Android 4.0 basics

Android 4.0: Visual tour

Find your way around Google's Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system and make the most of its new features.

Android 4.0 home screen
The Android 4.0 home screen

Ice Cream Sandwich offers a revamped home-screen design and several new features, including on-screen navigation buttons that replace the physical device buttons used by earlier versions of Android.

This slideshow accompanies our story Android 4.0: The ultimate guide. Click through to that story for detailed information on finding your way around Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and making the most of its new features. (Also see our Android 4.0 cheat sheet for quick how-to tips.)

Android 4.0 Recent Apps tool
Recent Apps

Tapping Android 4.0's omnipresent Recent Apps button brings up the Recent Apps tool, which lets you multitask and switch among recently used applications. Tap on any app in the list to jump directly to that program, or swipe left or right to dismiss the app and remove it from the list.

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Android 4.0 overflow menu and icon
Overflow menu

Apps' options and commands now appear on-screen instead of being hidden away like they were with previous-generation devices. Any screen that has more than one or two options will include an icon that looks like three vertical dots (shown here in the upper-right); tapping that icon will bring up a list of additional functions relevant to your current activity.

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Android 4.0 notifications panel
Notifications panel

Notifications appear on the left side of the status bar at the top of your phone's screen. The icons you see here can indicate everything from new email and text messages to missed calls and calendar appointments. Swiping down on the notification bar opens up a panel with detailed information about your pending notifications.

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Android 4.0 - customizing Gmail notifications
Customizing app notifications

You can customize or disable notifications within the settings of individual apps such as Gmail.

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Active controls in notifications panel
Active controls in notifications panel

The Android 4.0 notifications panel can display active controls for certain types of apps, such as playback commands for the Android Play Music app. The same handy active controls are available on the lock screen -- so if your screen is locked, you don't have to unlock it to pause a song or skip to the next track.

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Google Play Store
Google Play Store

Android allows you to install apps from any source you wish, but the simplest and most direct way to get new programs onto your phone is via the Google Play Store, the official Android market for apps. You can access the Google Play Store directly from your phone or from any PC.

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Android app drawer
The Android app drawer

To see all of your installed apps, tap your phone's Apps icon at the bottom-center of your home screen. This opens up your All Apps area, a.k.a. the app drawer, which contains a complete list of apps installed on your phone. Swipe left or right to scroll through the list, and touch any app to open it.

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Closed and open folders on Android home screen
Folders on the Android home screen

Android 4.0 makes it easy for you to group similar apps together in folders on the home screen to save on space or make things more tidy. While previous versions of Android let you create folders, they're easier to manage in 4.0, and their appearance has a sleek new look as well.

To create a folder in ICS, all you do is drop one icon on top of another on your home screen. You can add more items into the folder the same way. Once a folder's been created, you can tap the folder to open it and see all the apps within, as shown on the right.

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Resizable widgets

Android widgets are essentially live, functioning programs that appear right on your phone's home screen. They let you do things like scroll through your inbox or your calendar, flip through current forecasts for multiple cities, and adjust your phone's basic settings without ever having to open a program or leave the home screen.

A new wrinkle in Ice Cream Sandwich is that many widgets can be resized. Just press and hold any widget on your home screen, and if it's resizable, you'll see a blue box appear around it. Drag an edge of the box up, down, left or right to make the widget larger or smaller.

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Android 4.0 settings
Android 4.0 settings

Android 4.0's settings area has a streamlined interface and numerous new options, such as a Battery section that shows detailed information about your phone's power consumption.

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JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.