Android Expert Profiles

How I Use Android: Android Central Editor Emeritus Phil Nickinson

He's reviewed more smartphones than most folks own in a lifetime -- so how does the long-time editor of the internet's most popular Android site use Android himself?

How I Use Android: Phil Nickinson

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Read much Android news? (Of course you do!) Then you probably know Phil Nickinson. (Don't you?!)

Phil's the guy who's spent the last six years leading one of the internet's most recognized and respected Android sites -- the one and only Android Central. He is apparently not, however, a professional golfer. (Or so I'm told.)

Wondering why Phil has that fancy new "e"-word at the end of his title? It's because after attending approximately 7,427 press events and reviewing 19.4 gazillion phones, he recently hung up his Sparkly Sequined Editor Hat (standard-issue) in order to focus on a mysterious new project at Mobile Nations (the publisher behind Android Central and a bunch of other websites).

The specifics on Phil's new project are slim -- and no matter how much I threatened to tickle him, he wouldn't spill the beans -- but if all goes according to plan, we'll find out what's cookin' within the next few months. (My current working theory involves a hammock, a hamster, and that one guy from Bell Biv Devoe, but don't hold me to that.)

In the meantime, I was able to convince Phil to step out of his metaphorical kitchen for a few minutes to chat about how he uses Android in his day-to-day life. This is a man who has seen and used practically every Android device over the past several years, after all -- and a fair number of apps and customization tools, to boot.

So what devices does someone with so much knowledge carry around in his own trousers, and how does he make the most of what they have to offer?

Enough with the suspense already. In his own words, this is how Phil Nickinson uses Android.

The basics

Your current primary phone: When I wasn’t reviewing phones, most of the past year has been spent on a Nexus 6P on Project Fi or a Samsung Galaxy S7 on Verizon. The 6P was always bigger than I liked -- as I quickly learned with the thing in my pocket on the 20-hour return trip from a Huawei junket in China, actually. But I love having actual speakers. (It’s a shame the HTC 10 was unusable for me because of the screen polarization. We need sunglasses in Florida.)

I’ve never been a fan of Samsung’s software -- or the physical home button, or the layout of the capacitive buttons -- but you can’t beat the camera, and the size of the GS7 was perfect for me.

But I keep coming back to the Nexus because it’s also the only one that’s worked flawlessly with Android Auto, and that’s been a big deal for me.

I’ll definitely be getting the next Google phone in October. And I picked up an iPhone 7 because I need to be familiar with iOS for the new gig. But you can be damned sure it’s loaded up with proper Google apps.

What case is on your phone (if any): I’ve never been a case guy, mostly because I was always having to take pictures of my phone. Maybe that’ll change now that I’m not going through a half-dozen devices a month.

Your current tablet (if any): I spent much of the past year with a Pixel C in my bag. But I recently swapped it out for an iPad Pro. (The 9.7-inch one, not the monster.) A few reasons for that: One is that the Pixel C was sort of an abomination that probably never should have been released. It was designed for something that it never actually was going to do. It was a fine enough tablet, I guess, but not one that was ever meant to be held. It just wasn’t comfortable like the Nexus 9. And the keyboard scratched the hell out of it. (How did they never release a basic cover?)

I also decided I wanted something with cellular connectivity, and that’s harder to do in the U.S. than it should be. So, it’s an iPad loaded up with Google apps, which remain excellent. But a fun fact: Other apps on the iPad often are as poorly done as apps on an Android tablet.

Your current smartwatch (if any): I’m not wearing it as much as I used to, but the Huawei Watch is still, IMHO, the best all-around Android Wear watch. Yeah, having to charge every day is a pain. And it still doesn’t really have any one feature that I just have to have. But it’s been great for quickly getting rid of email on the go, and this is one of the affordable ones that looks like a watch first.

What face you're using on your watch right now: I’ve been using Mirage by Monostone. I don’t change watch faces all that often -- usually I just pick the best of what’s built in and go with that. But this one really stood out for me when I saw Google highlight it on Twitter.

Mirage Android Wear Watchface

The home screen

A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: My home screen largely hasn’t changed over the past few years. I’ve got the docked apps and occasionally a folder at the bottom, with a row of folders above that. The rest of the space is dedicated to a calendar agenda widget. I don’t use second or third screens, and I never really got into Google Now. Just a home screen and an app drawer, thanks.

Phil Nickinson Home Screen

I’ve got a folder for social stuff and a folder for messaging, and another for apps I tend to use more often. Plus a dedicated folder for travel apps, since I was on the road so much. New is a folder full of smart home-type apps -- Nest, Ring, Philips Hue, Alexa, Sonos and the like. (I wonder if that’ll change if and when Google Home comes to fruition?)

Phil Nickinson Home Screen Folder

What launcher you're using: I’ve been a longtime fan of Action Launcher, and so I’ve been using AL3 since it was released. (And I’m a huge supporter of developers, so I’m more than happy with Action Launcher’s move to a freemium model.)

The big reason I’ve stuck with Action Launcher, though, is the side drawer. It’s a little bit of a throwback to Windows Phone, actually, which is kind of fun.

Action Launcher App Drawer

But mostly it’s because grids of app icons bore me to death, and I have small hands. So that side drawer works perfect. And it’s ridiculously fast. I really got into a couple of its biggest features -- Covers and Shutters.

What wallpaper you're using: Most of the time I end up using whatever wallpaper comes stock on a review phone. Maybe I’d change it up just so things look a little different than every other review out there. On my long-term phones I load up Muzei and one of the NASA APOD extensions, then let that rotate through.

Anything else of note (interesting customizations, special icons, etc): I don’t generally bother with icon packs (unless I’m using a Huawei phone with EMUI), but folks have always asked about the calendar agenda widget. For years I used Pure Calendar Agenda, but it’s all but abandoned. I recently switched to aCalendar+ and couldn’t be happier.

The experience and the apps

What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks?

Customize your home screen! It’s depressing to see how many people on the street use their phone as the manufacturer (or, worse, carrier) sent it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Someone at AT&T or Samsung -- even Google -- has no idea how you use your phone. Which apps you want, and when you use them the most. Take a few minutes and figure out what works best. And then keep adjusting over time until you hit that sweet spot.

And there’s exactly zero reason to ever lose things. Contacts, email and especially pictures -- they can all live in the cloud for pennies. Google Photos is excellent. Or Dropbox or OneDrive or some other file backup service.

Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):

A password manager (I happen to use 1Password) probably is the most important app I have, followed closely by a two-factor authentication app. (For that I use Authy.) There’s simply no excuse for using weak (or repeated) passwords, and 2FA is a must. That’s not sexy, but it’s damned important.

Beyond that, I don’t think I use anything too exotic. (The new Google Trips looks pretty exciting.)

Check out more Android expert profiles below or in the official Google+ collection -- and stay tuned for even more entries in the weeks to come!

Icons in title image courtesy of Freepik and Madebyoliver at

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