16 time-saving Android shortcuts

Give your mobile productivity a boost with these easy-to-master Android shortcuts.

Alarm clock
Sonja Langford (CC0)

When it comes to modern technology, every second counts.

It may sound silly, but it's true: A second is the difference between an interaction on your phone feeling instantaneous and feeling just a touch too slow. And particularly with how frequently we tend to repeat common mobile tech tasks — switching apps, opening menus, firing up our cameras, and so on — all of those seconds can add up fast.

The good news: Android has no shortage of hidden shortcuts that can help you save time and get stuff done more efficiently. All you have to do is learn how to use 'em.


1. Snap between apps

Cut out delays in toggling between apps by putting Android's semi-secret fast-snap function to use: If your device runs Android 10 and has gesture navigation enabled, flick your finger toward the right along the bottom edge of the screen to snap back to your most recently used app.

If you then decide you want to return to the app you came from, you can flick your finger to the left for about five seconds after that initial snap. Once more than five seconds have passed, you'll instead need to flick your finger to the right again to go back to that previous app (slightly confusing, I know).

Computerworld > Android 10 tips > switch apps JR Raphael/Computerworld

With Android 10's gesture system, flicking your finger toward the right and left along the bottom edge of the screen will let you snap between recently used apps.

If your device runs an older version of Android — or simply doesn't have gesture navigation enabled — you can achieve a similar effect with Android's traditional three-button navigation system: Simply double-tap the Overview key (the square-shaped icon) to flip back and forth endlessly between your two most recently opened apps.

Both commands will work from your home screen, too, for a zippy return to whatever process you had open last.

2. Slide into Quick Settings

Android's Quick Settings panel is a shortcut in and of itself — a single place with one-tap toggles to some of your device's most commonly used functions, from Bluetooth to the flashlight and beyond.

Double your pleasure and get a little meta by using a shortcut to this shortcut mecca: Just swipe down from the top of your screen with two fingers (any two — swiper's choice!). That'll skip past the standard notification panel and take you directly to the fully expanded Quick Settings section.

3. Open menus like a pro

Not many folks know it, but there's a faster way to open those three-dot overflow menus in a lot of apps — including core Google titles like Messages, Chrome, Gmail, Drive, Contacts, and Phone (which is available only on select devices).

Rather than tapping the icon to load the menu and then tapping the item you want, simply swipe downward on the icon and move your finger directly to your item of choice — without ever lifting your paw from the screen. The menu will appear as you swipe, and whatever item your finger is touching when you let go will be activated.

Computerworld > Android shortcuts > swipe menu in apps JR Raphael/Computerworld

You can skip the tap and instead swipe directly to the menu item you need in many Google apps.

The one downside: Once you get used to the speed and smoothness of that gesture, you'll start to resent apps that haven't adopted it.

4. Stop disturbances without the fuss

Sometimes you need to silence your phone quickly and discreetly. (You don't have to tell me the reason. In fact, I'd prefer it if you wouldn't.) Whenever that time comes, don't mess with on-screen menus and icons: Many phones, including Samsung's recent Galaxy devices and Google's current Pixel models, can simply be flipped face down on any flat surface to have all of their sounds silenced in a heartbeat.

On Galaxy phones, you can confirm that the setting for that function is on by searching for "Easy mute" in your system settings. On a Pixel device, you'll want to search your settings for "Flip to Shhh."

Other fast-muting shortcuts may also be available: On Pixel phones, for instance, you can press your power and volume-up buttons together, while the display is on, to silence everything quickly. Some phones, such as those made by OnePlus, feature a physical alert switch that lets you move to a silent mode by sliding a physical mechanism on the side of the device. And on any phone where no such options are available, you can always just activate the display and then press and hold the volume button until you see the silent setting at the bottom of the on-screen volume slider.

5. Snap a screenshot

See something on your screen you want to save or share? No problem: Press your phone's power and volume-down buttons at the same time. That'll cause the system to capture a screenshot, which you can then access and share via a notification that'll appear on your device or via the "Screenshots" folder within Google Photos (or any other gallery app or Android file manager app).

6. Refresh the web with ease

Say you're looking at a very important work-related web page in Chrome (because, obviously, that's the only kind of web page you ever view from your work-based mobile device — right?). For one reason or another, you realize you need to refresh the page. What do you do?

Sure, you could open the Chrome menu and then select the refresh icon. Or you could skip a step and just swipe downward from anywhere on the page. You'll see a circular refresh symbol appear at the top of the screen as you swipe. Make sure you pull down until the arrow within the symbol turns blue, then let go. (Once you get used to the gesture, you'll find that a quick downward flick is all it really takes.)

android shortcuts refresh chrome 2020 JR Raphael/IDG

See the solid blue arrow above the "N" in "Android Intelligence"? Its presence is how you know it's OK to let go.

Now, isn't that refreshing?

7. Force a restart

No technology is foolproof. If your Samsung-made Android device ever isn't responding, press its power and volume-down buttons at the same time — even if the display is off — and hold them down together for 10 to 15 seconds. On Pixel phones, you can just press and hold the Power button by itself for that same period of time. And on most other Android devices, one of those two processes will work.

