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Android 4.0: The Ultimate Guide + Cheat Sheet


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Note: For the purposes of this story, we're focusing primarily on Google's stock Android 4.0 software as it applies to phones. Many manufacturers modify the software with their own custom interfaces; depending on your device, some elements of the operating system may be slightly different from what's described here.

Home screen and system navigation

If you've used Android before, the first thing you'll notice is how different the home screen looks in the 4.0-level release: With Ice Cream Sandwich, Google phased in a completely new graphic design, revolving around a blue-and-gray "holographic" interface and a custom font called Roboto.


Status/Notification bar: The status bar always sits along the top of your phone's screen. On its right, you'll see the current time along with your battery level and data connection status; on its left, you'll see alerts and notifications, which have gotten a serious boost in Android 4.0.

Search bar: Android 4.0 features a Google search bar at the top of every home screen panel. You can tap here and begin typing a search term, or tap the Voice Actions icon on the right to initiate a voice search or perform other voice commands.

Home screen: You can fill this area with any combination of app shortcuts, folders and live, dynamic widgets. Android 4.0 gives you five home screen panels; just swipe left or right to move to the next or previous panel and access whatever you've stored there.

Favorites tray: The Favorites tray is like a dock for your home screen: The shortcuts or folders placed there stay present as you swipe from one panel to the next. By default, the tray includes commonly used items such as your Phone app, People app, Messaging app and Browser, with an icon for launching your app drawer in the center -- but you can customize it to include any items you want.

Navigation buttons: Instead of relying on a phone's physical buttons as in previous versions of Android, ICS has three main navigation buttons built into the interface at the bottom of the screen

The Back button, which looks like a left-facing arrow, takes you back one step from wherever you are.

The Home button, which looks vaguely like a house, returns you to your home screen.

The Recent Apps button -- a new addition to Android 4.0 -- allows you to multitask and switch among recently used applications. You can tap the button from anywhere in the system to get a list of recently used apps, then tap on any app to jump directly to that program. You can also swipe left or right on any app to dismiss it and remove it from the list.

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If you've used Android before, you might be wondering what happened to the Menu button. As of Android 4.0, the Menu button is a thing of the past: All options and commands now appear on-screen instead of being hidden away like they were with previous-generation devices.

If an application has more options than can fit on the screen, you'll see an icon that looks like three vertical dots; tapping that icon will bring up a list of additional functions relevant to your current activity. (see screenshot below)

(Curiously enough, the location of the vertical-dots icon is not always consistent)

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If your phone has hardware buttons: It's worth noting that while Google's Android 4.0 design guidelines call for virtual on-screen buttons, some phones still use hardware buttons instead -- either because they're older devices that have been upgraded or newer phones whose manufacturers have opted to stick with the older-style setup. If you're using an Android device that has physical buttons, those buttons should more or less correspond with the same functions described above.

A couple of exceptions: If your phone has a physical Menu button, some options in applications will remain hidden behind that button, as they have in the past. You can press the Menu button in various applications to see what additional options are available to you.

If your phone has a physical Home button but no Recent Apps button, meanwhile, you can access the app-switching function by pressing the Home button and holding it down for a few seconds.

Android 4.0 notifications

Notifications have always been a strength of Android, and with Android 4.0, they become more powerful than ever. Notifications appear on the left side of the status bar at the top of your phone's screen. The icons you see here indicate everything from new email and text messages to missed calls and calendar appointments

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To view your notifications in detail, touch your finger to the Notification bar and swipe downward. A panel will pull down over your screen showing you all of your pending notifications; you can tap on any notification to view more information about it or swipe your finger left or right on it to dismiss it from the list. You can also tap the "X" at the top-right of the notification area to dismiss and remove all of your pending notifications.

The type of notifications you get depends on what apps and accounts you have configured on your phone. With any app that's capable of sending notifications, you can customize what events trigger notifications or even disable notifications altogether; just look in the settings of each individual app to find those options.

