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How to set up your new Android phone

How To New Android NextPit
© Golubovy / Shutterstock.com

Do you want to set up your new smartphone and get off on the right foot? If you have answered in the affirmative, then you've come to the right place. In this article, the NextPit editorial team answers questions about the initial setup for Samsung and other Android smartphones, the right SIM card to have, your Google account, the data transfer process from the old smartphone, and which are the most important apps to have.

Before starting, do take note that the screenshots and steps in this guide are not applicable to all Android smartphones. Although many smartphones run the Android operating system, different manufacturers have interfaces and setup wizards of their own, and the user interface design as well as feature set also differs from one another.

Before switching on your smartphone: Charge it and insert your SIM card

When you unbox your phone for the very first time, you will usually find it with a partially charged battery. The battery charge is normally enough to set up the smartphone, but you should still check the charge level prior to setting up the device. Alternatively, you can plug the smartphone into a power outlet to set it up as this guarantees the battery will not end up flat when transferring data from the old device. Otherwise, you can opt to use the phone directly without having it hooked up to a power outlet if you think it carries an adequate amount of charge (normally more than 50% is recommended).

Before setting up the operating system, you should also insert your SIM card. If you search the box of your new device, you will find a small SIM card tool that you can use to insert the SIM card. Sony is the only manufacturer we know of at the moment that does not require a SIM card tool in their design as their SIM trays can be removed without any tools. Look for the extremely tiny hole on the phone which is normally surrounded by a slim, elongated oval recess. Do note that there is usually another hole at the top and bottom of the smartphone, where the microphone hides behind those. Under no circumstances should you stick the SIM card tool in those holes. Insert the SIM card tool into the small hole and the SIM card tray should pop out of the device.

With a SIM card tool, you can easily insert the tiny card into the SIM card tray.
With a SIM card tool, you can easily insert the tiny card into the SIM card tray. / © Pheelings media / Shutterstock.com

Pull the small SIM card tray out of the phone and insert your SIM card accordingly. There's usually a little hint on the side for the orientation and size of the SIM card. Known formats at the moment are the mini, micro, and nano SIM card. The nano SIM card, which has been in use since 2012, measures 12.3 x 8.8 x 0.67 millimeters and is still the most commonly used form factor. Since one corner of the SIM card is always cut off and a similar shape is also in the SIM card tray, you can basically insert it in only one particular direction.

Now push the SIM card tray back into your smartphone and make sure that this is done smoothly without much resistance. If you notice that the inserted SIM card tray is stuck, pull the tray out of the device and insert it the other way around.

Tip: If you have bought a memory card to go with your smartphone, you can also insert it simultaneously in this step. If your smartphone supports external memory cards, you must insert them into the SIM card tray. Now, turn on the smartphone by holding down the Power button for a few seconds.

The initial setup

When you turn on your smartphone for the first time, do have your SIM card and a Wi-Fi password ready, because you'll need Internet access for some of the setup steps. Your smartphone will attempt to connect to Google and possibly to your smartphone manufacturer. This will unlock additional features, which we will discuss in the following point.

The setup wizard guides you through the most important setup steps.
The setup wizard guides you through the most important setup steps. / © NextPit

Big question: Do I use a Google account?

In order for Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus, and other manufacturers to obtain the Android operating system for free from Google, they are required to pre-install some Google apps. Hence, the setup wizard will ask if you want to set up a free account with Google.

Having a Google account offers several important benefits for you:

Apps from the Play Store

With a Google account, you are allowed to access the Play Store. This is crucial as the Play Store contains all kinds of verified apps to download, i.e. programs that offer additional functions for your smartphone. You will also be able to continue receiving updates for the apps via the Play Store. We will discuss apps further below.

If you already have a Google Account, you can sign in with it now. You can use your Gmail address or the account that you created on YouTube years ago as your Google Account. Otherwise, tap No and create a new free account with an existing or new email address. Once created, Google will ask for payment methods (for any future Play Store purchases) and additional personal information. You may block and skip both questions if you so desire.

