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Android 4.0: The ultimate guide (plus cheat sheet)

August 16, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Working with widgets

We can't talk about Android apps without talking about widgets. Widgets are one of the most powerful features Android provides; they essentially give you live, functioning programs right on your phone's home screen. Widgets 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.

resizing a widget in Android 4.0
Many widgets can be resized in Android 4.0.
Click to view larger image.

Widgets are frequently included as components of applications. For example, if you download the Pandora app, you'll also get the Pandora widget, which you can put on your home screen (or not) as you like. Some developers also offer standalone widget downloads, like the popular Beautiful Widgets and HD Widgets collections.

You can see a list of widgets on your device by touching the Widgets tab at the top of the app drawer and swiping left or right through the list. Placing a widget on your home screen is no different than placing an app shortcut: You press and hold the widget you want, then drag it wherever you wish on your home screen.

With Android 4.0, many widgets can be resized, too: 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.

Want more widgets? Head to the Google Play Store; there's an entire section there devoted to apps with widgets, and you can always try searching, too.

Android 4.0 settings

Almost everything in Android can be customized, and Android 4.0 introduces a completely revamped settings area with a streamlined interface and numerous new options.

The simplest way to get to your phone's settings is to pull down the notification panel and then touch the icon directly next to the date (it looks like a series of sliding controls). Alternatively, you can find the Settings app within your app drawer; you can even put the shortcut directly on your home screen if you want.

Many of the items in the Android 4.0 settings area are self-explanatory. A few things are worth pointing out, though:

The Data Usage feature is a new and noteworthy addition to Android 4.0. It allows you to view your mobile data usage and see exactly how many bytes each application and process is utilizing.

It also lets you set a monthly mobile data limit; once set, the system will cut off all non-Wi-Fi data transfers above the limit to ensure you don't exceed your carrier's monthly data cap. You can set limits on background data transfers for specific apps, too, if you want to restrict activity for particularly data-hungry programs.

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.
Click to view larger image.

The Battery feature is another Android 4.0 addition that's well worth exploring. It allows you to get a grasp on your phone's power usage by seeing exactly how much of your battery charge is being consumed by each app and process during the day.

The Apps section of the settings shows you a complete list of all apps on your phone, including those you have installed and any that came preloaded on the device (touch the All tab to view preloaded applications). You can opt to disable any preinstalled app from here, which effectively hides it from the system and gets it out of your way.

This is useful for carrier-installed bloatware, which is often baked into the phone and impossible to uninstall. Just be careful in deciding what to disable, as disabling an important system process could have unintended consequences. As a general rule, if you aren't sure what something is, it's probably best to leave it alone.

The Accounts & Sync section shows you every account connected to your phone -- Google accounts, third-party email accounts and service-based accounts for apps like Dropbox or Facebook -- and allows you to change the autosync settings for each account as well. You can add new accounts and delete old ones from this area, too, which can be useful if you change email providers at some point or decide to add another inbox into the mix.

The Security section is an area you'll definitely want to visit. It houses the commands to set up a PIN, password or pattern lock for your phone. (Android 4.0 has a face-recognition unlock feature, too, but -- while incredibly novel -- it's far less secure than the more traditional methods.) The section also enables you to encrypt your phone's data and require a PIN or password to decrypt it every time the device is powered on.

As far as your data goes, Google can automatically back up your basic phone settings as well as your installed applications; if you should ever move to a new device, your settings and applications can then automatically be restored. Just make sure you have the "Back up my data" and "Automatic restore" options checked in the Backup & Reset section of your phone's settings if you want this feature to work.



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