In Gmail, for example, you can tap on the vertical-dots icon at the bottom of the screen (or press the Menu button, if you're on an older phone) to access the app's settings

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Within the Settings menu, tap on the line representing your Gmail account -- if you have more than one Gmail account configured, you can control notifications separately for each one -- and then check or uncheck "Email notifications" to enable or disable notifications for that account. You can also configure whether a sound and/or vibration will accompany each new mail notification.

Similar controls exist in other notification-capable apps, including the Messaging app (for text messages), Google Voice, Google+, Facebook and most Twitter clients.

In addition to basic activity-based alerts, the notifications area can display active controls for certain types of apps, such as the Android Play Music app; when you're playing a song in that app, pulling down the notification panel will reveal a set of interactive playback controls that allow you to pause, play or stop the music, or navigate through the album's tracks

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Finding and installing apps

Android allows you to install apps from any source you wish. That said, most people use the Google Play Store to get new applications; it's the official Android market for apps ( formerly known as the Android Market, fittingly enough) and the simplest and most direct way to get new programs onto your phone.

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You can access the Google Play Store directly from your phone, via the Play Store icon (it looks like a shopping bag); you can also access it online from any PC by going to play.google.com. Whichever interface you use, just follow the tab for Android apps to browse through categories of popular and recommended applications. You can also use the Play Store's search function if you're looking for a particular title or type of application.

When you find an app you want, touch the Download or Install button to put it onto your phone. If you're using the Play Store website, the app will be sent wirelessly to your device. If you have multiple Android devices connected to your Google account -- a phone and a tablet, for example -- the website will prompt you to select the device you want to use via a drop-down menu.

If you see a price in place of the Download or Install button, that means the app isn't free; tap the button with the price if you want to buy it, and the cost will be charged to whatever credit card you have connected to your Google account. (The Play Store prompts you to set up a payment method the first time you connect or attempt to purchase an application.)

Accessing and organizing apps

You can always access all of your applications by tapping your phone's Apps icon -- the circled cluster of dots located in your Favorites tray at the bottom-center of your home screen.

This opens up your All Apps area, commonly called the app drawer, which contains a complete list of apps installed on your phone; swipe left or right to scroll through the list, and touch any app to open it.

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If you want easy access to an app, you can add it as a shortcut on your home screen. Just press and hold the icon in your app drawer, then use your finger to drag it around until it's in a place you like. You can move the shortcut between home screen panels by sliding your finger to the very left- or rightmost edge of the current panel -- and if you decide you want to move a shortcut somewhere else later, all you have to do is press and hold the icon on your home screen to pick it up and relocate it. To remove a shortcut from your home screen, press and hold it, then drag it to the Remove icon that appears at the top of the scren.

Want to completely uninstall an app from your phone? Easy: All you have to do is press and hold it in the app drawer, then drag it to the Uninstall icon that shows up at the top of the screen. You'll also see an App Info icon; dragging the app there will allow you to view detailed info about the program's usage and permissions as well as clear its cache or data storage

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Android 4.0 makes it easy for you to create folders on your home screen that contain apps, in case you want to group similar items together to save on space or make things more tidy. While previous versions of Android had folders, they're easier to manage in 4.0, and their appearance has a sleek new look as well.

To create a folder in ICS, all you do is drop one icon on top of another on your home screen. You can add more items into the folder the same way.

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Once a folder's been created, you can tap the folder to open it and show all the apps within; you can remove any item from the folder by touching it and dragging it out. You can name the folder, too: Just touch your finger to the text that says "Unnamed Folder" and type in any name you want.

Finally, you can place any items you want in the Favorites tray below the home-screen panels so they'll always be handy: Just touch and hold any icon that's already in the tray to move it out, and touch and drag any other icon in to replace it. You can even create folders within the tray, if you're so inclined.

Working with widgets

We can't talk about Android apps without talking about widgets. Widgets are one of the most powerful features Android provides; they essentially give you live, functioning programs right on your phone's home screen. Widgets let you do things like scroll through your inbox or your calendar, flip through current forecasts for multiple cities, and adjust your phone's basic settings without ever having to open a program or leave the home screen

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Widgets are frequently included as components of applications. For example, if you download the Pandora app, you'll also get the Pandora widget, which you can put on your home screen (or not) as you like. Some developers also offer standalone widget downloads, like the popular Beautiful Widgets and HD Widgets collections.