Improved theft protection

By using a Google account you have access to the web service known as Find my device. This is very useful if you have misplaced your smartphone. It allows you to remotely ring your smartphone or lock, wipe or reset it if you lose it, provided it is still switched on and connected to the internet.

With "Find my device" you can locate your Android smartphone.
With "Find my device" you can locate your Android smartphone. / © DenPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Additionally, a reactivation lock is set with the Google account. If a thief resets your smartphone to factory settings in recovery mode, it will ask for your Google account after the first boot up. If the thief doesn't know it, he won't be able to do anything with your device at all. In other words, it will be a useless paperweight.

Free backup of your contacts, appointments, email, and more

As a service provider, it makes sense that Google would record, back up, and sync your Internet-based activity. A Google Account provides you with access to your contacts, email, browser bookmarks, appointments, photos, and files from multiple devices.

That way, if you ever lose your device or need to set up a new one, you'll have a lot of important data backed up on the cloud. We'll explain how to restore additional backups or data below.

Alternatives to Google Account

Since 2019, there have been exceptions with Huawei handsets: The US Department of Commerce has imposed sanctions on the Chinese company, which, among other things, resulted in the consequence that Huawei is not allowed to use Google Mobile Services (GMS) in their smartphones. Therefore, the manufacturer offers Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) with their own Huawei AppGallery as an alternative. Through this, Huawei tried to offer a similar service to Google.

Some manufacturers such as Samsung will also ask you to create an extra account when you sign up. This usually includes alternative services for theft protection or to back up your contacts. However, you will still rely on Google to search for new apps or app updates. While there are reputable alternatives to the Play Store, none offer the same scope. Samsung does pre-install its own app store on Galaxy smartphones, where you can usually find some apps that are not available on Google. The manufacturer's account is required for this, but you can also get along fine without it.

Transferring data from your old smartphone

We assume that you already own a smartphone. Hence the question is this: How do I transfer data from one smartphone to another? We have worked through some possible scenarios that has resulted in a comprehensive article:

Migrate WhatsApp chats to your new Android phone

Do you, like most smartphone users, use the instant messenger known as WhatsApp? If so, you should transfer the previous chats directly during the setup of your new smartphone. We have written a separate guide for you, in which you will learn in detail how to transfer WhatsApp chats. As a rule of thumb, however, it is quite simple: Make a backup in WhatsApp on the "old" smartphone, save it in Google Drive, install the app on the new smartphone, verify your phone number and download the backup from Google Drive. Done!

A perfect start with your new Android smartphone

  1. Set a screen lock
  2. Install Android updates
  3. How to organize your apps
  4. Back up your photos
  5. Personalise your background, ringtone, and more

Set up a screen lock

To prevent just about anyone from using your smartphone, do protect it with a PIN, password, or pattern. Most of all current smartphones now come with a fingerprint sensor, making secure unlocking a convenient process. Face unlocking has also become another common option.

This is important to know: If you opt for the so-called biometric unlock process, you must also set a PIN, password, or an unlock pattern as a backup solution. This way, you can avoid not being able to unlock your phone simply because your fingers are wet or the smartphone doesn't recognise your face in the dark.

Fingerprint sensors are now even integrated into the display.
Fingerprint sensors are now even integrated into the display. / © NextPit

The screen lock also has other advantages, which we discussed in a separate article. A word of caution: In case you have forgotten your password, you ought to have alternative methods ready. We also explained how to do so separately:

Install updates

Your smartphone is probably going to be connected to the Internet constantly. Theoretically, this means it is always vulnerable to external attacks. You can do your part to protect yourself by regularly checking for and installing operating system updates. Many manufacturers provide these updates on a monthly basis. Hence, you will probably be asked whether you would want to download these updates shortly after setting up your new smartphone. Installing them all the way until the more recent one is highly recommended to minimize all the possible security loopholes. This is especially true for smartphones that have been released for a while now, and the process can take quite a while. Do it!

