a web browser. You can send messages, upload/download files, and many other things: you can even control the phone’s camera if the hardware supports it.

Dropbox – Set up a free Dropbox account and then install the app to sync a folder on your computer with your phone and any number of other computers. They give you 1 gigabyte of space for free. Sign up from this referral URL and both of us get an additional 250mb for free: Dropbox occasionally has promotions to earn additional free space: my Dropbox account is 8.9gb so far, at no cost to me. (By the way, if you say “cloud storage” to me I will have to stab you).

Miren Browser – Web browser, fast and smooth with elegant interface. Unlike some alternatives, this one supports Flash. Popular alternatives that are definitely worth a look are Dolphin or Dolphin Mini, Google Chrome, Skyfire (a fast browser that focuses on watching videos online), Firefox (takes longer to open, but can sync bookmarks with your computer and other devices), and Opera (whose server compresses websites before sending them to your phone, making pages load more quickly).

TeamViewer – Kind of the opposite of AirDroid above. Set up TeamViewer on your computer, and you can log into it from the TeamViewer app on your phone and control your computer remotely. Few things are cooler than this.

Wifi Analyzer – Very useful tool for setting up or improving your home wifi network. Shows you available wifi networks in range, their signal strength, and which channels they are on. When possible, minimize interference on your network by configuring your wireless router to use a channel that isn’t in use by another nearby router.

WiFinder – Scans for all open wifi networks in range and allows you to connect to them from a simple interface. This app is very useful on older phones, whereas newer versions of Android have this ability natively.
Last edited by painiac on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:13 am

Security, Permissions, and Malware

Android has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Android devices are in the hands of many tens of thousands of tech-illiterate users. As a result, Android devices are the favorite target of malware authors. AV-Test reports that at the end of 2011, there were 8,000 items of malware in their database. Only one month later in January 2012, there were 21,000 items of malware. One year later, in January 2013, the number of malware items in their database had increased to a staggering 185,000.

The malware is by no means limited to harmless spyware, either: the most prevalent form of malware is what’s known as “toll fraud”, where a malicious app mimics the purchase of a third-party ringtone by sending out a text to the malware author’s system, then accepts a charge by silently accepting its confirmation text. This appears legitimate to the cell service carrier, who adds the charge to the user’s monthly bill, and these charges are often overlooked by the person paying their bill. The security company Lookout reported that toll fraud accounted for 72 percent of the malware detected in 2012.

Another area of serious concern lately is USSD codes. This stands for “Unstructured Supplementary Service Data”, and consists of commands in character format that can be executed directly by the system without prompting the user first. The aforementioned update “check-in” command is one such USSD code. Another example is *#44336#, which causes the phone to display its version info on the screen. There is a USSD code for deleting all data off the phone as well, which could obviously be used maliciously. Where these can be a concern is when they are disguised as a legitimate link in a text message or on a doctored website. Competent malware scanners and properly coded versions of Android do not allow the automatic execution of USSD codes, but older versions of Android might.

Malware Protection:
Scanners have improved considerably in the past couple years. That being said, not all of them do a great job.

AV-Test does regular evaluations of malware scanners. ( The top performers in the Protection category for November 2013 were:
Antiy AVL 2.2
Avast Mobile Security 3.0
Avira Free Android Security 2.1
ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus 2.0
G Data Internet Security 25.0
Ikarus Mobile Security 1.7
Kaspersky Internet Security 11.2
Kingsoft Mobile Security 3.2
NQ Mobile Security 6.8
Symantec Norton Mobile Security 3.7
Trend Micro Mobile Security 3.5
TrustGo Mobile Security 1.3

Permission Management:
Linux was designed with security in mind, and this consideration is inherent in Android as well: system files are compartmentalized from routine user access to prevent malicious software or casual trespassers from harming the system or doing anything that is too unauthorized. In order for a piece of software to do anything, it has to ask the system (and, by extension, the user) for permission to do it. (See the note on SuperUser in the Advanced Usage chapter).

When you are about to install an app, you'll see a list of permissions that the app requests: installing the app grants these permissions for as long as the app remains installed. As usual, the user is the weak link in the security chain. By granting unnecessary permissions when an app is installed, the user can inadvertently bypass Android’s great security potential.

All apps require certain permissions in order to function, but some apps do indeed ask for permissions that they have no business needing. It’s important to understand what all of these permissions actually mean and why an app needs them so you can make appropriate decisions about whether or not to install a given app. Read the app’s description before you download it: the developer will usually mention why the app needs the permissions it needs, because otherwise tons of users give 1-star feedback ratings while {inappropriate language} about permission requirements they don't understand. These permissions can seem downright scary when you don’t understand them, such as knowing your location, accessing your account credentials, or monitoring your phone. However, these are often more appropriate than they might seem at first glance.

