11 Splendid Android Features You Don’t Know About

By on April 26, 2015

Android is stacked with so many tools and configuration options, we often overlook some of its most useful features. Sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight. Other times, they’re buried so deep, you’d never discover them without spelunking deep into submenus, groping blindly in the dark.
But don’t let that one killer feature get away. Even if you consider yourself an Android power user, you’d do well to make sure you’re familiar with every single menu, toggle and utility on this list. We’ve done our best to identify the precise locations of the features listed below, but you may have to hunt around menus a bit if your device manufacturer has excessive interface customizations.

Use Android Device Manager for much greater control over a lost phone.
The Google Play Services framework is used to manage all sorts of back-end services, and Google updates it frequently in the background. Most of the functionality packed away in this framework is of little user-facing consequence, but there’s a lot including account sync, malware scanning, and the Android Device Manager. This feature allows you track, ring, lock, and wipe your device if you lose track of it.
By default, you can only ring and locate a device with Android Device Manager, so if you want the full gamut of features, go into your main system settings and scroll down to Security. Find the Device Administrators option, and open it to see what apps have been granted admin privileges on your phone or tablet. Checking the box next to Android Device Manager allows you to wipe and lock the device in addition to the ring and locate features.

You can remotely access Android Device Manager in a number of useful ways. If you only have one Android device, you can use any web browser to go to the Android Device Manager page and log into your account. From there, you can see a map of where your phone is located, and issue commands to nuke it or just lock it.
Before resorting to extreme measures, you might want to start with locating and making it ring to ensure it didn’t just slip between the couch cushions. Should you have access to more than one Android device, you can use the Android Device Manager app, which you can keep on all your devices to locate and manage the others.

Screenshots are for chumps. Show everyone else what you’re up to with a screen recording.
A subset of Android users over the years have resorted to rooting their devices to get more advanced features. Android has slowly gained features over time that make root less of a necessity. As of Android 5.0 Lollipop, there’s less reason than ever to root now that Android supports screen recording. You just need an app to take proper advantage of it.

A screen recording is simply an MP4 video file of what’s happening on your screen for the duration of the capture. There is no native tool to do this on most Android devices for some reason, but there are a ton of them in the Play Store. My personal favorite is the aptly named Rec.
Whether you’re using Rec or another app with support for Lollipop screen recording, all you need to do is accept the screen capture request when it pops up. An icon in the status bar will appear to let you know the screen recording is ongoing. Some apps have support for different resolutions and bitrates for the recording as well, but the default will be the native screen resolution of your phone or tablet.

The way you end a recording varies by app, but there’s usually a notification or you can simply put the device to sleep. One of the reasons I prefer the aforementioned Rec is that it has support for both of those options as well as shake to stop a recording.

Why suffer even marginally slow animations when your processor can handle faster speeds?
Android devices are faster than they used to be, but you can make your experience feel even zippier with one simple tweak. Android contains a hidden developer options menu that you can enable by going into your main system settings, then navigating to About > Software Information > More > Build number. Now tap on the build number—literally, tap on it numerous times—until a small message at the bottom of the screen confirms that you’re a developer.

Now, don’t worry: This doesn’t make any modifications to your system. It just turns on the Developer Options menu back in the main settings list—so head back there and open it up. Developer Options has a ton of interesting features to play around with, but you can also mess things up pretty badly, so it’s best not to change anything you haven’t thoroughly researched. You’ve been warned!
Now back to animations. Inside Developer options, scroll down to Drawing and find Window animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale. These are all set to 1x by default. These animations are the eye candy you see when apps open and close, menus drop down, and more. They help cover up lag as the system catches up, but you don’t really need slow settings on a fast device. You can set all of these to 0.5x for a more snappy interface experience.

Security doesn’t have to be a hassle.
Keeping your phone secure is important, but if you’re the one holding it, there’s no reason you have to deal with a strong lock screen every single time you drag it from your pocket. Luckily, Android 5.0 devices now have support for Smart Lock. This feature can display the easy swipe lock screen when it’s safe to do so. How does it know? Well, there are a variety of options, some more secure than others.

Smart Lock is delivered to devices via Play Services, just like Android Device Manager. The locking options will vary by device, but Nexus phones and tablets have the most. There’s Trusted Face, Trusted Location, Trusted Devices, and on-body detection. At the bare minimum, all devices should have Trusted Devices and Trusted Location.

So for example, you can have your phone set to swipe unlock at home, but take a stroll down the block or hop in the car and it will start asking for the pattern, PIN, or password lock again. The same goes for Trusted Devices—if you’re connected to a Bluetooth or NFC device you have previously marked as “trusted,” (like your car or Android Wear watch) you’ll see no secure lock screen. With Trusted Face, the device will switch seamlessly transition to swipe unlock mode if it spots you with the front camera. On-body detection is a little weird—this option keeps your phone set to swipe unlock as long as it detects it is still in your hand or pocket. Set it down, and it locks again.
Keep in mind, some OEMs really bury the Smart Lock menu a few levels deep in advanced security or privacy settings. You may also need to enable Google Play Services as a “trust agent” in the settings of some device to access Smart Lock.

The trick is to receive a warning before you trip your data limit.
In our age of draconian tiered data plans and ever-increasing carrier fees, you often need to watch your mobile data consumption closely. Android has a built-in tool that helps you do this, but most users don’t use it to its full potential. The Data Usage menu is usually near the top of your system settings list (though it may be buried under a “More” heading), and can also be accessed via the network signal strength icon in Quick Settings. You can use the sliders on the usage chart to set your data limits for your chosen billing cycle.

