The idea of rooting your phone can seem daunting. Even with the (almost) foolproof and tested methods, just the slightest chance of turning your phone into a $600 paperweight is enough to give some people pause. The cost of potentially destroying your phone beyond all repair is a large one to weigh against the benefits of unlimited customizability and truly to unlock the power contained within the Android operating system.
Fortunately for those who are unwilling to take that risk, there is plenty your phone can do that you probably didn’t even know about. In this article, we will detail 8 different tips and tricks to show you what your phone can do without ever having to give it the ol’ root access treatment.
Sometimes the simplest and most obvious solutions are the ones that are most often overlooked. Widgets are the unsung heroes of Android. Either use them every day and just don’t know it, or you are missing out on the untapped potential.
Widgets are certain selected functionalities of applications that are shrunken down and placed on your home screen to perform various tasks. They are always there and do not require you to open the app to use them. Just about every app on your phone and most on the Google Play Store have at least one if not multiple different widgets.
But what can widgets do for you?
Well, let me tell you.
You can use a calendar widget to get a full month’s view right at your fingertips. Just like the calendar you used to have hanging on your wall, right next to your landline phone. Or maybe you would prefer to break it down to show just a week at a time, or even your upcoming agenda for the next few days.
Create a widget for your Music app so you always have access to your favorite playlists, with the ability to change songs without ever leaving your home screen. Set up an email widget to get a preview of the most recent or important messages in your inbox.
Widgets can do anything and everything from following your favorite stocks and show you the weather forecasts to displaying Facebook status updates, bank account balances, local gas prices, and current sports scores.
Adding widgets to your home screen is ridiculously simple too. Just hold down on an empty space on your home screen and you will be presented with a list of every possible option based on the apps you have installed at that time. Although many apps will offer different widgets with varying sizes and purposes, you can also shrink or enlarge the size of most widgets to fit them in whatever manner and on whichever screen best suits you.
If you are not the most tech-savvy player in the game, you will be happy to learn that, in many ways, your Android phone functions much in the same way as a PC or laptop. The File Manager is a built-in tool that gives you access to most of the files and objects contained within your phone, similar to the way you can access all your documents and files in Windows. The File Manager organizes everything into a user-friendly and familiar interface with names and folder icons to help you navigate like a pro.
If you are having trouble finding a certain picture that you know you saved a few years ago, or a song that you could have sworn you downloaded last week, this is the place to look. Everything is organized and alphabetized based on the app it came from or the type of file you are looking for. Some folders may have cryptic names, but with a little browsing, you should be able to figure most of it out on your own.
Whenever my phone begins to run a little sluggish, this is the first place I turn to clean things up. Typically when you uninstall an app, all the corresponding data and folders will be cleared out. However, this is not the case 100% of the time. Everyone should give their File Manager a good look-see every few months to ensure things are nice and tidy.
IMPORTANT: With great power comes great responsibility. Do not go deleting files and folders if you have no idea what they are or what purpose they serve. A quick Google search of the folder/file name will typically tell you all you need to know as far as where it came from, what it does, and if you can delete it without causing major issues.
Disable Apps You Don’t Use
All major phone manufacturers and wireless carriers install software on their phones they feel you MUST have. Be it out of contractual obligation or some strange autocratic tendencies, many of these programs simply cannot be deleted no matter how much you hate them. This is what we fondly refer to as bloatware.
One of the biggest draws for many to rooting their phones is the ability to do away with unwanted bloatware that will free up more hard drive space and resources. Unfortunately, without rooting your phone, you cannot uninstall some of these unwanted companions; but there is a better solution than ignoring them.
Android gives you the ability to disable any unwanted applications that are not essential to the basic functions of the device. You might not be able to delete them, but you can sure as heck stop them from doing whatever they please with your precious RAM and background data.
To do this, you need to access the Apps portion of the Settings Menu and scroll over to the list of all apps. Select the offending app and you will see an option to Disable it. (Hint: Some apps that are already running need to be force stopped before they can be disabled.)
Disabling an app will hide it from your app tray as well as from the All Apps list. They will now be stored under a newly-created “Disabled” apps list, where they can easily be re-enabled if you find yourself yearning for the bloatware again.
The veritable darling of Android launchers, Nova Launcher functions as a fully customizable replacement launcher for the home screen and app tray of your Android phone. All major phone manufacturers take the stock Android operating system and place their own proprietary UI “skin” over it. For Samsung, it is TouchWiz; HTC has Sense; LG has dubbed their most recent version UX 4.0.
These different iterations are often jumbled and confusing at best, and downright maddening at their worst. Many people believe that they are stuck with whatever the manufacturer gave them, but this is simply not the case. Nova Launcher takes that UI and presents it in a way that is as close to the stock Android experience as you can get without rooting your phone.