To give a few examples, any social networking app needs access to account credentials or it can't read from or post to your account, and a music player needs to monitor your phone call state so it knows to stop the music when you get an incoming call. Permission to access your contacts list doesn't necessarily mean the app will be uploading all of your contacts to a marketing server and spamming your friends, although this is technically possible. Anything that has to do with messaging, phone calls, or games that allow you play with friends need access to your contacts list, or the app can't contact them. GPS location is necessary for apps that provide location-specific services (GasBuddy, Movie Finder, restaurant directories, navigation apps, etc), while other apps only want access to your location for the dev's own survey purposes. The latter can be safely blocked with LBE Privacy Guard (see below) and it shouldn't affect the app's function.

The two most potentially dangerous but usually innocuous permissions are internet access and SD card read/write permissions. Many apps do require an internet connection, but if the app has no network features (retrieving information, high scores, etc) then you can safely block its access, because it’s overwhelmingly likely that the app just wants to “phone home” with survey-related data, and this may involve sharing of your private data with marketers. As for read/write permission, many apps do store user settings on the SD card (which is legitimate), even though "SD card read/write" permission technically gives the app permission to access or delete everything it finds there.

Just look at the permissions to make sure a random app isn't asking for account credentials, and for any others that seem outlandishly unnecessary (a downloadable wallpaper doesn't need to do anything at all, so should be avoided if it wants any permissions: in fact, never install wallpapers as an app, just save an image to your SD card and select it). You are shown the permissions requested any time you install an app, and you can go back later to review these permissions at any time from the application management section of the phone’s settings menu.

LBE Privacy Guard – Requires root access. Manage the access permissions of all the apps on your phone. Prevent apps from using permissions the dev thinks they need but have no business using, such as blocking an app’s access to the internet. Also can prevent scam apps from sending messages or making calls that can cost you money. This should really come default with every phone, and most custom ROMS have this ability baked in. Note: denying an app a permission that it legitimately needs will cause it to crash or otherwise not function properly.

Lockscreen Security:
The lockscreen should only truly be relied upon to prevent casual unauthorized access.

As always, the weak link in the security chain is the user: poorly chosen PINs or patterns are easily guessed. A study of iPhone users done by the security researcher Daniel Amitay in 2011 found that of 204,508 devices tested, fully 15 percent of them used one of the ten most common PINs (1234, 0000, 2580, 1111, 5555, 5683 (“LOVE”), 0852, 2222, 1212 and 1998).

Avoid any PIN or pattern that is easily guessed. It is possible for somebody to narrow down the possible lockscreen PINs considerably by seeing the fingerprint marks left on the screen, which is known as a “smudge attack”. You can help foil this by keeping your screen wiped off all the time, and partially by choosing a non-obvious PIN that uses one of the numbers twice.

In any case, Micro Systemation’s XRY software is capable of brute-forcing the 10,000 possible combinations of lockscreen PINs when plugged into a phone and activated.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:21 am

Speed and Battery Power

Power Management:
If you find that battery life isn’t as good as you want it to be, you should investigate where that power is being used. Add the included Power Control widget to a home screen and use it to toggle off things when you aren’t using them. GPS itself doesn't drain power when it isn't being used, but many apps with GPS permission will use the GPS in the background and drain your battery so it’s a good idea to turn GPS off when you don’t need it. BlueTooth and Wifi do drain some battery because the phone periodically scans for BlueTooth devices and Wifi access points (This mostly applies to pre-Gingerbread devices: newer versions reportedly use a negligible amount of system resources for these features). I prefer to turn all extra connectivity off for both power savings and security.

By far the biggest power drain is your screen: turn your screen’s brightness way down when not needed, and you will see a significant battery savings. Set the screen brightness between 10-25%, and after you’re accustomed to it you won’t need it any brighter than that except in direct sunlight.

Elixer 2 – Fully-customizable widgets for system monitoring and control. This app is pretty powerful: it allows you to make custom control widgets, to toggle various settings on your phone. Much better than the stock Android power control widgets. There's even a toggle for the LED. Note that you might need to install Secure Settings and have root access in order for it to toggle certain settings directly.

JuiceDefender – Saves battery power by automatically managing power-draining features on your phone. Essential for older devices, especially.

Spare Parts – This app provides some configuration options that are normally hidden, particularly in older versions of Android. The useful one for power management is the ability to see “battery statistics” about where your phone’s power is being used the most. If your phone doesn’t have this option already, install Spare Parts.

Speeding Up Your Phone:
There’s one very simple concept: the more crap you have installed on your phone, the slower it will run. If you find your phone is sluggish, delete any apps you don't use.

If you have an older phone with a limited amount of storage space for installed apps, move as many of those apps as you can to the SD card. Almost any non-system app should be able to run from the SD card, unless the dev doesn't know what he's doing and didn’t enable that option. Games, especially, can take up a huge amount of space, but thankfully most game devs are clued into this and allow them to be installed to the SD card where they won't waste your phone's resources if they aren't running.

Newer phones have unified internal storage for apps and media files, so space for apps is not nearly as much of a concern.

App 2 SD – Speed up your phone by moving apps to the SD card so they don't take up internal memory and choke up your phone (though this is much less an issue with newer phones that have 1gb or more of internal memory.) You can do this manually from the "manage applications" menu of your phone, but App2SD scans all your apps and shows you which ones can be moved on one screen. Especially games and reference apps are large and can almost always be safely moved to the SD card. Some apps that perform important system functions should not be moved to the SD card even if you are given the option to do so: for example, apps which use widgets do not work from the SD card, and this is a limitation of Android and not of the app.

