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How to set up and use Gmail on your Android phone

If you’ve unwrapped a Samsung Galaxy S2, Galaxy Nexus or an HTC Sensation XL over Christmas, then you’ll have already gone through the basic set up process which sees you either logging in or setting up a Google Account.

Your Google Account is your mobile lifeline. Any new number you add will automatically get synced to the account, as will any app purchases you make. So any games or apps you buy will be able to be re-downloaded again (for free) when you get your next Android phone and you won’t ever have to manually back up your contacts again. This is your Android phone ID, or licence plate number.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll automatically start receiving emails sent to this address too. Gmail on Android is fast, well integrated and works like a dream.

This comprehensive guide covers all of this; we’ll take you through Gmail on Android (why it’s awesome and why you should use it) and everything else as well.

Support for non-Gmail accounts (Hotmail, AOL, Microsoft Exchange) is a little more complicated to set up and get going – we’ll be covering that in a separate guide.

1. Gmail for Android – Navigating the Inbox, reading and writing emails

Once you’ve finished setting up your Android phone you ought to start receiving emails right away. New emails will appear in the notification bar at the top of your phone. You can drag the notif bar down and open them from here or simply tap the Gmail app icon on your homescreen to check new messages.

Your emails will appear in a long threaded list from where you can easily open, star, and check multiple emails for archiving, labelling or deleting.

Tapping the menu button on your Android phone brings up one of two sub menus. If you’re in the main Gmail screen and you’ve not checked the tick boxes of any items, the sub menu (see below, right) will appear.

From here you’ve got six options; Refresh, Compose, Accounts, Go to labels, Search and More.

Most of these are self-explanatory; Refresh refreshes the email feed to catch any new or incoming mail. Google automatically pushes emails to your Gmail inbox, but it’s useful to refresh manually, if a colleague or friend has just sent you a new email.

Compose jumps you straight to the Gmail composer, allowing you to draft a new email.

Go to labels allows you to jump to your drafts, outbox, spam, trash and notes folders as well as quickly move to everything you’ve starred in your inbox as well as everything you’ve sent

Search allows you to comb your entire Gmail inbox for anything; a contact, an email heading, a specific word or phrase. Extremely useful if (like us) your inbox is overflowing and you forgot to star something that you saw earlier, but you’ve a vague recollection of the subject line, title or who sent you the email, but can’t remember exactly.

The More tab takes you to the Gmail settings window which we’ll explore in detail shortly.

If you’ve checked any of the tick boxes on the left-hand side, a tap of the menu button will bring up a different sub-menu. This will allow you to easily group delete, star or flag as spam multiple emails at once.

From here you can also mark emails as read/unread, important/not important or ‘mute’ a conversation that’s annoying.

Muting a convo won’t delete it, it will just temporarily remove it from the inbox. Sadly, there’s no easy way to unmute message you’ve silenced. But by using the Gmail search tool and entering ‘is:muted’ as a search term, Gmail will pull up everything you’ve muted in a new thread. From here, simply check the green box, tap ‘Labels’ and select ‘Inbox’ from the menu to return the muted email(s) to your inbox.

2. Gmail for Android – Reading and writing emails

There’s a few pointers to take on board when reading and writing emails in the Gmail app.

When you open up a new email you ought to see an arrow top right next to a star, and four controls at the bottom of the screen marked ‘Archive’, ‘Delete’ and controls for going up and down messages in your inbox.

Tapping on the curved arrow in the top right automatically sets up a reply email for you, allowing you to quickly respond to people.

Tapping on the triangular icon next to the arrow pulls out further options for reply to all (in the case of multiple recipients) and forwarding emails. From this toolbar, as you can see in the pic above, you can automatically star an email if you wish.

3. Gmail for Android – Priority Inbox  

OK, so back to the ‘More’ tab we mentioned earlier. Opening up Gmail and pressing Menu > More opens up three options – Settings, Help and About.

Help is a shortcut to this page and About tells you which version of the Gmail app your phone is running. It’s Settings that we’re interested in here though.

The Settings menu allows you to change things such as the notification tone, vibration settings, your signature and the message text size. Most of the settings and options here are fairly basic and don’t need much explaining. There are a couple of things that we’ll look at in depth however.

Priority Inbox in a neat little feature that you can enable to stop all and every little email getting pushed to the notification bar.

If you’re the kind of person who routinely checks every new email notification and are dismayed to see that it’s something mundane like a Facebook or LinkedIn friend request/follow then this setting might be for you.

Priority Inbox is essentially your VIP Room for the Gmail app. Enabling this automatically filters communications with regular contacts (and anything that you designate as important) into a separate inbox away from the clutter. So anything to do with work or your regular contacts should automatically end up here.

Gmail already has a good idea of what contacts, types of conversation and emails you rate as important are. But you’ve also got the option to directly influence what appears in your Priority Inbox as well.

Remember the second menu that we talked about before? The one which gave you the option to check/uncheck messages as important? Doing this enables you to add anything from your regular Inbox to the Priority Inbox that you think should be in there.

It works both ways too – if Gmail has pulled something in to the Priority Inbox that you don’t think belongs there then check the tick box, tap Menu and select ‘Not Important’. Gmail will remember this and bar this contact/type of email from wandering into the VIP Priority Inbox.

4. Gmail for Android – Sync Settings

As well as the option of setting up the Priority Inbox, you can also edit the sync settings of your Gmail folders from this menu. Tapping on ‘Labels’ will take you to a menu from where you can edit the sync parameters of individual folders.

For example, Gmail will automatically sync messages from the last four days by default in your Inbox, the Priority Inbox and the Sent folders.

Starred emails can be synced automatically, as can emails marked Important. There’s also separate folders for Work, Travel and Personal should you wish to use them.
Editing the sync parameters here can be useful if for example, you wanted to check that an email you sent last week did go out to all the recipients. From this menu, tap on the inbox drop down and you’ll see that there’s an option to sync from the last four days or to sync all emails in your inbox.

Tapping in the Duration drop down at the top of the screen will allow you to change the four day sync period to whatever you want; one day, four days, a week, fourteen days.

Be wary that the wider the sync period you specific, the more information Gmail will have to process, requiring more battery power and more of your data plan.