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How to customise your Android phone: Top 5 tips

Your Android phone is a blank canvas. It’s waiting for you to paint your designs on its vacant walls. Paint it with the colours of your life! Or something.

One of the best things about Android is the degree of freedom you’re given. You can do pretty much whatever you want with it. From changing the wallpaper to rooting it and installing a custom ROM.

While we’re not going to get into rooting here, we will instead take you through the best ways to make your Android phone a little more ‘you’. This guide takes you through the simplest, most effective ways to customise your phone, and requires zero hard-core technical know-how.

The most obvious way to add a bit of colour and personality to your Android phone is to change the background. It’s also the easiest.

You can add pictures taken on your phone’s camera directly from the Gallery by selecting a picture and going to Menu > More > Set as and choosing ‘Wallpaper’ from the options.

Alternatively, perform a long press on any homescreen (hold your finger down for a couple of seconds) until the menu pops up. Select ‘Wallpapers’ from here.

If you’ve got a Sony Ericsson Android phone like the Xperia X10 or X8 you can create colourful abstract backgrounds using the Creatouch app that comes built in. Apps like ustwo’s Grallery gives you a selection of high-definition wallpapers that you can download directly to your phone.

There are also a large number of live animated wallpapers that can be downloaded from the Android Market, but many of these require Android 2.0 and above to work.

We’ve previously posted an extensive How To guide on creating your own Android wallpapers; click here to read more.

Adding widgets is another obvious (and effective) way to personalise your Android device. These occupy space on your homescreens and give you updates on and access to a variety of things.

Social networking addicts can add a variety of widgets to help them keep track of friends and followers. The official Facebook and Twitter widgets work well, as does the Tweedeck one.

The National Rail Planner widget is another good/useful one if you’re a commuter. It’ll sit on your homescreen and keep you updated with live train time information and platform changes.

Widgets can also act as shortcuts to specific parts of your phone’s settings. The Power Control widget that comes installed on most Android phones allows you to turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on and off (if you want to preserve battery life) and toggle sync and brightness settings.

The SwitchPro widget (pictured) is a more advanced version of this. It allows you to access up to 17 of your Android phone’s settings (including Airplane Mode and Screen Always On) from any homescreen.

You can also control your phone’s music player. The default Android music player widget offers limited control, but the more advanced MixZing music player allows you to pause/play and skip tracks, even when your phone’s screen is locked.

Most Android phones these days will have up to five homescreens available, some up to seven. Older phones may have only three.

In any case, it’s often a good idea to dedicate each screen to a specific function. Or aspect of your personality, if you like.

Your main screen – the one your Android phone takes you to when you tap the Home key – should be where you keep your essentials. That’s text messaging, the phone dialler (where applicable) email, web browser, Android Market and the Google Search widget. This way all of your phone’s essential buttons are just a single key press away.

It’s also useful to have one screen filled with settings and utilities stuff; this can be your phone’s ‘control panel’. So if you need to turn off Wi-Fi, change the alarm clock settings or flick on a torch app, it’s convenient to have all that kind of stuff in one place too.

You can then devote other screens to specific things like games, music, social networking, ebooks, cats, or whatever you want.

[Image credit: Flickr user laihiu]

Adding your own ringtone has been the de rigueur way of customising a mobile since, well, forever. Android phones are no different.

To change your ringtone, go to Settings > Sound and tap on the ‘Phone ringtone’ drop down. Here you’ll be able to pick from a number of presets like Calypso Steel, Paradise Island and so on.

All nice-sounding and everything, but what you really want for a ringtone is something like November Rain, right? Of course you do.

There’s a couple of really useful free apps that’ll help you do just that. First up is Rings Extended. When this is installed, you’ll be able pick MP3s from your phone’s music library and assign them as tones, straight from the ringtones folder under the Settings menu. Easy.

Another app to consider is Ringdroid. This allows you to cut a specific part of an MP3 (say, an epic, epic guitar solo) which you can then be used as a ringtone in the same way.

Assigning tones to a individual contacts is a bit more fiddly. Go into your contacts, find the person you want to assign a tone to, and open up that person’s profile/tap on their name.

Then press the Menu key and select Options; you should see a drop down here which allows you to change that person’s ringtone.

Due to Android phones coming in all shapes and sizes you don’t quite get the same range of decals, covers and accessories as you do for iPhones. That’s not to say that they don’t exist.

GelaSkins makes a range of bright, colorful decals for phones. Popular Android phones like the HTC Desire HD, the Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy S (called the Vibrant International on their site) are all covered, as are older ones like the HTC Hero.

If you couldn’t tell by the name, sells a whole bunch of Android stickers. These can be stuck to your phone, your laptop, your car – whatever you like.

These Crank phone cases might be posing with iPhones, but they’ll obviously work with any phone. Same goes for this knitted shark iPhone case we saw awhile back – no reason why you couldn’t slip your HTC Desire or Motorola Milestone in one.


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