App 2 ROM – Requires root access. Similarly to the way the above app allows you to move apps to the sdcard, App 2 ROM allows you to move apps to the internal storage reserved for system apps (known as the system ROM), which normally goes un-used. This should probably be used judiciously. Normally when an app that is embedded as a system app when you buy the phone (such as Google Maps) and an update becomes available, it is downloaded to the user storage and the previous version is deprecated and is stored uselessly in the system ROM. App 2 ROM allows you to move the update into its place, conserving space.

Autostarts – Requires root access. Only necessary for older devices: for newer devices, use Greenify (described below). Allows you to specify which apps are automatically loaded when your phone starts up, and which apps can start when various conditions occur. Most third-party apps watch for certain conditions (such as a change on connectivity) and “helpfully” make themselves start in the background so that they open faster, at a cost of available system resources. Prevent this with Autostarts. It does not actually take very long for an app to open if it hasn’t been loaded ahead of time. There’s some amount of caution necessary with this app: do not prevent things from starting that have tasks to perform, such as an alarm clock.

Greenify – Requires root access and Android 3.1+. Easily one of the greatest apps invented so far. Rather than trying to configure which apps can start under which conditions with Autostarts, Greenify seamlessly manages the apps for you after you tell it which ones to hibernate and which ones to ignore. Hibernated apps will never be allowed to open in the background or do anything until you explicitly open them, at which point Greenify allows them to open without any extra steps on your part. Note that you must not hibernate apps that have tasks to perform, such as any active widget, alarm clock, etc, or they will simply fail to function.

SetCPU – Requires root access. Over-clock your phone's processor to make it run faster. Also has profiles to save battery, for example to under-clock (slow down) your processor when the screen is off to save battery (don’t make it too slow, though, as it takes longer to wake up), and another profile to under-clock the processor when the battery gets low or when the processor gets too warm.

Task Killers:
An important word on these: Don't use them. The poorly-trained phone store employees will probably tell you to use them, but don't. This is "controversial", but only because many people do not understand how Android re-allocates resources. As Seanbaby pointed out, “the word controversy is just a warning that nearby idiots are about to turn their confusion into arguments.”

When you force-close an app, what immediately happens is the app opens itself back up. This uses more CPU cycles, and drains your battery further. When Android needs more resources, the system handles it automatically.

I was skeptical when I learned this, so I kept an app killer installed but refrained from using it. I soon found that whenever I encountered a slowdown that I normally would have used a task killer to fix, if I just ignored it the system would handle the problem automatically a short time later.

By contrast, and the source of the confusion: when you open the task manager in Microsoft Windows, you see a list of running processes and how much of your computer's resources each is actively using, and if you force-close that task it frees up that amount of RAM, and the computer becomes noticeably less sluggish.
Android handles resources differently, though. "Processes" and "apps in memory" are two entirely different things. Where people get confused is when they open an Android task killer and see how much "memory" each app is using, and associate this with phone slowdowns. What Android is actually doing is storing the most recently run apps and their usage state in memory.

You've probably noticed that out of the hundreds of thousands of apps available, only a handful of them have an "exit" option. You may have even wondered why. This is because an exit function is contrary to Android coding standards. Pressing the "back" or "home" button on your phone only pushes the app into the background. It’s important to understand that idle apps are, by definition, not processing anything so they aren't using any system resources. It's really just placing the app in a suspended state.

The term “memory” in this context causes a lot of confusion: it’s much more akin to a cache than it is to RAM. A percentage of an Android system’s memory is dedicated to actively-running apps, and the majority of it is set aside for storing apps in a suspended state. The advantage to doing this is that when you open that app again, it loads much more quickly and remembers what you were doing with it last time. It is normal, and highly desirable, for the system to cache as many apps as possible in RAM: with a Unix-based system, unused RAM is wasted RAM.

When you force an app to close, or dump it from the cache space prematurely with a “task killer”, either the app or Android thinks something is wrong and in most cases will do a cold start of the app. This eats up processor cycles and consumes some battery power (neither of which the app was doing while it was suspended in the background). You'll notice people {inappropriate language} about apps in ratings and comments quite frequently, "I killed the task but caught it opening itself in the background right away!" This is, in fact, normal behavior for Android and not a legitimate complaint.

When the system needs more memory to store a more recent app state, Android automatically removes the least-recently used apps from memory first, a process known as “garbage collection”. The separate issue of running processes, which are actually what is slowing down your phone, are typically stopped as needed by Android without any specific action on your part.

Watchdog – A badly written app can run out of control and cause frequent slowdowns, but a task killer is not the solution because force closing the app will only aggravate the issue. If you seem to be having this problem, install Watchdog, which is an app that monitors your phone's processes and will alert you when an app exceeds a specified processing threshold. Let it run in the background for a week or so, and if you find that a specific app is causing it to alert frequently, the issue is more likely than not with that app and not with your phone. Uninstall the offending app and search for an alternative. If you find that you aren't having this issue, go ahead and uninstall Watchdog too.

