If you’ve ever found yourself trying to swipe a magazine page, you’ll know how quickly you come to depend on particular tech features - and in Android, there are plenty of things you soon find you rely upon every day. We reckon these are the 10 best Android features you can’t live without.
- The best Android apps we can’t live without
- Android Accessibility: 5 hidden options everybody should be using
1. OK Google
Remember when we used to operate our phones with our fingers? Crazy times. These days, of course, it’s all about voice control and the always-attentive Google Now. A single “OK Google” is the first step of a journey of discovery, or at least of setting a reminder to get some milk on the way home.
2. Google Now
Apple’s still trying to copy this one. Google Now, and the incoming Google Now on Tap, which will make the feature work inside apps in Android M, is a marvel. There’s a price to pay for its usefulness, and that price is giving Google access to your email, your calendar, your private thoughts and your darkest desires, but that’s a small price to pay for a system that makes the information you appear when you need it, even if you didn’t know you needed it. It’s mobile magic!
3. User accounts
We don’t use this much on our phones, but if, like us, your tablet isn’t your tablet but everybody in the building’s tablet, having multiple user accounts is a feature you genuinely couldn’t manage without. It’s also handy to have a guest mode for when people are over: it means they can get online and check stuff without seeing your private emails or secret plans for world domination. And of course it’s good for keeping kids from messing with your stuff.
4. Active/Ambient Display
It’s not available on every device - you officially need a device with an OLED screen, although third party apps can add similar features to other devices - but Active/Ambient Display is both simple and useful. When a new notification arrives, the screen briefly displays it so you can either do something about it or ignore it without having to reach for and wake your phone. It also wakes the screen when you pick the device up, saving you a swipe.
5. Quick Settings
Android’s Quick Settings panel appears in many guises, often with redesigns courtesy of phone firms, but no matter what it looks like it’s incredibly useful. Quick Settings provides you with instant access to the most commonly used features and settings on your phone, and also notifies you if there are problems with any of them. Apple liked Quick Settings a lot, but it definitely didn’t copy it: while Android’s Quick Settings slide from the top, Apple’s equivalent slides from the bottom. See that? That’s innovation.
6. Priority mode
If you carry your device with you at all times, being able to set different priority levels for different things is a really useful feature. It means you can ensure you don’t get bothered with personal stuff when you’re at work, or that you won’t be bothered with work stuff when you’re trying to take a nap. This is another thing that Apple has copied, but Android’s version is more nuanced: we particularly like the ability to set downtime, a period during which interruptions are blocked and after which the interruptions are automatically switched back on. That’s really handy.
7. Pin app
The ability to pin an app - to make it full screen and keep it there until you enter a passcode - isn’t just for keeping kids in games. It’s also useful when you show somebody a funny text and they immediately start trying to look at your other messages or your photo album.
8. Wireless charging
Not all Android phones belong to the wireless charging club, but the ones that do are that little bit less demanding than ones that don’t. With wireless charging mats starting to appear everywhere from coffee shops to IKEA furniture, it's a feature that we'll soon be able to take advantage of more often.
9. Fast charging
If your device supports it (and the manufacturer includes a fast charger in the box - not all do), fast charging is awesome: it amps up the power to start off with, to get as much juice into the battery as quickly as possible, and then calms down a bit to finish topping up the charge. What that means in practice is that you can go from no-battery to woah-battery very quickly, which is a real boon for anybody who really hammers the battery on their phone and needs to charge it during the day.
Not strictly a feature, but it’s one of the reasons so many people like Android. Unlike certain other platforms, there’s a massive choice of handsets to choose from at all kinds of prices - and even the really cheap ones are really good.
Do you have a favorite Android feature we’ve missed? Let us know below!