In order to make sure your phone is running with the latest version of Android available, open Settings > System > System update > Check for update. It may look different depending on your manufacturer. However, you will likely tap on something along the lines of "Check for software updates".

Check for Android updates
Check for updates before finishing the smartphone setup. / © NextPit

Of course, the best-case scenario is that you already have a Google account and were asked during the initial setup if you want to reinstall your old apps on the new smartphone. But if you were to begin from scratch, you can start by installing apps that are important to you.

How do I organize my apps?

Smartphones are personal companions and are what you make of them. With the right apps, you can leverage the use of your smartphone well by having it deliver a slew of practical functions. You can produce music on your phone, edit videos, or even learn new languages. Here we would like to direct you to our Best App Lists, where you can find selected applications according to specific topics or application areas.

We've also compiled a selection of good Play Store apps for you over the years. You can also choose from a wide range of games on the Play Store to keep yourself entertained. Numerous apps would have been pre-installed on your new smartphone.

On the one hand, there are various apps from the manufacturer that oftentimes cannot be uninstalled, and they do consume system resources and are rarely optimal app solutions. You can deactivate them and thus free up a bit more space and enjoy a smoother overall experience.

Back up your pictures with Google Photos

One of Google's much-loved pre-installed apps and services would be Google Photos. This app allows you to store your photos on Google. Doing so has two advantages: First, you can no longer lose your precious photos on the smartphone. Secondly, you can delete the pictures after uploading them from your smartphone and free up additional storage space on your device for new photos.

For a long time now, Google Photos offered unlimited storage space—but now Google counts the number of uploaded pictures against your storage quota. While you still get to enjoy 15 GB of free storage, the first subscription level would cost $1.99 monthly. For that, you get 100 GB of Google One storage including a free VPN service. Google Photos is still a good way to manage photos on your smartphone though. Even without a backup, the main drawing point is this: Photos are automatically tagged and can be easily searched.

Ersteinrichtung Android
Google Photos is a good way to manage your photos despite its storage limitations. / © NextPit

Personalize your phone

Give your smartphone a personal touch! A new wallpaper, a different ringtone, or even a different launcher will give your smartphone a completely new look. In a separate article we show you where to find wallpapers, ringtones, and launchers, and which ones we recommend:

Conclusion

Now that you've picked up a new smartphone, you should be able to take full advantage of all its new features. At the same time, we have tried to think about how you would use this smartphone down the road in this article. After all, once you have set it up, maintaining the operating system and exploring its range of functions is far from over!

If you are disappointed and realize that you don't like the smartphone, it doesn't matter then. This is because you can go through the setup process all over again and move the already installed apps and data back to a new smartphone using the same steps, as long as you can hold on to the old device for a few more days. Of course, we also would like to help you in your search for a new smartphone and show you the best phones in different categories.

Simply go to our overview of the best lists to know more.


This article was revised and updated in December 2022. Older comments were retained and may therefore appear to be out of context.

Benjamin Lucks

Benjamin Lucks

Ben has been working in tech journalism since 2018, was a freelancer in the middle of the CoVid-crisis and has been full-time at NextPit since November '20. Since then he has tries to find the right mix between professional competence, humor and fresh perspectives in reviews and texts.

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11 comments

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  • storm 1 month ago Link to comment

    I've gone Google free since my prior comment. This means that there is no account associated with my phone. So the google services, Play store, Maps, and back up are not available to me.

    If you want to skip the Google but are wondering about getting apps and such, it's pretty easy.

    Start with f-droid which you get from their website. This is a vetted and safe app-store but you'll notice it is missing a lot of what you probably want.

    Then from f-droid app store you can install Aurora which is a (usually anonymous) web front end into the google play store. As long as you choose free apps and apps that don't require a google account, you can keep your privacy to a better degree. You can use some subscription apps, I use Evernote for example, but that's because the Evernote account and payment are independent of the Google Play store. You can sign into the google play store and get your regular and paid apps as well, but that defeats the privacy purpose. I want to avoid the google ID associated to my IMEI.