A particular problem bears special mention: if Watchdog keeps flagging “android media process”, this indicates that you have a corrupted media file on your SD card. Android periodically scans for and catalogues all the media files in storage. If it comes to a corrupted file, it doesn’t always know how to proceed and will keep attempting to identify it, which causes a system-wide slowdown: if your phone seems to be “running hot”, this very well could be the cause. You can solve this by hooking your phone up to your computer and scanning the SD card with a free program called TrackErr, which identifies mp3 files that have a filesize of zero kb. Delete the offending files.

A good way to conserve system resources is through intelligent task management, which is described in the previous section. Task killing, on the other hand, is a remedy to be used judiciously. That being said, there are times when it is desirable to force-close an app, but it’s only appropriate to do if you understand exactly what this means and exactly why you’re doing it. Mass-killing most or all of the apps in memory is never appropriate. Installing a utility to mass-kill apps in memory on an automated basis is beyond the pale of acceptable human conduct.

Unwanted Advertisements and Power Drain:
Recently it was discovered that with free apps which serve up location-based ads, 75% of the power used by the app is actually used to retrieve and show you the ads. Combine this with the fact that many ads are intrusive and take up a much larger percentage of your screen space than a banner ad on your computer which most of us have long ago learned to tune out completely. Additionally, ads may even create a vulnerability by possibly having the ability to funnel in a payload of malware.

AdFree – Requires root access. Blocks almost all ads from showing up on your phone, whether in your browser, apps, or games. It works by using a maintained list of known advertising servers’ IP addresses, and simply telling your phone that these IP addresses are not valid web servers. Specifically, this updates the hosts file to route these IP addresses right back to the local host. A good alternative is the open-source AdAway. Google removed ad-blockers from the Play store in March of 2013: you’ll have to download AdFree directly from

Addons Detector – Only needed if you start getting spam as actual notifications, which is currently the most criminal of spam methods. Scan your phone with Addons Detector, and it will show you what adware addons each app has: one of these addons is “push notifications”. Uninstall and down-rate the offending app in the Play store with a clear explanation as to why.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:45 am

Intermediate Usage - Miscellaneous

USB Mass Storage and MTP:
You access the phone’s internal storage (and/or SD card) by by plugging the micro-USB cord into the USB port on a computer. In this way, you can transfer music, pictures, and any other files to and from your phone.

Older phones use “USB Mass Storage” mode. Depending on the phone, a notification usually appears offering the option to mount the phone as a “USB Mass Storage” device. When storage is “mounted”, it behaves as if it has been physically removed from the phone and attached to the computer, as would occur if you’d taken a CD-ROM and placed it in the computer’s drive. Mounting a storage medium to one filesystem is an exclusive operation: in other words, the mounted storage is not accessible to the phone’s filesystem until it is “ejected” or “unmounted” from the computer.

There’s another major downside to Mass Storage mode. It is very important to always “safely eject” a USB storage device from a computer before physically disconnecting it. This ensures that no write processes are in progress. If a device is yanked out of a USB port while the operating system is writing to it (and this can occur without any indication that it’s happening, such as caching, and not just when you’ve explicitly told the system to copy a file over), the data on some or even all of the flash drive can be corrupted. Should this occur, the only fix is to format the flash storage (which makes it blank) and then copy your files to it again. If you kept no backups, you’re a little screwed. Incidentally, Windows will frequently fail to “safely eject” a device when told to do so, giving a bizarre error that it can’t stop itself from using the device because it is currently using the device.

Starting with Android 4.0, “USB Mass Storage Mode” is no longer in widespread use, largely because of these weaknesses but mainly because Google’s Android developers wanted to unify the storage space in the device, so that all internal storage is available for general use, rather than having a small amount of storage dedicated to the operating system and apps, and the bulk of the storage dedicated to music files and such. Another downside is that mass storage devices are almost always formatted FAT32, which is ancient but guarantees the broadest compatibility. Instead, Android drives have the more efficient EXT3 formatting.

Rather than “Mass Storage Mode”, Android now uses MTP (Media Transfer Protocol), which was originally developed for digital cameras. What MTP does is emulate the internal storage, and then uses that emulated space as a medium between the computer and the actual flash memory it’s trying to make changes to. This has a couple of advantages: First, the phone’s filesystem never loses contact with the contents of the storage, as occurs when the storage has to be “mounted” to the computer’s filesystem: you can keep using your phone while also manipulating files on its internal storage. Secondly, any data corruption that might occur from prematurely yanking the cord has no effect on the actual files in the phone’s storage.

Blocking Unwanted Calls:
By selecting a contact from your contacts list and then going to Menu/Options, you are presented with the option to send all calls from that caller directly to voicemail. This is useful for known callers, but what about unsolicited calls from telemarketers and other vermin who block their number from being displayed as a standard operating procedure?

