9 essential Android features you’re probably not using
Be the master of your Google-powered device.
This story has been updated. It was first published on November 20, 2019.
The Android versus iPhone debate continues to rumble on. But one thing is certain: Google’s phone software is more versatile and customizable than Apple’s offering. Dig into the settings and tweaks available for your Android phone and you’ll find a host of clever features and useful tools. We’ve collected 10 of them right here.
A quick note before we begin: Android has a wide variety of makes, models, and versions, which makes it more difficult to find features that will be consistent across all devices. We only verified the following tips on stock Android 12—they should also work on related systems, but some of the menus and procedures may vary slightly.
1. Cast your Android screen
For a number of years, you’ve been able to broadcast your Android phone or tablet’s display to the larger screen of a television using a Chromecast. In addition to beaming video from all the usual movie and TV apps, this streaming device can mirror your phone. Take advantage of a mirroring shortcut in the Quick Settings pane, which you can access by dragging down from the top of the screen with two fingers. You should find a Screen Cast option in this menu. If it doesn’t show up, swipe left on the Quick Settings menu for more options, or tap the pencil icon at the bottom to add the shortcut.
There’s also another way to set up mirroring. First, check to make sure you’ve installed the Google Home app for Android—you probably already used this program to set up your Chromecast. Open the app and choose your Chromecast and your device’s display should appear on the big screen. On your phone, tap Media and choose from Music, Video, Podcasts, or Radio and select a service to start streaming.
2. Run apps side-by-side
This feature has been around since Android 7.0 Nougat, but it’s one of the few users tend to forget about. This view side-by-side or top-and-bottom app view (depending on the orientation of your screen) comes in handy when you want to display photos, optimize your social networking, or multitask.
To set it up, open the app carousel by doing a short swipe up gesture from the bottom of your screen. There, swipe your way to the recent app you want to use and press on the circular icon at the top of the app preview. On the emerging menu, you should see a Split top option. Keep in mind that not all apps support this feature (like Instagram, for example), so if you don’t see this option, it’s because you can’t use it like this. If you see it, tap Split top, and the app will automatically position itself at the top or left of your screen. On the other side, you’ll see the app carousel, from where you can open a second app. This time, just swipe your way to it and tap on the preview to open it.
You’ll notice a thick black line separating both apps—from the middle drag it up or down to re distribute your screen. To exit Split Screen mode, just drag the black line all the way up or down.
3. Make text and images more visible
If you’re struggling to see what’s on the screen—or, alternatively, if you want to cram as much content as possible onto the display and don’t mind doing a bit of squinting along the way—you can zoom in or out on text and objects. Not all the apps will respond to these adjustments, but most of them will.
To change size settings, open Settings and go to the Display heading. From there, tap the Font size and drag the slider at the bottom of the screen to make text larger or smaller as needed.
4. Change volume settings independently
Your device plays several different types of audio—including ringtones, notifications, alarms, phone calls, and media. If you’ve ever gone to the Settings menu, and opened Sound & vibration, you’ll have seen that you can use individual sliders to adjust these audio types individually.
However, Android gives you a quick-and-easy shortcut. Tap the physical volume buttons on the side of your device to make whatever’s currently playing softer or louder (if no media is playing, this action will adjust your ringtone volume). When you do, a small box will pop up on the screen, showing which volume setting is changing and how. At the bottom of that box, you should see three dots. Tap them, and the box will expand to show multiple volume sliders at once. This can save you a trip to Settings.
5. Lock phone borrowers inside one app
If you’ve ever lended a friend or young family member your phone, you probably know that sudden anxiety that comes with the possibility of them going through your private information or posting to your social media accounts. App pinning lets you be generous without giving up your privacy, and will lock one app to the screen until someone enters the lock screen code again. Essentially, the user won’t be able to access any other parts of your phone without your code.
Screen pinning is easy to set up. Open Settings, go to the Security menu, choose Advanced Settings, and App pinning. Once you’ve turned on the feature, launch the app your friend needs to use. Then open Overview by making a short upward swipe from the bottom of the screen. Swipe your way to the app you want to pin and tap on the circular icon at the top of the preview. On the emerging menu, tap Pin. To unpin the app, swipe from the bottom of your screen and hold. This will lock your phone and you’ll have to enter your lock pattern, password PIN, or biometrics to use it.
6. Disable the lock screen at home
To keep your device safe, you need to set up a PIN code or biometrics scan to unlock your phone. But this makes it more inconvenient to access your apps. Google’s Smart Lock feature lets you remove this obstacle, giving you instant access to your phone—but only when you’re safely at home.
From Settings, tap Security, go to Advanced Settings, and choose Smart Lock. As well as disabling the lock screen when you’re at home (that’s the Trusted Places option), you can also disable the screen when your phone’s Bluetooth is connected to a trusted device, such as your car stereo unit, or when it detects you have it on you.
7. Choose new default apps
One of the differences between Android and iOS is that Google’s mobile operating system lets you choose different default apps for web browsing, texting, viewing photos, etc. A default app is the one that opens automatically when you try and do something on your phone—so when you click a hyperlink, for example, your default web browser app will open that link.
Take advantage of this flexibility by setting up the defaults as you want them. Head to Settings, go to Apps, and choose Default apps. Select any of the categories on screen to see a list of installed apps that can take over default duties. For example, if you’d prefer to chat with friends via Facebook Messenger, rather than your phone’s built-in SMS app, you can make Facebook’s product your default messaging app.
8. Bring back lost notifications
It happens—you accidentally swiped away one of the notifications that you wanted to read fully and now you have a nagging sense someone emailed you, but are not sure. If you want to review all of your recent notifications on Android, you’re in luck. This ability is possible—though the option isn’t easy to find.
[Related: A beginner’s guide to using Android]
Tap and hold on an empty part of the home screen, and a screen-adjusting mode will pop up. Choose Widgets, and find the Settings shortcut. Drag this icon to an empty space on one of your home screens and drop it in place, and a list will automatically pop up. Choose Notification log from the list and tap the icon to open up Android’s notification history.
9. Activate one-handed mode
As today’s phones continue to grow in size, they become harder and harder to operate one-handed. So Google’s custom keyboard, which is the default option on certain Android phones, has a solution: A special one-handed mode that you can switch to with a simple shortcut. If you own a Pixel phone, this keyboard will be your default typing option. If you’re on a Samsung or LG phone, you’ll have to first download Google’s version and set it as your default keyboard (as demonstrated in tip 7).
Open up the keyboard as normal and tap and hold on the comma key. Drag up to the right-hand icon to enable one-handed mode. The arrow lets you switch this smaller keyboard from side to side, the bottom icon lets you reposition it, and the top icon restores the full-size keyboard. Other phone keyboards may also have one-handed modes, but they can be harder to access than Google’s. Try looking up your phone model and searching “one-handed keyboard” to learn more.