    I've been using Waze for navigation. Yes, Waze is google, but it doesn't require a google account to use. New Pipe for Youtube. Fair email until Mozilla finishes adapting K9.

    I really don't miss Google.

    Now I'm responsible for my own data integrity and backup but that's not much to deal with. Lost phone recovery/remote wipe I don't have a solution for. There's probably a commercial solution out there if that's a must have.

    I'm really looking forward to LInux phones. I thought that would have started to blossom 2 years ago, but I guess that's something else the pandemic messed with.


  • storm Dec 26, 2021 Link to comment

    Setting up a new phone is mostly about setting up your old phone for transfer. Most of new phone set up is about turning off the invasive bits and receiving the transfer of data. One of your competitors was saying the first step is to enable password remembering. What a fail of security and privacy.

    Even if you skip the Google account, the services are plugging away fingerprinting your device and behaviors. IMHO, I think the privacy balance is better served with an account and then disabling all the storage and tracking at the personal level. The generalized tracking is almost impossible without a microg Root and Rom. 5G includes a lot of built-in monitoring capability that you simply can't control as well as that happens at the carrier level.


  • CJ Brown Oct 13, 2018 Link to comment

    The two main steps I had when switching to a new smartphone were:

    1) sign into your Google account (ie Gmail)
    2) sync your Google account (confirm and your Contacts are all displayed)

    Yes, you will need to update the new device with your Google Play Store and download some Apps (have your name / password ready for everything from Facebook to Twitter, because you will be signing in to many things).

    Either then that? This is a useful article covering everything from signing into your phone, to installing a micro SD card and configuring it. 👍


  • Albin Foro Oct 10, 2018 Link to comment

    This is a good rundown, my only change would be the sequence of updating the system (either available version updates or upgrades) to get all that out of the way before customizing the interface (e.g. launcher) and updating preinstalled or installing new apps. I personally also use the Recovery Menu / System Cache Wipe after any major Android system updates or upgrades to get rid of useless and often performance compromizing junk files. A fully updated and cleaned up Android is the better platform for personalization with new apps and settings.


  • Allan Morris Dec 30, 2017 Link to comment

    Thanks for sharing. It is pretty easy to setup an Android device but I guess newbie would find these instructions helpful.


  • Danielle Wilson Dec 27, 2017 Link to comment

    Every one knows about how to setup android phone for the first time because now a days every one having android mobile in their pockets any way this article is useful for those who do not know how to setup android phone for the first time and you mentioned each and every step Clearly that's great.


  • Rusty H. Dec 26, 2017 Link to comment

    My launcher of choice, Nova Prime makes setting up a new one pretty easy. I copy the backup to the SD card, and transfer it to the new phone. Once the apps are reinstalled from the play store, I just restore the Nova settings and poof! Pretty much done.


  • ‫ארז כהן (‪Erez Cohen‬‏)‬‎ Oct 25, 2017 Link to comment

    From my experience and to prevent lot of headackes and battary drain symptoms

    In the screen when Google services ENABLE and asks you the following:
    [v] Automatically back up device data
    [v] Let Google's location service help apps
    [v] Improve location accuracy
    [v] Help improve your Android experience

    UNMARK THEM ALL !!

    As an example if you ENABLE in this stage (at least in 6.0):
    [v] Improve location accuracy
    It will -by default- set location services in high accuracy each time you switch location service off/on
    Even if you decided previously to set it as GPS only!
    This result a battary drain issues

    And as it say, you can always enable it afterward
    So let it be in your hands and not in Googles hands

    Remember that Battary is the most important device
    Using Sony Xperia Z3


  • Elvis Baker Apr 21, 2017 Link to comment

    There should be a way on how to hook up ur phone with a sd card,never mind a sim card,using wifi now or better my zte n860


  • Mike Pinkus Aug 7, 2016 Link to comment

    Can the SIM card go in after set up or is it needed for the initial set up?


  • prekyap Jul 12, 2016 Link to comment

    Good article

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