There are “call blocker” apps available to detect these calls as soon as they come in, but the phone usually manages to ring once before this happens. A far better solution requires only that you log into your linked Gmail account from a computer and create a contact there named “Unavailable” (or anything else you want to call it, such as TeleScum). For the phone number, type the word “Unavailable” instead of a number, then add a second phone number for this contact and type the word “Restricted”. This must be done from a computer because the limited interface of your phone will typically only present you with a number pad for typing in a new contact’s number. Save the new contact and sync your contacts to your phone. Then, find your new “Unavailable” contact in your contacts list and select it, go to Menu/Options, and set calls from that contact to go directly to voicemail.

Your phone will never ring through for anybody that has cause to block their number, but in the extremely unlikely event they have something important to impart to you they can still leave you a voicemail. In my experience, this never happens. For the rare telemarketer that slips through your net by not blocking their number, just add their number to the Unavailable contact and they can only bother you once.

Hiding media files from Gallery:
Your phone automatically scans your entire SD card and internal storage looking for media files (pictures, music, etc) so that it can show them in one location, called the Gallery. For example, every album folder that you have an image of the album cover will also show up along with all of your other pictures. It is often desirable to prevent certain folders from being scanned, so that the Gallery listing doesn’t become cluttered.

To accomplish this, use FX File Explorer or ES File Explorer (described under Multimedia Apps) to browse to the folder you do not want scanned. Press the Menu button, select “New”, then select “File”, and type the filename as “.nomedia” (that is a period, followed by nomedia). This will affect all files within that folder as well as all subfolders, so do not put a .nomedia file on the root of your sdcard unless you don’t want any media to show up at all.

With newer versions of Android (Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich), you will need to clear your media cache in order for this to work. Do this by going to Settings/Apps/Gallery and select “clear cache”, “clear data”, then “force close”. Then go to Settings/Apps/Media Storage and repeat those steps. Then do a hard reboot of the phone (NOT a factory reset!), and after the phone finishes booting it will rescan your media.

Also see the note in the WatchDog entry in the Speed and Battery Power chapter about system-wide slowdowns that occur when the media scanner runs into a corrupted file.

Game System Emulators:
Believe it or not, it is possible to play your favorite games from the old gaming consoles and even some old computer games on your smartphone. This miracle is possible though emulators. An emulator is a piece of software that duplicates the functions of certain hardware or operating systems. You need the original game files, or a ROM copied from the original game cartridge in the case of old console systems.

The classic LucasArts point-and-click adventure games (such as the Monkey Island series) can be run with ScummVM (

DOS games can be run with the combination of DOSBox Turbo and DOSBox Manager (

Console emulators are hit-and-miss as far as performance goes. The best ones seem to be those written by Robert Broglia. He has written the following emulators:

Atari 2600 (2600.emu)
Commodore 64 (C64.emu)
GameBoy Advance (GBA.emu)
GameBoy Color (GBC.emu)
MSX/Colecovision (MSX.emu)
NeoGeo (NEO.emu)
Nintendo (NES.emu)
PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 (PCE.emu)
Sega Systems (includes Genesis, MegaDrive, Master System, CD) (MD.emu)
Super Nintendo (SNES9x EX+)

Bonus Info - Touchscreen Gloves:
Most modern touchscreen devices do not detect your touch by sensing pressure on the screen, because this usually requires an inconvenient stylus, or requires a large area of touch which is unsuitable for the small screens and precise control needed for a smartphone. Instead, smartphones use capacitive touchscreens, meaning they detect your touch in small areas by the change in electrical conductivity that results in the touch of your fingertip.

The downside to this is that a capacitive touchscreen cannot be used while wearing gloves, because gloves insulate your skin not only from temperature but to an extent from electricity as well. A few companies make gloves with a conductive pad for using your touchscreen in cold weather. This can be useful, but the gloves are rarely of good quality. Fortunately, there’s a simple way for you to turn your favorite pair of gloves into touchscreen gloves.

To do this, all you need to do is purchase some conductive thread. You can pay an inflated price for short lengths of conductive thread on eBay. However, this is just thin thread and is usually just coated with a conductor, which will wear off or degrade with time. Instead, I recommend stainless steel conductive yarn, currently sold by AdaFruit ( The yarn is quite soft, and I’ve had some on my gloves for over a year and it still works well.
Thread a needle with a length of your conductive thread/yarn, and tie a knot about an inch from the end that is large enough that it won’t slip through a needle hole, leaving a tail of an inch or so. Then push the needle through from the inside of your glove’s fingertip, so that the tail will hang inside the glove and contact your fingertip. Then loop the thread through the outside fingertip of the glove several times so that it forms a small contact patch that you can use to navigate on your phone’s screen.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:58 am


Troubleshooting and Factory Resets:
Any time you ask your provider’s “tech support” people about a problem with your phone, one of their top choices is to do a “factory reset”. This will delete every app and configuration change, to put the phone back the way it would be fresh out of the box.

