Once you’ve figured out how to use a touchscreen, you’re ready to dive into the Android user interface. This may look different depending on the specific device you have, but in general, all these things will be present on any Android device.
The first thing you’re greeted with when you turn on an Android device is the lock screen. The lock screen is simply a barrier that prevents anyone who picks up your smartphone or tablet from accessing all the information and apps you have stored on it. The lock screen also displays useful information like notifications and the time/date.
To get past the lock screen, swipe up. If you have your device set to require a PIN or pattern, it will ask you for it at this time. (If your device doesn’t have one, it’s a good idea to set a PIN—it prevents strangers from picking up your phone and having instant access to your email, Facebook, and other sensitive information.)
The home screen in Android is similar to the desktop on a Windows computer—it’s the launching point for pretty much everything you do on your device. The home screen is composed of several different parts:
At the very bottom of the screen, you’ll see three buttons. How these appear varies by device, but in stock Android, they are represented by a triangle, circle, and square.
- The triangle (left) is the Back button. When you’re in an app, this brings you back to the screen you were previously looking at. This could be another screen within the app or, if you just launched the app, the home screen itself.
- The circle (middle) is the Home button. You can use this button to return to the home screen when you’re in an app.
- The square (right) is the Overview button. This shows you any apps you have running in the background. You can switch to open apps here or close them.
The dock is where you can store your most frequently used apps for quick access. In many cases, you’ll also see an icon for the apps menu, which displays all the apps installed on your device. For some newer versions of Android, there’s no longer a dedicated button for this—you have to swipe up from the dock to reveal this menu.
The majority of the home screen is taken up by space for app icons. This space is customizable and gives you quick access to frequently used icons. You can have multiple screens with different icons, usually represented by small dots beneath this area. Swipe left to view additional icons.
At the top of the screen, you’ll find a status bar that displays the time, your device’s signal strength, notifications from apps, and other information. This bar will be present regardless of if you’re on the home screen or in an app. If you swipe down, this bar expands to reveal the notification drawer. Notifications are messages sent by apps on your phone that alert you when you have new messages and emails or provide other information the app deems important.
You can tap on a notification to open the app that sent it. If the notification is very long, sometimes all of the text won’t be displayed—you can simply swipe down on the notification itself to reveal additional information. Notifications can start to pile up if you don’t keep them tidy, so you can dismiss them by swiping them away to the side. If things get out of hand, there’s also a Clear All button that allows you to dismiss all notifications at once.
Swiping down again from the top of the notification drawer reveals quick access to frequently-used settings, like Wi-Fi networks and screen brightness. There’s also usually a gear icon displayed that lets you access the Settings menu.