Book Review - Android Phones for Dummies

Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

We’ve already published quite a few articles about Windows Phone. That’s not surprising for a website devoted to all things Windows! We don’t really cover Android devices in any detail, which is also not surprising. Apparently, Ciprian is very happy with his new Windows Phone. :) While I... well, I suppose I’ll have to admit it, I just got my very first smartphone and it’s an Android. I always read the directions for new gizmos, but holy smokes, my phone came with a 300+ page manual! Even finding out that it’s really only half that size because it contains both the English and Spanish editions, didn’t make the prospect of plowing through it much less daunting. There had to be a better way to figure Android out. This is why I was happy to get my hands on Android Phones for Dummies. I’ve had mixed experiences with the For Dummies series in recent months, so I really hoped that this book would be the easy introduction to Android that I needed. Was it? Let me tell you what I found.

Really begin at the beginning

Android Phones for Dummies starts with taking your phone out of the box for the very first time and putting it all together. Even if this is more detail than you need, it’s worth reading the section just to enjoy seeing the master of the For Dummies style at work (Dan Gookin - the author of this book also wrote the very first For Dummies book). You’ll also get a thorough introduction to such necessary tasks as installing the battery, microSD card and SIM card. Even if the nice person at the phone store did all that for you, you’re going to have to do it for yourself sooner or later, and having the directions and illustrations on hand can make things a lot easier.

Then there are short but informative chapters that walk you through setting up the phone, basic Android operations, typing, editing and voice commands. The chapters are necessarily written about a generic Android phone, but it’s not hard to figure out what applies to your phone and what doesn’t, and having it all spelled out here for reference is a plus for newcomers (like me). I was very amused to read that Android has a built-in sensor for the voice commands, automatically replacing potty mouth language with asterisks, pound signs, or similar but unoffensive words—and to find that Mr. Gookin did extensive research to find out what gets bleeped and what doesn’t. Talk about dedication. :)

One ringy dingy

Believe it or not, some people (like me) still buy mobile phones with the idea of actually making phone calls. I was pleased to see that there’s a good long section devoted to this old-fashioned pursuit.

Android Phones for Dummies walks the reader through making calls, using the contacts list, answering calls and using the call log, and then moves along to more advanced topics like speed dial, switching between two calls, forwarding, and the always-essential "Sending a call directly to voicemail." The section on ringtones was shorter and less detailed than I would have liked. Using your own music as a ringtone seems to have wide appeal, so more instructions might have been useful.

I must admit that I was amazed by the section on voicemail. There are detailed instructions for using Google Voice as a much more sophisticated replacement for your phone carrier’s generic voicemail system, something I had not realized was possible, even though I’ve had a Google Voice number since access was by invitation only. Not only does the book walk you through all the necessary steps to do this, it provides a QR code to go direct to the Google Voice app in the Google Play Store.

The section on contact management was equally thorough, covering the ways addresses can be added, deleted, and synced with other contact-management software. I found the instructions for syncing contact lists with Gmail oddly deficient. There’s a mention that you can create new contacts in Gmail so you don’t have to enter them with your phone, but no mention of how those Gmail-created contacts might end up on your phone.

Texting, emailing, and surfing

Most people who’ve had cell phones for any length of time are familiar with the process of sending and receiving text messages, and Android Phones for Dummies serves as a review of what most of us already know. Sending and receiving email with a phone might be new to the reader, though, and the chapter on email was full of useful information. Since a Gmail account is the default for Android phones, and not everyone uses Gmail, it’s good to see a step by step explanation of how to send and receive mail from other email services. Some services are pre-configured and the reader only has to choose the proper one from a list; others will have to be added and configured manually, and the instructions are clear and should walk the reader through the process in no time.

One bit of information that I did not find in this section, that I think should have been included, is that if you’ve got your phone set to pick up your email, you may be using up your data minutes, and you definitely will be using up your battery. There is a section on battery use toward the end of the book, which explains how to figure out what’s eating your battery and what to do about it, and I think there should have been a tip to go look at that section before setting your phone to reach out and grab your mail all the time.