Technically speaking, the Android system is divided into partitions: the data and cache partitions can be altered by a non-root user, while the system, boot, and recovery partitions cannot. When a “factory reset” is triggered, the data and cache partitions are wiped clean, destroying any user configurations. Note that if a system update was received, a reset will actually leave the updated system files intact, because a system update replaces files in the system cache. In other words, the phone is never really restored to exactly the way it was from the factory: in that sense, “factory reset” is a somewhat inaccurate phrase, but it gets the point across.

As far as troubleshooting goes, a reset is an efficient use of resources because the carriers have pushed smartphones on thousands of people who are technologically illiterate. Since you’re reading this guide, you now know better. A reset is easier than going through every app and configuration screen trying to figure out which one might be causing a problem, but it’s akin to treating dandruff by decapitation: a factory reset for you should be a last resort.
Sometimes a problem is as simple as a setting you changed recently. More frequently, the cause of a problem can be narrowed down to a specific app (particularly one which has been recently installed or updated). If this is the case, or if an app just isn’t functioning properly, you can often correct it by going into the Application Management menu and clearing the app’s cache. If that fails, try uninstalling and reinstalling the app in question. If that doesn’t work and a fix isn’t obvious, search Google for the problem you’re having: you are likely to find a solution.

To perform a factory reset, press the "Menu" button and search the list for the reset option. Every phone model’s menus are a little different, but this option is commonly under the "privacy" or “backup and reset” section. Then choose "factory reset" and click through the confirmation. Just in case you're not clear on what this means, every app you've installed and every setting you've changed will be deleted with no possibility of recovery. This is useful both for major problems that you can't troubleshoot, as well as for wiping all of your private data if you're getting rid of the phone. A factory reset will not delete anything on your SD card, so if you are getting rid of the phone remember to swap out or wipe the SD card too.

See the end of this section for a flowchart detailing basic troubleshooting.

Backing Up Your Phone:

Titanium Backup – Requires root. Backup and restore everything on your phone, such as your apps and their settings. This is the gold standard of backup software for Android. Even if you have to entirely replace your phone, or even if you upgrade to an entirely different model phone, Titanium Backup will you have you up and running quickly.

Nandroid Backup – Not an app. A “nandroid backup” is part of the Recovery Mode you get as an option when your phone is rooted. You replace the bootloader with one of the third-party alternatives: clockworkmod recovery (CWM) or Team Win Recovery Project (TWRP).This will often be replaced automatically if you use an automated method to root the phone, though they can be installed manually as well.

After booting your phone into recovery mode, you can do a nandroid backup which copies everything on your phone to the SD card (system files, apps, messages and call logs, etc). Regular backup apps can't access those system files to back them up without having root privileges.

Your phone can later be restored exactly to the state it was in when you made the backup. If you had to replace your phone with the same model, you could restore your backup and not miss a beat.

Likewise, you can also play around with custom OS ROMs and undo them easily if you don't like them.

App Update or Reinstallation Failure:
Rarely, an app update or installation will fail with an error stating that there is insufficient space, which occurs when plenty of space is available and even after uninstalling the app completely. To fix this, you will need root privileges: use FX File Explorer or ES File Explorer to browse to data/app, and delete the app file that ends with the extension “.odex”.

Troubleshooting Flowchart:
I didn't make this.

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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 6:05 am

Advanced Usage

Root Access:
You’ll probably come across this term a lot while browsing the app market. To have root access on a linux-based system (which Android is) is to have total control over it: you can modify or delete any file, and modify any file’s read/write permissions. What this means for you is that rooting your phone allows you to uninstall stupid bloatware {inappropriate language} that the manufacturer puts on your phone, as well as run “requires root” apps that greatly expand your phone's capabilities. I always do this within hours of getting a new phone. I list some very useful apps in this guide that require root privileges, but if you search the market for “root” you will see many other things you’ll be able to do (such as tethering your phone’s internet connection to provide access to a computer without using the carrier’s {inappropriate language} paid service, or overclocking the phone’s processor to make it run faster).

Rooting "voids your warranty". It is a little dangerous to recklessly play around outside of user space. If you need to have the phone serviced, you can just un-root it and they will have no way to know.

There are threads and even entire forums devoted to each of the flagship smartphones. These are good places to look for instructions. My favorite resource when I need to know something is to look around on the XDA Developers forum, where many of the android hackers hang out and share info and bleeding-edge apps.

The best method is to go to the section of the XDA forum devoted to your model phone and look up the latest root methods. You might also check LifeHacker’s Always Up-to-Date Guide to Rooting Any Android Phone, although its list of phones is far from comprehensive: ... roid-phone

SuperOneClick is capable of rooting many phones quickly and easily:

Adam Outler’s CASUAL method is likewise capable of rooting many phones.

You can confirm that a phone is successfully rooted by checking for a settings menu or an app known as SuperUser.
SuperUser – This app is installed automatically with most rooting methods. SuperUser is a root permissions manager, because giving every app and process on the phone unrestricted root access would be extremely foolish. Instead, any time an app needs root permission to do something, it has to ask for it. SuperUser will prompt you that an app is requesting root permission and give you the option to allow or deny this request, and to remember your choice for all future requests from that app.

