Phone smarts: 6 essential tips for Android users

Boost your Android IQ with this practical guide to making your phone more useful and less annoying

John Voo via Flickr (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of covering Android, it’s that most people don’t know half the stuff their phones can do—even when it comes to the platform’s most basic features.

For business users in particular, some of Android’s foundational options can enhance productivity and eliminate annoyances. So look over this how-to collection and see if there’s anything you’re missing or maybe forgot—then hang onto it as a reference for friends, family members, and colleagues who ask for advice in the future.

1. How to find and manage files on your phone


Solid Explorer File Manager offers advanced features for managing your phone’s files.

Unlike other mobile platforms, Android truly treats your phone as a computer—which means its flash storage is treated as a hard drive you’re able to access, browse, and manipulate as needed.

Recent versions of Android have a native file manager, though it’s a bit limited and tricky to find. You can get to it by opening the Storage section of your system settings, then scrolling all the way to the bottom of that screen and tapping Explore.

If you want something more powerful and easily accessible, the Play Store has no shortage of capable third-party options. I’d recommend Solid Explorer File Manager, which offers an intuitive design and oodles of advanced features for managing your phone’s files. The app costs $2 following a two-week trial.

2. How to move files between your phone and computer


To get your phone to show up as an external media source, plug your phone into an open USB slot on your PC, then unlock the device and look for the Use USB To notification.

As part of that “phone as a computer” philosophy, Android allows you to connect your device to a desktop PC and browse its contents like you would with any external storage.

With Windows, simply plug your phone into an open USB slot on your PC, then unlock the device and look for the Use USB To notification. Tap it, select Transfer Files—that’s it: Your phone should now show up as an external media source when you open the Windows File Explorer.

On a Mac, it’s a little more complicated: You’ll first need to download and install the Android File Transfer program onto your computer. Once that’s done, follow the same connection steps as for Windows—you’ll see the Android File Transfer window appear once your phone is ready to be browsed.

3. How to stop Android from tracking your location

Not so keen on having Google know your whereabouts? Head into the Location section of your system settings. There, you can change your device’s location mode or disable location tracking altogether. But note that decreasing or eliminating location services will affect what functions you’re able to use throughout the operating system and within apps.


Android allows you to connect your device to a desktop PC and browse its contents like you would with any external storage.

If you want to leave your location accessible but stop Google from logging it, go to the Google section of your system settings (or the Google Settings app, if you’re using an older device) and tap Personal Info & Privacy followed by Activity Controls. Next, tap the line labeled Google Location History, then flip the toggle to the off position.

You can see what location data Google has already saved for you by tapping the Manage Activities bar at the bottom of that same screen. If you want to erase all or part of your location history, tap the menu icon in the upper-right corner of the location history screen, select Settings and scroll to the bottom of the screen to find those options.

4. How to create and secure a Wi-Fi hotspot

Android makes it easy to use your phone’s data connection to get other devices online—assuming, of course, that your carrier and plan allow it.

To start a Wi-Fi hotspot, make your way into your phone’s system settings and look for the line in the Wireless & Networks section labeled More. (The exact wording and placement may differ from one device to the next, so if you don’t see “More,” look for anything that mentions wireless and network settings or the word “hotspot.”)

Select Tethering & Portable Hotspot on the following screen, then flip the Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot switch to turn on a hotspot.

Be sure to tap the line labeled Set Up Wi-Fi Hotspot, too, as that’s where you can give your network a recognizable name and ensure it’s password-protected with your preferred security protocol.

5. How to get an app to quit bugging you with notifications

Notifications are great—until they aren’t. If a certain app is getting overly intrusive and you can’t find any obvious way to turn down its aggressiveness within its own settings, press and hold one of its notifications. You’ll then see controls to show its notifications silently from then on or to block them entirely.

6. How to make text or other on-screen elements larger


Adjust the display size on your Android phone by going to the the Accessibility section of your system settings.

Squint no more, for your Android phone has an easily overlooked option to make everything on your screen larger. Your saving grace resides in the Accessibility section of your system settings. There, you’ll find the Display Size feature that’ll do precisely what you need.

If you’re running a newer version of Android, you’ll also see a second option to increase the size of text independently from anything else.

Your eyes will thank you.

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