The options for customization are endless, to the point where you might lose your mind a little bit. You can alter your icons and fonts, change the color of the text on your home screen and app drawer, play with different animations for screen swiping, and essentially customize the way you interact with your phone. I had to take a step back from changing my icons and screen layouts so as not to drive myself completely insane.
Nova Launcher has both a free as well as a paid version, but honestly, the free version should be enough for most users to get a great experience. If Nova Launcher isn’t for you, the Google Now Launcher is another one of my favorites that might be worth a look. It puts the power of Google Cards and the entire integrated Google ecosystem into a slick and minimal format, complete with new icons and a different font.
Android Device Manager
A few months back a friend of mine had some people over for a few adult beverages and general good times. After the party had ended and everyone cleared out, her phone was nowhere to be found. I had her log in to her Google account on her tablet, and we were able to deduce that one of her good friends had a bit too much to drink and mistakenly taken her phone home that night.
If this sounds like it could have happened to you, sit up straight in your chair and pay attention. Android Device Manager is a hybrid service and app built in to all Android phones registered with a Google account. If you have ever lost your phone, you probably wish you would have known about this before.
Using any device with an internet connection, you can log into your Google account and use Android Device Manager to locate your phone, lock it, wipe all data, or simply send a signal to ring the phone in hopes of finding it between the couch cushions. Even if the phone is set to silent /vibrate, it will ring at full volume!
Now, this is all given the fact that your phone is currently powered up with a data connection and GPS enabled, but why would you ever turn any of these settings off in the first place? The service is not perfect but as a last resort, you should file this in your brain under “Good to Know.”
Push All Messages and Notifications to Your Computer’s Desktop
It is hard enough to keep your attention on one electronic device these days. Whether you are at your desk, in the classroom, or sitting at a coffee shop drafting your memoirs, your phone, and your computer are constantly duking it out for your attention like a pair a newborn puppies.Fortunately, for you there are a few different apps out on the Google Play Store that allow access to some of the most important functions of your Android phone; even without ever taking it out of your pocket.
MightyText, Pushbullet, and AirDroid are three of the most popular apps in this vein and all are available to download free. All three apps will sync your computer to your phone over a wireless connection and push any notifications from your phone directly to your desktop.
MightyText is my personal favorite and the one that I use on a daily basis. As the name implies, the primary function of MightyText is to turn your computer into a text-messaging extension of your phone. Any text sent to you will appear on your computer screen, with the ability to respond within a pop-up notification window. You can also compose new messages and browse your list of previous messages as well.
However, MightyText doesn’t just stop at messages. It gives you the ability to browse your phone’s photo gallery and upload pictures or videos to your computer wirelessly. It will also show your phone’s battery status, and can even ring your phone in the event that it gets buried somewhere in your briefcase/backpack/purse. There is a paid version of the app that expands functionality even more, but the free version does plenty enough as it is.
Use Your Android for Home Improvement
Did you know that the sensors in your Android can serve as a level in a pinch? With a quick download, you can be hanging pictures and shoring up wobbly tables in no time. Bubble Level is a free app that uses your phone’s built-in hardware such as the accelerometer or a gyroscope to track and sense when the phone is placed on flat surfaces or tilted at an angle.
Obviously, we are not dealing with 100% accuracy here, but it is definitely a better solution than just eyeballing your wall hangings and small home improvement tasks. If the accuracy is not up to your unreasonably high standards, you can always download Google Maps and navigate to your nearest hardware store to pick up the real thing. But why do all that when a serviceable version is available to you RIGHT NOW?
Access Android Developer Mode
So the previously mentioned Android hacks just aren’t cutting it for you, but you still don’t feel like rooting your phone? It might be time for you to explore the Android Developer Mode. All Android devices come with the ability to access the Developer Mode.
This gives you a host of options to customize the functionality of your phone to the extreme.It’s not for the faint of heart or the tech-illiterate.
To access developer mode, enter the Settings Menu and go the Software section under About Phone. You will see an area titled “Build Number.” Tap that area of the screen 7 times in quick succession and a pop-up will appear awarding you with the title of “developer.” Feel free to celebrate the accomplishment however you deem necessary.
Now under the Settings menu there will be a new section labeled as “Developer Options.” The possibilities are numerous. Some of the more low-level functions include such actions as:
- Severely limiting the number of background processes running.
- Ensuring that certain apps are completely closed upon exiting them.
- Having the screen show exactly where it is registering your finger every time you touch it.
Be careful with the Developer Mode. If you do not know your way around your device, it is best to perform a bit of research before making any changes. If you are seriously lost, you can easily revert all settings back to default and just poke around with the standard user options. Chances are you’ll be surprised by what you can find built into your phone, and the Google Play Store offers a host of free apps that can take your smartphone experience to the next level
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