The default behavior is simply to warn you when you reach your data limit. However, by the time you get that warning, it’s often too late to adjust your behavior and avoid overage charges or automatic throttling. A better use of the data tracking feature is to set your warning a few hundred megabytes below your limit, then enable a data limit with the checkbox right above the chart. The red line on the chart lets you set a point at which your mobile data will be shut off.

The SuperBeam app facillitates device-to-device file transfers at warp speed—even 45 Mbps. Ah, the wonders of Wi-Fi.
Transferring files between devices has always been a little annoying, but features like Android Beam made it easier: Just hold together two NFC-enabled devices (Android 4.1 or later), and you can transfer files across a Bluetooth link. It’s a neat trick, but transfer speeds are capped by Bluetooth bandwidth, and file type support is limited. Luckily, however, most Android devices also support Wi-Fi Direct, even though Google’s stock apps don’t make use of it.

Wi-Fi Direct is exactly what it sounds like: a protocol that can create a direct connection between two devices via Wi-Fi. You just need an app to make use of it, and there are several in Google Play. SuperBeam is probably the most powerful, and it has a free version. To get a transfer going, you just share files to Super Beam (or whatever app you’ve chosen to use) and tap phones. Wi-Fi Direct allows you to queue up multiple files in a single operation and the transfer rate can easily exceed 30 Mbps. It’s fabulous for sharing large videos or images.

Sometimes apps don’t need to be gobbling up so much data in the background.
Because Android allows apps to wake up in the background and perform activities, there’s always the possibility they’ll send and receive mobile data without your knowledge. When you’re on a low-capped data plan (or you’re just coming up on the cap) this can be an issue. Luckily, the Android Data Usage menu in your phone offers information on what’s using data in the background, and could save you from extra charges.

Below the graph of overall data usage mentioned above, you’ll find a list of all your apps organized by how much data they’ve used, starting with the most greedy offenders. Tap on any single app for details on the split between foreground and background data. If you find an app using a lot of bytes in the background, you can scroll down to the bottom of the details page and check the option to restrict background data. Note, however, that this option is only available on devices that hook into mobile data plans.

Share your owner information to help do-gooders return your phone.
Having a pattern or PIN lock on your phone or tablet is always a good idea, but what happens if you lose the device, and a good Samaritan finds it and wants to return it? How is he or she supposed to know who it belongs to? Well, hidden inside the Owner Info menu, there’s an easy way to provide your identity.

The Owner Info feature will be in the Security section of the main system settings, or under Personal > Lock screen and security on newer Samsung phones. You can add any info here you want, but an email and alternative phone number are safe bets. Just check the option above the text field to have the Owner Info displayed on the lock screen. Be aware, OEMs that heavily customize the lock screen (cough, cough—HTC) sometimes do away with this feature.

It’s time your phone start treating tethered handsets with the respect they deserve.

Android devices have long included native tethering support, and most carriers have finally gotten comfortable enough with tethering to allow users on capped data plans to use the feature without paying extra. That said, an Android device connected to a tethered hotspot doesn’t know it’s using mobile data. All it sees is a Wi-Fi access point, and that can pose problems.
If you’ve set your apps to auto-update or have files automatically backed up over Wi-Fi, you could accidentally blow through most of the hotspot’s data plan in a few minutes. To avoid this, you should be teaching your devices which Wi-Fi networks are actually mobile hotspots.

This will apply system-wide settings for mobile data even though, for all intents and purposes, your phone thinks it’s connected to Wi-Fi.
In the Data Usage menu, use the overflow menu button to select Network restrictions. The screen that comes up will list all the Wi-Fi networks synced with your account data. Simply flip the toggle next to the ones that are hotspots, and your device won’t abuse the data. This feature dovetails nicely with the background data restriction mentioned above.

(10) Priority Notifications
Don’t let your phone boss you around with notifications when you don’t want them.
Android 5.0 Lollipop added notifications to the lock screen, but that’s not the only change to Android’s traditional great notification system.

You can use the priority notification system to hide content from the lock screen and control which apps can bother you and when. While awesome and powerful, this system is complicated to set up.
Notifications modes (sometimes called interruptions) on most Lollipop devices are split into all, priority, and none. None means you get no notifications, not even alarms. Priority mode allows alarms as well as whatever apps you’ve deemed important. Then there’s all, which is standard notification mode. In your Sound and notification settings, you can edit which apps have priority status, and allow priority exceptions for calls or text from certain numbers. You can switch the three interruption modes by hitting the volume toggle and tapping the None, Priority, or All indicators.

Once you get the interruptions configured, you can set up recurring interruption mode in the notification menu. This is a way to have the device toggle on none or priority mode on a schedule, for example each day at bedtime. On most devices this is called “downtime,” but sometimes it’s labeled “do not disturb.” These are very useful features, so it’s worth a few minutes of your life to set things up.

(11) Extend (or shorten) your lock timeout
Is your lock screen timeout too aggressive? This screen provides relief.
Android offers a ton of security settings for locking your device. You can choose a PIN number, password, or pattern lock, or even opt for the esoteric face unlock option. Using a lock is essential for keeping unsavory characters from accessing your data if you lose your device, but it can be a pain to unlock your hardware every single time the screen shuts off. Luckily, virtually all Android devices have a feature to fix that.

In the Security menu of most devices (again, Samsung tucked it in the My Device menu) is an “Automatically Lock” option. Note, this item only shows up if you have some sort of screen security set up. Here you can designate the amount of time that triggers your device unlock—all the way from instantaneously to 30 minutes on some phones. A longer duration will allow you to wake your device instantly if it hasn’t been asleep for long. Also, the power button can often still be used to lock instantly, if you like—that’s a checkbox right under the timeout option (though it’s not on all phones).