Unless something really disastrous is going on (or your battery's just dead), that'll force your phone to restart, regardless of what you were last doing.

8. Get to your camera in a flash

When a photogenic moment arises — be it your child checking out her first TPS report or your co-worker getting a little too crazy at the company retreat — two seconds can be the difference between an unforgettable snapshot and an after-the-fact image. So don't futz around with unlocking your phone and looking for the on-screen camera icon; instead, just double-tap the device's power button to jump straight into shooting, whether your display is on or not.

That shortcut works on many current Android devices, including both Pixel phones and Samsung's recent Galaxy gadgets (though on pre-2017 models, you'll need to use the physical Home button instead of the power button). If it doesn't work on your device, try searching your system settings for "gestures" to see if it or another similar option is available and perhaps just requires you to toggle it on before it'll function.

9. Put notifications on notice

Next time you get an annoying notification, don't scream out in frustration. Actually, you know what? Go ahead and scream if it helps. But when you're finished, press and hold the notification in question to hop over to some helpful advanced settings. They'll let you control exactly when and how that app is able to alert you.

android shortcuts notifications 2020 JR Raphael/IDG

The exact presentation will vary from one Android implementation to another, but pressing and holding a notification will always bring up some manner of advanced options for controlling how and when an app is able to alert you.

10. Wake your screen in a jiff

You might never realize it, but Google's Pixel phones and some other Android devices support a super-speedy way of waking the screen: Tap your finger anywhere on its surface twice. That's it!

Samsung's recent Galaxy phones have a slight variation on that same notion: With those devices, you can tap the screen (even just once) to show the Always On Display, which typically includes a clock and any pending notifications. You can make sure that option is enabled and configure exactly how it works by searching for "Always On Display" within your Galaxy phone's system settings.

11. Split your screen with a single press

Want to view two apps on-screen at the same time? If you're still using a phone with Android 7 or 8 and Google's own native split-screen implementation, you can just press and hold the Overview key from any app to get started. When you're finished, press and hold the same key to go back to the regular single-app view.

Android shortcuts - split screen JR Raphael/IDG

With Android 7 and 8, a long-press is all it takes to split your screen in half and open a second app.

With phones running Android 9 and higher, the split-screen command is no longer so easily accessible — but take heart: With the right app and a few minutes of configuration, you can create your own custom shortcut for pulling it up in practically any way you want.

12. Keep your assistant at your fingertips

Need a helping hand? On Android phones with the traditional three-button navigation system, you can press and hold your Home key to access the Google Assistant from anywhere. If you're using Android 10's gesture navigation, swipe up diagonally from the bottom-left or bottom-right corner of your screen to call Assistant up. Just don't call it Jeeves by mistake.

13. Access shortcuts from your home screen

With reasonably recent Android versions (2016's Android 7.1 and higher), you can jump straight to some of your apps' most useful functions without having to do any digging. Just press and hold an app's icon on your home screen or in your app drawer, and if the app supports Android's App Shortcuts system, you'll see a list of options appear.

With Google Keep, for instance, you'll get shortcuts for creating different types of notes, including lists and audio-based memos. Google Calendar gives you direct commands for creating new reminders or events. And the system Clock app has shortcuts for setting new alarms and timers, among other things.

android shortcuts app shortcuts 2020 JR Raphael/IDG

Skip steps and go right where you want with Android's App Shortcuts system.

Plenty of third-party apps support the system, too — like Twitter, which offers direct commands for composing new tweets and direct messages, and Slack, which has shortcuts for snoozing notifications and jumping directly to any of your connected teams or conversations.

Not seeing anything, even for the apps mentioned above? Try a custom Android launcher, which'll override your phone's default home screen setup and allow you to access App Shortcuts (along with a host of other advanced options) on any device.

14. Control your cursor

Got Gboard? If you're using Google's keyboard app for your virtual typing — and there's a strong argument that you should be — slide your finger along the space bar to move your cursor left or right within any text field. (That's one of several useful shortcuts hidden within the Gboard app.)

15. Send a friendly rejection

Phone calls — pshaw! Who has time for 'em anymore? When you get a call you can't or maybe just don't want to answer, look toward the bottom of the screen for a message icon, a "Reply" tile, or a "Send message" option.

Either tap the icon or tile or slide your finger up from that area, and you'll be presented with a list of ready-made rejection messages you can send to the caller while simultaneously declining his call.

android shortcuts call rejection 2020 JR Raphael/IDG

Reject a call politely and conveniently with a simple tap or swipe.

And a bonus tip: On most devices, you can customize those messages within the Phone app's settings.

16. End calls with ease

When you do talk on your phone, finding the on-screen button to end a call isn't always convenient. But Android actually has an easier way — if you know where to find it.

Open up the Accessibility section of your system settings, then activate the option labeled "Power button ends call." (On a Samsung phone, you'll first have to select "Interaction and dexterity" and then "Answering and ending calls" to find that option.)

Now, when you're ready to say farewell, just tap your phone's power button and bask in your shortcut-aided efficiency.

This story was originally published in October 2017 and most recently updated in March 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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