How to go under Android's hood
28th Oct 2012 | 10:00
Tame and organise your Android phone
Smartphones represent the pinnacle of mobile technology, but they're not without their flaws. For example, we still communicate by texting when really we should be doing it another way. Although most people are happy to accept convention, that doesn't mean we're doing things as well as we can.
Enlightened types, however, understand that the great thing about smartphones - Android phones in particular - is that they can be upgraded to address certain bad habits. A phone's usability can be dramatically improved with a few minor changes to the way we do things.
One great way of cutting down on the amount of typing you have to endure each day is to download the nifty Swype app for Android. Once installed, it integrates with your keyboard settings and replaces the standard Android keyboard with Swype's own, enabling you to - as the name implies - use swipes of the keyboard to form words, instead of having to press individual keys.
It's much faster and surprisingly accurate. Swype is still in beta so it's not yet available on the Google Play store. It comes pre-installed on some Android phones.
Unfortunately, Swype doesn't play nicely with the Android lock screen, so if you want to use its swiping text predication to unlock your screen each time, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Thankfully you won't have to go too far, because you can set a Swype-esque security password using Android's own settings, which enable you to use a pattern instead of a PIN.
In the Settings menu, go to 'Location & security' and tap on 'Change screen lock'. If you already have a password for your phone, enter this and then choose 'Pattern' from the menu. Tap 'Next' and 'Next' once more, then draw your chosen pattern and repeat it to confirm it.
Now, each time you wake your phone from sleep you can simply draw the lock pattern you chose instead of typing words and numbers.
If the thought of using your fingers to type more than a couple of words makes you want to hide, there are ways to cut down on your tapping time.
By using Voice Search - which, again, is built into your Android phone - you can do away with your current method of text input and use speech instead.
It's easy to use, and can be used in a variety of situations. For example, when you're searching for something online, just tap the voice button and say what you want to find.
When you're composing a text message, you can say the recipient's name.
You can even dictate sat nav directions to the Navigation app, enabling you to get from A to B quicker.
If you're looking for a more visual way of searching, Gesture Search is the perfect app.
Instead of looking through various menus to find the file or app you want, you simply draw the name of what you're looking for.
Obviously, it's easier to find what you want if you know the full name, but if you don't, the app will learn what you search for regularly, so you'll get more accurate results over time.
Similarly, SwipePad gives you easy access to all the rest of the apps on your phone no matter where you are - whether you're browsing the web, playing a game or adjusting your settings.
Just swipe from a preset corner of your screen towards the centre and your apps magically appear on top of whatever you're doing.
To select one, simply release your finger while you hover over its icon.
Control your talk time
Beyond simple ways of speeding up common tasks on your phone, there are many things you can do to make life with your smartphone easier.
If you find yourself regularly picking up your phone to handle incoming calls, an app called Super Missed Call can seriously cut down on the amount of time you spend dealing with a ringing phone thanks to the way it enables you to control your talk time.
When you want to ignore a caller, you can simply rest your phone on its screen. When you pick it up again, Super Missed Call will automatically phone that person back for you, meaning there's the bare minimum of intervention on your part.
You can even schedule missed calls so that you'll get a reminder to call people back - which is useful if you tend to be forgetful or you just lead a very busy life.
Another way of dealing with all notifications - not just phone calls - is to channel them away from your actual phone to another device so that you can deal with them more efficiently.
When you use Android Notifier, which sends your messages, phone calls or emails from your phone to your desktop or laptop PC, there's no need to get your phone out while you're busy at work - you can deal with everything on one machine.
If you really must have your phone in front of you at all times, Smart Screen is a neat way of making it easier to check what's on the screen. This app enables you to wave your hand over the screen to turn it on or off.
No, it's not a Jedi trick - it works by using the phone's built-in proximity sensor. In case you were wondering, you can adjust the sensitivity of the app so you don't accidentally set it off while it's in your pocket.
Get a handier home screen
The standard home screen on an Android phone isn't really designed with usability in mind. Apps and functions are hidden away in off-screen menus, so there's no way of getting quick access to the things you need.
With a couple of modifications you can make your home screen work the way you want it to. For starters, you can move your favourite apps to the home page so you can access them without delving into the main menu.
If that's not enough, you can go a step further and install LauncherPro, which enables you to fully customise your home screen for maximum usability. This tool enables you to do some really useful things, such as categorising your apps by type (much like on the iPhone). Moving applications into specific folders makes them much easier to find - especially if you have a lot of them installed.
Widgetsoid is another great tool that enables you to add functionality to your home screen, giving you access to tools such as Aeroplane mode at the top of the screen.
When you need to manage all the files stored on your phone, X-plore is another great app to speed things up. It shows you all the files and folders as if you were looking at them in Windows Explorer on a PC, making it easy to move things around, rename files or delete folders. You can even open up files and choose which program to access them with.
How to install Swype
1. Get the beta
Go to the Swype website and click on the 'Register' button. Enter your details and shortly afterwards you should receive a confirmation email. Make a note of your one-time account activation code and copy the download URL into your phone's browser to go to the Swype Beta download page. The Swype app will automatically download to your phone - once it's done, find and open it.
2. Unknown apps
Swype will now start the installation process. If you get an error message saying that the app has been blocked, you need to go to 'Settings>Application settings' and check the tick box next to 'Allow installation of non-Market applications' underneath Unknown Sources. Press 'OK' when asked if you want to allow non-Market applications to be installed - you can trust Swype not to damage your phone.
3. Download Swype
Now that you've completed this step, you can install the Swype beta. Go back to the installation screen and tap 'Install'. When it's finished, tap the 'Open' button followed by 'Log in', using your Swype email and password to sign in. On the next screen enter the five-digit key from the registration email and tap 'Submit', then tap 'Download Swype' on the following screen.
4. Final install
Once again, tap 'Install' to complete the installation process and then tap 'Done' to be taken to the app. Tap 'Enable Swype' and then select 'OK' at the next prompt. Check the tick box next to Swype Beta in the following menu. A warning prompt appears where the Android OS informs you that the app might be collecting password data, but the Swype website assures you that this will never happen, so tap 'OK'.
5. Almost done
Hit the back button on your phone to return to the main menu. Tap 'Select Swype' and tap 'OK' at the prompt. Choose 'Swype Beta' from the input method menu, and that's it. Tap 'Finish' if you want to try Swype immediately. Otherwise, tap 'Swype settings' to change your preferences, such as vibration on keypress, or connecting to services such as Facebook.
6. Use it
You can now write with just one hand. Simply swipe your thumb over the letters that make up a word and it'll appear - you don't even need to press the space bar each time. Swype can help you write even faster once you learn its shortcuts, such as swiping from a single letter to the space bar to capitalise it, or copying text by swiping from the Swype key to [C].