This is where a smart phone really shines. Automation apps allow you to “set it and forget it”.
Auto Mount – When you plug in USB, automatically mounts the SD card to your computer. Very handy if you frequently transfer files back and forth this way, but not so useful if you usually just use your computer to charge your phone.

Auto Ring – Emergency contacts you specify will always make your phone ring when it's on silent. Auto Ring only needs to be configured once, can specify as many contacts as you want, and you can let calls or texts or both ring through. You can activate it manually every time if you want, or you can set it to activate automatically every time your phone is put on silent (or vibrate, or both).

Call Confirm – Brings up a confirmation dialogue box before dialing out. Very useful if you have problems with your sensitive touch screen calling the wrong person from your contacts list. (This used to happen to me a lot when scrolling through it).

Tasker – If you really want to take Android to the next level, Tasker is it. Almost any function your phone can perform, you can have Tasker automate it whenever specified conditions are met. You can have it watch your GPS location and automatically switch your ringer to vibrate mode when you arrive at work; it can silence your phone and turn off extra connectivity when you place the phone face-down on the table; turn down your volume when a loud contact calls, and turn it back up when you end the call; turn on GPS mode when you open a navigation app. Tasker can do most things you can think of and hundreds of things you haven't thought of.
A few things I’ve set up Tasker to automate for me:
1) When I plug my phone in to charge while I sleep, it automatically goes into silent mode and turns the screen off five seconds later (with a brief prompt giving me the option to leave the ringer on), and when I unplug the phone from the charger it automatically goes back to vibrate mode.

2) When I plug in my headphones or AUX cable in, it automatically turns the volume down to a tolerable 75% and opens my music player, and when the headphones are unplugged it automatically pauses the music and restores the volume to 100%. I am also briefly prompted with the option to disable the key-guard, so if I’m using the phone in the car I can turn the screen on directly with the power button and not have to unlock the screen to change tracks.

3) When the USB cable is plugged in (meaning it’s attached to my computer instead of the AC charger), it automatically disables the screen timeout so it will remain on until I turn it off. Then when the USB cable is unplugged, the screen timeout is automatically restored to its normal value.

4) Having the screen orientation flip when I slightly turn my phone annoys the {inappropriate language} out of me, so I turned that off. However, I need it on when I'm using my GPS in the car because my mount holds the phone sideways. It was a simple matter to have Tasker turn auto-rotate on when Navigation is opened, and turn it back off when Navigation is closed. Likewise, I have it set up to toggle on screen orientation when certain other apps are opened, and toggle it off when those apps exit.

5) I keep GPS turned off when I don’t need it. I set up a profile to enable GPS automatically when any of the apps that require it are opened, then to check every 20 minutes to see if that app is still open. If the app is no longer in use, GPS is turned off. However, if I’m also using the music player I don’t want it to turn off my GPS on a trip, so it first checks to make sure the music player isn’t running: if it is, it just checks again 20 minutes later.

6) I keep my screen brightness at about 20% to save battery, which works fine indoors but is very difficult to see in direct sunlight. I’ve found that the “auto brightness” setting on my phone is quite useless, so I set up my own. If the light sensor detects bright light shining on the screen, Tasker increases the screen brightness to 100% temporarily until the light level decreases.

7) When I have a missed call, Tasker makes my phone vibrate every 10 minutes to remind me until I acknowledge it.

8.) Tasker reminds me monthly to check for updates to AdFree and do a couple other things.

9) When I receive a text message, because I’ll be going there anyway I have Tasker set to open my messaging app for me.

10) I keep my screen timeout set to one minute, but for certain apps (like poring over the WordFeud board during a game) Tasker extends the screen timeout to five minutes while those apps are open.

Tasker is far from user-friendly, but once you get the hang of the interface, you'll be able to build simple automations with ease. With some ingenuity, and probably some help from others, you can script more complex profiles. Check out the Tasker Wiki for more examples:

Changing System Fonts:
Font Changer – This qualifies as somewhat advanced and almost certainly qualifies as unnecessary, but it is relatively easy to change the fonts your phone uses. In order to do this, you can place any TrueType font (the filename ends with .ttf) on your SD card and switch to it with Font Changer. Be aware that many fonts will not look good on a small optimized screen. [If you do this and squares are appearing instead of certain characters, I will describe the solution in the next paragraph because it took me awhile to find it. If you are not having this problem, go ahead and skip to the next item in the list.

The DroidSans font uses an uncommon character called “zero width no break space”, which is not present in many font sets. You can add it with the free program FontForge ( by opening the DroidSans.ttf font and copying glyph “U-FEFF” (almost at the bottom of the grid of glyphs) and pasting it into the same space which is unassigned in the font you wish to use. Then go to File and select “generate fonts” and then click “save”, ignoring any error messages that pop up.

Xposed Framework:
By running any of the numerous modules, Xposed can alter major or minor things about your system, applying customizations to any ROM. Best of all, these modifications are not permanent: they take place in memory, so a reboot can undo them if you run into any problems. Requires root access on Android 4.0.3+. Check out the Xposed module repository here:

When your phone is rooted, you actually have the option to replace the entire operating system. These replacement OS’s are known as “ROMs”. The name comes from Read Only Memory, which harkens back to the oldest computers where system files were permanently flashed onto a ROM chip: the only way to fix, alter, or upgrade the system files was to replace the old ROM chip with a new ROM chip upon which the updated files had been flashed.

