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Five ways to get started with your new Android phone

December 25, 2011 | 10:33 am

THe Motorola Droid Bionic (left) and the Samsung Galazy S II

Did you unwrap your gifts this Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus to find that you're the proud new owner of an Android? If so, welcome to the world of Google-powered smartphones.

Millions of others around the globe own phones running Google's Android operating system, across dozens of devices with varying screen sizes and specs. These phones might be from one of more than a dozen hardware makers, running on just about every wireless network out there.

Given the variation, Android can be a bit fragmented, but no matter what your Android looks like, here are a few basics that can help you get started if you're new to smartphone ownership.

1. Set up your Google Account: To use an Android phone you'll need to have a Google Account, which means you'll have to set up a Gmail.com email address if you don't already have one. Your Google Account is, of course, the login identity that follows you as you use all things Google -- Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Blogger and anything else Google produces. This can add some convenience to your life by automatically syncing your contacts and calendars across your computer and your smartphone if you make use of Google's services for keeping track of all that information.

2. Get yourself some apps: The major differentiator between smartphones and other cellphones, aside from the ability to send and receive email, is the mobile app. Android phones have the second largest app store, behind only Apple's App Store for its iPhone/iPod/iPad lineup. Unlike Apple's i-devices, Android users have the option of getting their apps from Google or from third parties. The top two places to find apps currently are Google's official Android Market and the Amazon Appstore for Android. Both stores offer a wide selection of apps and games that have been tested and vetted before being sold, to help prevent apps filled with viruses and other malware from making it out to Android users. Amazon also allows you to test many apps, which can be helpful before downloading. Some basic apps we really like for Android: Pulse is a great news reading app if you like to read news from multiple websites and Cut the Rope is a fun game that can be a bit tougher than Angry Birds but is just as fun.

3. Social networking: Android phones are among the best choices for staying on top of your social networks. The official Twitter app is thoughtfully designed and can help you keep up with the fast-paced social network. Path is a social network that is by default private and designed for easily sharing what's going on in your life with close friends, but you can also share to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare from Path as well. And, of course, there is Google+. The Google+ Android app isn't the greatest social networking experience in mobile apps, and falls far below Twitter, Path and Facebook in terms of looks and usability, but if you were lucky enough to receive the Galaxy Nexus smartphone this holiday, which runs Ice Cream Sandwich (the latest version of Android) this might not be as big of a problem. In Ice Cream Sandwich, Google has baked-on Google+, allowing for automatic photo sharing and the ability to even read emails in your Gmail inbox by circles of friends on the network.

4. Check out Google Music: For many, the smartphone is also a portable music player, and if you're not already a big iTunes or Amazon customer for music, Google's own Google Music is worth a serious look. Google Music on a PC isn't as easy to use as iTunes, but it does allow you to sync your purchases and music library to the cloud for streaming or easy downloads on the go. Also, Google so far has done a great job on pricing, with hundreds of songs as low as 49 cents and albums as low as $4.99.

5. Talk to friends: As suggested by my colleague Deborah Netburn in her "Five Ways to Get Started With Your New iPad" post, talking to others who own and use Android on a daily basis is a good call. This shouldn't be too tough considering that Android is the most widely used mobile operating system worldwide.

Do you have any other suggestions for new Android owners? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Motorola Droid Bionic from Verizon Wireless, left, and the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch from Sprint. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times

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