Beginners Section

August 1, 2013

Android – The Home Screen

Blinkfeed2_WM

Not every Android’s home screen looks the same, but they all work in mostly, pretty much, the same way.

Phones with Google’s own Android system and no customizations added on—was becoming an increasingly rare breed but as of late it’s making a huge comeback with HTC One GE (Google Edition)  and the Samsung Galaxy S4 GE—all have the same look and feel. The majority of manufacturers,  HTC’s Android phones for instance, have a “Sense” interface, which adds a good deal of social networking and redesign work to Android’s home screen and many of its apps. Motorola’s Android phones have varying levels of customization built into them, though they are closer to the stock Android screen than HTC. There are other phones with their own unique interfaces, some that don’t look anything like Android at all. Here, we’ll cover the aspects of the Home screen that are universal, along with some of the specifics from HTC phones.

Here’s a look at the home screen, as it first looks, on a newer Android (4.2 version) phone, booting up for the first time. Here you will see HTC’s new “Blinkfeed”

For now, we’re also not paying too much attention to the “Status bar” at the very top, which holds the icons showing your phone’s status, and whether you’ve got notifications waiting for you. You’re probably not seeing the icons you see here on the left edge, either, but that’s fine—that’s just how I got these screenshots.

Exploring your home screen(s)

Android Home Screen

Okay, so, you touched one of them, and you saw a few more shoot out. Now stop touching the screen. Okay—now stop.

If you’re rocking an HTC-phone, your home screen is, well, almost entirely different. Boot up a brand-new HTC ONE, for example, and you see something like this:

Blinkfeed_WM

Getting Around Your Phone Home

The home screen you see when you first turn on your screen isn’t all the space you have—it’s just, well, the home screen . Using a thumb or finger, swipe your screen right to left, as if you were holding a pack of playing cards and swiping the top card to the left.

Notice that the very top and bottom portions of your screen stay the same, with notifications on the left (which we’ll get to) and phone status icons on the right, but there’s a different set of icons and widgets on this page. The view of the background image has shifted, too, but it’s hard to tell with this default. Go ahead, swipe to the left again, if you can:

Drat, nothing new here—at least on my phone. Look on the bottom, though, to the icons. The middle is your application tray (or “drawer,” as some phone makers call it). HTC phones keep their app tray icon in the centre on their bottom widget. Meanwhile, an icon on the right shows that you’ve got four screens to the right you can swipe over to. You get a total of three screens to play with in Android 4.2. You can add additional  screens by keeping your finger on any area of the screen, not on a icon though, this will open up the “Add Panel”  screen where you will see the following screen shots, although not exactly them same as these are my screens.

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If you have the HTC ONE then HTC have great support for you

HTC_One_support

Likewise Samsung have a good page on their website for the Galaxy S4 as do most of the manufacturers.

What’s On Your Home Screen: Widgets, Wallpaper, Apps, and Shortcuts

Google Search Widget

This bar that nearly spans the screen, up at the top here? It’s a widget. You may have heard this software term used with other devices, or even your own Mac or PC computer. A widget is basically something you stick to a particular point on the screen, where it sits and waits for something to happen. That something could be you clicking a button, like that little microphone indent on the right. It could be entering text, which the bar that’s filled with a shaded “Google” and magnifying glass icon is waiting for. Or, in some cases, a widget just keeps track of something and shows it to you, like the current temperature, the number of programs running, or whether you’ve got the Wi-Fi, GPS, or Bluetooth enabled on this phone.

In this particular case, Google’s pre-loaded their “Search” widget on your phone’s primary home screen. HTC, Motorola, and the carriers that sell phones usually add many, many more widgets to their home screens. In Google’s case, the central Search widget makes sense, given what it does (find apps and contacts on your phone, and search the web) and the firm’s business model (get more people on the web and get them searching, so they’ll encounter ads). You can click inside the big bar on the left to enter text, or hit the microphone on the right to speak your search term. We’ll dig more into what the Search widget can do later in the series. For now, let’s keep heading down the page.

Google now_WM

Shortcut to the Google Play Store

Most everywhere on your center home screen where there aren’t widgets, there are shortcuts. They’re just like the icons on a computer desktop—they can be a link to launching an application, or a folder containing other shortcuts. You can’t put files and documents on your home screen, but you can link to them.

You can also create shortcuts that quickly dial or SMS a friend, pull up directions, and start playing a music playlist, but, again, we’ll explain that together with the wallpaper very, very soon. Soldier on to the icons at the bottom of your screen.

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On my HTC One above you can see the Telephone, Contacts, App Drawer, Messages and Camera icons. All one touch to open.

Have fun

It must be noted that if you add 15 social widgets that constantly update, your phone might start to see some slowdown, battery will need charging, especially when returning home after using an app. That aside, your phone’s home screens are yours to arrange, optimize, mess with, and make your own. It’s no big effort to keep a photo frame of your kids or pets on the far-right screen for quick bragging rights, or keep a widget with the latest news on your favorite sports team on hand.

You can similarly customize your phone “Add and Remove Shortcuts and Widgets”, and that’s precisely what we’re covering next.

In this series:

Meet your Android, Getting started with Android,

All the articles are in the Beginners Section

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Dave Thornton

Senior Editor

Senior Editor
Been involved in technology for many years, more than I care to remember. Live in Dundee, Scotland. I like Android, Windows Phone OS, BlackBerry OS and iOS, and love writing about all things techie. Currently have a Honor 6+, Elephone P6000, Nexus 5, Chrombook C720, HTC One M7, Nokia Lumina 625, Microsoft Lumia 435, Blackberry Q10, HTC Hero and iPad mini