Though a modern “ROM” is technically modifiable, in the context of smartphones and other systems it refers to an image of the system files (which includes the phone’s firmware).. You “flash a ROM” by installing these system files to the phone’s internal flash memory.

Android is developed by Google. Pure Android is slim and agile. Google’s Nexus phones come with this version, and these phones are always the first to receive system updates. Only months later do the updates trickle down to other devices, at least through official channels… more on this in a moment.

Branching off from the Android code base are the “stock ROMs” – official, signed, closed-source variants customized by the phone manufacturers: MotoBlur (Motorola), Optimus (LG), Sense (HTC), TouchWiz (Samsung), etc. These incorporate custom user interfaces, proprietary features, user lockdowns, and add miscellaneous bloatware crap. Carriers likewise smear their own layer of crap on top of the manufacturer’s crap: for example, international versions of Samsung phones have unlocked bootloaders to make installing new ROMS a breeze, but Verizon has them locked. On top of that, a smartphone from Verizon comes with no less than five pointless Verizon-branded apps (several of which they actually expect you to want to pay extra each month to actually use).

The open-source alternatives to the stock ROMS are made by hackers to work on most phones (the only real exceptions being the phones that are so crappy, nobody bothers to modify them). Alternative ROMs range from minor alterations to total overhauls, including compiling the newest versions of Android to work on phones that were not designed to run them. These latter ROMs with retrofitted Android updates often have minor and major bugs that are pretty much unfixable due to hardware limitations.

Open-source Android has several major code branches. To name a few:
AOSP – Android Open Source Project. This stays as closely as possible to a pure version of Google’s Android, before the manufacturers and carriers had their way with it. Fast and barebones, like the original, with bleeding-edge versions of Google apps. The only real distinction is that it must be compiled to work with the hardware in each make and model of phone.

CyanogenMod – Took AOSP and ran with it, with a good amount of extras and customizations. This is a pioneering ROM: the credits for every other ROM will always at least nod to Cyanogen team, if the ROM is not itself a variant of CyanogenMod.

AOKP – Android Open Kang Project. (To “kang” means to steal or re-use code). AOKP is based on AOSP, but has a ton of extras and is highly customizable.

Paranoid Android – Hybrid tablet customizations, such as applying themes independently to individual apps, altering window positions and colors, changing the dots per inch displayed on screen, and many other customizations.

PAC-Man – PAC is a mashup that incorporates all the customizations of the three major ROMS: Paranoid Android, AOKP, and CyanogenMod. Can be a little unstable, but if you want the broadest possible range of customization, PAC-Man is definitely the way to go.

MIUI – (Pronounced Me-You-I). Focuses on wholly different, intuitive user interface, and has an extensive selection of themes. Originally made by a Chinese developer, MIUI has become popular enough to be translated to many languages and ported to most devices. It’s been compared to iOS in some respects. Interestingly, MIUI is the only of the major ROMs that is not open-source.

A few variants of the above which are particularly notable:
BoneStock – Very close to the manufacturer/carrier variants that come with the phone, but optimized for stability and better battery life and with bloatware removed. By definition, not nearly as customizable as other ROMs, but if you prefer the stock experience but wish it was a little less sluggish, BoneStock is a good way to go.

LiquidSmooth – Smooth and stable, and one of the fastest ROMS available. Still manages to pack in a lot of customizations and extras.

MROM – Based on CyanogenMod plus a few extras, but with a great deal of attention paid to stability and extended battery life.

This concludes your tour.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby mreising » Thu Dec 19, 2013 11:40 am

Thanks for the info. FWIW, I tried a couple of the USSD you listed and all I got was a recording from Verizon that the number was not valid. Am I missing something.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby Brian D. » Thu Dec 19, 2013 12:35 pm

You put a lot of work into this, Paniac, thanks much. One of these days I got to trade in this rotary dial cell for a newer model... :lol:
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby Sevens » Thu Dec 19, 2013 3:06 pm

HA! Yours is way more advanced than mine! I pull out my cell and turn a crank and then yell "Hey Marge, Gimme Willie down at the station, wouldya?!"

Seriously though, this is heckuva write-up. I would go deep in to this if I had it in me to fork out the cash to play with current technology. I just can't con myself in to it though. But very cool of you to share this sort of thing.
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Re: painiac's Essential Guide to Android Phones

Postby painiac » Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:01 pm

mreising wrote:Thanks for the info. FWIW, I tried a couple of the USSD you listed and all I got was a recording from Verizon that the number was not valid. Am I missing something.

You're probably not missing anything. They aren't standard across devices and carriers, and especially newer phones block them for security reasons.

I may have to make a note of that in the guide. It's possible Verizon has stopped using the check-in code. I haven't needed to look for an OTA system update because I haven't used a stock ROM in several years...
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