Beautiful Widget


HD Widgets


You can see a list of widgets on your device by touching the Widgets tab at the top of the app drawer and swiping left or right through the list. Placing a widget on your home screen is no different than placing an app shortcut: You press and hold the widget you want, then drag it wherever you wish on your home screen.

With Android 4.0, many widgets can be resized, too: Just press and hold any widget on your home screen, and if it's resizable, you'll see a blue box appear around it. Drag an edge of the box up, down, left or right to make the widget larger or smaller.

If you want more widget than head over to


Android 4.0 settings

Many of the items in the Android 4.0 settings area are self-explanatory. A few things are worth pointing out, though:

The Data Usage feature is a new and noteworthy addition to Android 4.0. It allows you to view your mobile data usage and see exactly how many bytes each application and process is utilizing.

It also lets you set a monthly mobile data limit; once set, the system will cut off all non-Wi-Fi data transfers above the limit to ensure you don't exceed your carrier's monthly data cap. You can set limits on background data transfers for specific apps, too, if you want to restrict activity for particularly data-hungry programs.

The Battery feature is another Android 4.0 addition that's well worth exploring. It allows you to get a grasp on your phone's power usage by seeing exactly how much of your battery charge is being consumed by each app and process during the day


The Apps section of the settings shows you a complete list of all apps on your phone, including those you have installed and any that came preloaded on the device (touch the All tab to view preloaded applications). You can opt to disable any preinstalled app from here, which effectively hides it from the system and gets it out of your way.

This is useful for carrier-installed bloatware, which is often baked into the phone and impossible to uninstall. Just be careful in deciding what to disable, as disabling an important system process could have unintended consequences. As a general rule, if you aren't sure what something is, it's probably best to leave it alone.

The Accounts & Sync section shows you every account connected to your phone -- Google accounts, third-party email accounts and service-based accounts for apps like Dropbox or Facebook -- and allows you to change the autosync settings for each account as well. You can add new accounts and delete old ones from this area, too, which can be useful if you change email providers at some point or decide to add another inbox into the mix.

The Security section is an area you'll definitely want to visit. It houses the commands to set up a PIN, password or pattern lock for your phone. (Android 4.0 has a face-recognition unlock feature, too, but -- while incredibly novel -- it's far less secure than the more traditional methods.) The section also enables you to encrypt your phone's data and require a PIN or password to decrypt it every time the device is powered on.

As far as your data goes, Google can automatically back up your basic phone settings as well as your installed applications; if you should ever move to a new device, your settings and applications can then automatically be restored. Just make sure you have the "Back up my data" and "Automatic restore" options checked in the Backup & Reset section of your phone's settings if you want this feature to work.

Android 4.0 search and voice control

To search for anything -- whether on your phone or on the Web -- touch your finger to the Google search bar. This will pull up a box that you can type any term into; your phone will start displaying relevant results for items on your phone and on the Web as you type, much like Google does with its Google Instant search feature online.

By default, the Android search function will look through a lot of different types of content, including apps you have installed, contacts you have stored, bookmarks and recently visited Web pages, and music files in your personal collection. You can customize exactly what types of content are and aren't included by tapping the Menu icon at the top-right of the search screen and selecting Settings and then "Searchable items."

In addition to standard search, Android includes a robust voice search system. Simply tap the microphone icon in the Google search bar and begin to speak; your phone will transcribe and then search for whatever words you say. Like regular search, the voice search will include items both on your phone and on the Web.

Android 4.0 Voice Actions

The microphone icon also gives you access to Google's Voice Actions technology. Voice Actions lets you complete numerous functions on your phone just by speaking (yes, kind of like Apple's Siri -- only this has been around since 2010). Try pressing the microphone and saying some of these commands:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • call [business name and city]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]

In the end link to the Android 4.0 Cheat Sheet

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