Surfing the Internet on a phone is something else that may be unfamiliar to new smartphone users (like me--I always had dumb phones before). The section on web browsing was full of helpful hints and useful suggestions. Right on the first page was a tip that you should activate your WiFi connection before you try it, because this will not only be much faster, it may very well save you money. And there’s also a note that you don’t need to download apps with your phone, because you can get them from the Android Market. This is another minute-and-money-saver that I’m sure most people will appreciate.

I also liked the light hearted view of social networking, along with some very serious warnings about sharing personal information too carelessly while you’re chit-chatting away. There can never be enough warnings about safeguarding personal information.

Maps and Apps

Today’s phones are light-years ahead of what we used to carry around with us. Android phones come with built-in maps, and those maps can be customized with Layers. The idea of Layers can be a bit confusing for the newcomer so the explanation of what they are and how they work is welcome. There’s also a sidebar about location services that the reader may or may not want to have active, and instructions on how to decline those services or turn them off if you wish. (The Maps chapter should also have included a pointer to the this-eats-your-battery section.)

Many readers might not know about the search functions built into the Maps app, or that they can find addresses, nearby businesses or points of interest just by using Maps search. I hadn’t known just how sophisticated this was till I tried a test search for nearby restaurants. I’ve been driving past some of those places without knowing what they were for years!

I think most people already grasp the concept of taking pictures with a phone and playing music with a music player, and since Android phones can do both, newcomers will find the sections on photos, videos, and music very helpful in getting started. Each phone company supplies its own list of standard apps, so the illustrations in the book might not match a particular phone, but they’re detailed enough that the reader can get a good idea of how everything works.

The apps that come with the phone will be similar and the book covers those briefly. I don’t think most people will need much in the way of instruction, but nevertheless, having clearly written instructions on hand can prevent a lot of frustration even with simple apps like the Calculator. There’s also a short but informative section on the Google Play Store and how to download, buy, and manage apps.

Connections and Configurations

Part 5 of Android Phones for Dummies, the one titled "Nuts and Bolts," is where a lot of the most practical and useful information can be found. This is where you can learn about WiFi and Bluetooth, connecting your phone via the USB cable, synchronizing your data, and figuring out where your photos, videos, and music are stored.

There’s also good advice about the ins and outs of using your phone outside your coverage area (including internationally) and a chapter devoted to customizing your Home screen, locking your phone (with a gesture, PIN or password), and changing other settings. Since the examples in this chapter are generic, you should definitely dig out your phone’s instruction manual to make sure you understand how it works. This combination should have you feeling like an expert in a very short time.

The final chapter goes into detail about how to keep your battery’s power from being eaten up by the things your phone does behind the scenes, how to keep your phone clean and your data backed up, and how to get help and fix annoying problems. There’s a brief "FAQ" section that’s written with a lighthearted touch, but which might just save the reader from having to get official support from the phone company.

The book concludes, as most For Dummies books do, with "The Part of Tens," which in this case also includes ten apps that Mr. Gookin thinks are worthy.

Where To Buy

Product Rated
4/5

Verdict

Android Phones for Dummies had me hooked right from the beginning. It was definitely easier than trying to dig through my phone’s official manual (which wasn’t even printed, and if I expressed my real feelings about manuals in PDF format, my phone would censor me big time). It explained the basics of Android phone operation clearly and with plenty of illustrations. I had a few quibbles about the order in which things were discussed, but not enough to dim my appreciation for the book as a whole. The writing style is immensely appealing, the information is clear and the illustrations do the job. Some people might not agree, but for me, any gizmo works better if I’ve read the directions. Android Phones for Dummies makes reading the directions painless and entertaining. Oh, and now I can cheerfully announce that instead of the blah ringtones that came with it, my phone "rings" with the theme song from Inspector Gadget.