Android for beginners: Setting up your phone
The default Android browser on most Android is pretty good - it's fast and has a nice minimalist interface, but certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives out there for you to check out. Let's take a look at some of the most popular among them.
Chrome is the default web browser of the last three Nexus devices and the more recent Motorola smartphones and there's a good reason why. You see, Google started the Chrome project back in 2006 and has been investing quite a lot of effort in it ever since.
Chrome is a great option if you do lots of Google searches and/or use its desktop counterpart. Chrome is free on the Play Store and runs on any Android device running Ice Cream Sandwich and later.
More crucially, you can sync bookmarks, passwords and even open tabs between the Chrome mobile app and your desktop Chrome browser. All you have to do is sign in with your Google account. Everything is conveniently stored in the cloud.
This means that you could open an article at home and finish reading it on the train without having to remember long URLs. Chrome for Android also supports tabbed browsing.
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It all sounds fine and dandy, but there's a catch - forget about Flash.
Unlike Chrome or the stock browser, Firefox utilizes the Gecko web engine, which isn't as fast as the more widely-spread WebKit. It might not be too much of an issue on more capable devices, but is pretty hard to bear on more limited hardware.
The user interface is friendly enough, using simple and straightforward tab management and a readily-accessible options menu. Firefox for Android also supports browser sync: just like in Chrome, your tabs, bookmarks and personal information will be synced with your mobile device.
Unlike Chrome, however, you can make Firefox play Flash content including videos. Follow this link to see how.
Speaking of plugins, Firefox has a decent library of browser add-ons. They're what made the desktop version of the browser so popular to begin with. The library is growing by the day and you can definitely find something to extend the capabilities of the browser.
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Opera Mini is another widely used mobile web browser. Its key feature is its capability to compress data, not only saving you precious kilobytes and, in turn, money, but also improving loading speed on slower networks. It's highly recommended to those of you who browse on GPRS/EDGE or have a limiting data plan.
The app sports some cool features such as Speed Dial, Smart Page and automatically adjustable address bars and toolbars for better online reading experience. Syncing bookmarks with your desktop Opera browser is possible too.
Opera Mini has extremely wide compatibility and runs consistently well on Android 1.5 through Android 4.2. If you like it, you may also try its bigger brother, Opera Mobile, which has optional data compression, but works as a regular browser the rest of the time.
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Last but certainly not least, the Dolphin browser (formerly known as Dolphin HD) uses the WebKit engine and is decently fast.
Alongside standard browser features like tabbed browsing, Dolphin also supports Flash content, albeit not without some effort on your side. It also comes with a few unique features like Dolphin Sonar, Gesture Browsing and Webzine.
Dolphin Sonar enables voice search and navigation of the browser interface. Webzine is also interesting as it displays web content in a magazine-style format and caches the content to be accessible offline.
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SMS turned 20 years old this year, and while it's an important part of telephony, it's far from being the only messaging option in today's smartphone world. Here's a list of instant messengers you should definitely try.
Skype is one of the most popular messengers for every major desktop and mobile platform. With more than 600 million users around the world, it is really a stretch to find somebody that hasn't at least heard of it.
Skype for Android is nicely functional and will let you connect to all your Skype-using friends no matter if they run the mobile or the desktop client. It also integrates with your phonebook, allowing you to check the statuses and contact images of your buddies without launching the app itself.
The problem with Skype is that it was designed to be a desktop messenger and it's behind its rivals in terms of power and data efficiency. It can be used occasionally on your smartphone, but keeping it constantly running has a pretty big impact on the battery life.
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Debuting on iOS, Viber quickly drew more than 12 million users and last year it launched for Android as well. The app allows free calls over a mobile data connection as well as sending free text messages, images and, most recently, emoticons.
Viber became an instant success being completely free and featuring a straightforward user interface.
To register and start using the service, Viber requires you to enter your mobile phone number and give it access to your contact list. Upon launch, the app displays a list of all your contacts. Those who have Viber installed (regardless of their mobile platform) have the Viber logo next to them.
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Another mobile success story is WhatsApp - the app supports virtually every mobile phone platform under the sun, starting from Nokia's S40 and going through iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Symbian.
WhatsApp doesn't keep a separate contacts list, it just uses your phonebook. If you have someone's phone number, you can send them a message, that's it. You can send more than a message, of course, including photos, videos and voice messages and even your GPS location. Group chats are supported as well.
WhatsApp messages are sent over an Internet connection, so they are virtually free (they use very little data traffic, so in most cases it doesn't matter if you're not on Wi-Fi).
One advantage of WhatsApp over some of its competition is that it sends messages to a server first, so even if the receiving contact isn't online right now, they'll get the message as soon as their phone connects to the Internet (even if you are no longer online).
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