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Android bucket list: 12 features you need to try today

It's a long way to the top of Mt Android, and the road from Noob Town to Android Guru City is tough and winding. But your journey to enlightenment can be made easier with a bunch of lesser-known features that can be found on your smartphone itself. You might not be using these 12 simple Android features yet, but once you start, you won't want to stop.

1. Unlock hidden options

Enabling Developer Options may sound scary, but they're a gateway to lots of cool stuff on your Android: USB Debugging, the chance to give your phone a sense of speed by disabling animations, improving GPU performance in games, and more.

Just go to Settings > About Phone and tap Build number seven times. You'll now have access to Developer Options in Settings.

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See Build Number on the left? Tap that seven times to enable Developer Options. / © ANDROIDPIT

2. Record what happens on-screen 

We've been able to screen record for ages in Android, but surprisingly few people, outside YouTubers and Android tutorial makers, actually use the feature. Screen recording, with the help of any number of apps in the Play Store, is great for showing off your awesome gaming skills to friends, sharing a particularly troublesome Android bug or simply capturing something fleeting on your phone.

There's nothing to enable, you just have to install an app such as AZ Screen Recorder. We have a tutorial for using the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) to screen record to help you out.

AndroidPIT AZ screen recorder screen record
Recording the screen of your Android can be useful for a lot of reasons. / © ANDROIDPIT

3. Simplify your security

Smart Lock was introduced in Android Lollipop and allows you to unlock your phone, or keep it unlocked, through a few very simple – and automatic – settings:

Go to Settings > Security > Trust Agents and turn Smart Lock on. Once it's enabled, you'll see Smart Lock as a sub-heading in Security. You can choose from Trusted Devices (such as smartwatches or Bluetooth speakers), Trusted Places (such as your home or office), Trusted Face, Trusted Voice or On-Body Detection.

AndroidPIT Lollipop Smart Lock settings
Try out these security shortcuts and see which work for you. / © ANDROIDPIT

4. Find out which apps slow your phone down

Process Stats is one of the many great features in Developer Options. It provides a whole host of geeky stats about running processes on your Android device. You'll see a list of all currently running processes. Tapping on any of them will bring up RAM usage, run time and running processes list. You can also force stop any process here.

AndroidPIT Process Stats Developer Options Android Wear
Process Stats is the quickest and easiest way to identify problem apps. / © ANDROIDPIT

5. Use Android's magnifying glass

This simple but ultra-useful feature can be found in Android's Accessibility settings. Once enabled, a triple-tap of the screen will allow you to zoom in on any part of the Android system, which is great for getting up close and personal in photo sharing apps or for reading fine print that you can't zoom into.

You can triple-tap and hold for a temporary zoom, or uses triple-tap to enter magnification mode and a second triple-tap to exit. You'll need to use two-finger swipes to navigate in magnification mode. Just go to Settings > Accessibility > Vision > Touch Zoom (or Settings > Accessibility > Magnification Gestures) to turn this feature on.

AndroidPIT Lollipop accessibility settings magnification gestures
Magnification gestures lets you zoom into anything throughout the Android system. / © ANDROIDPIT

6. Search without touching your phone

OK Google is great: it gives you voice-activated search and more. OK Google Everywhere is even better, because your phone can respond to your voice from any screen, and even when the screen is turned off. Once you start using OK Google Everywhere you'll never stop.

Go to Google Settings > Search and Now > Voice > OK Google Detection and enable From Any Screen

AndroidPIT OK Google Detection from any screen
If you're not using OK Google from all screens you're not fully using. / © ANDROIDPIT

7. Get your phone to read to you

Text-to-Speech is another little-known tool that makes hands-free interaction a lot simpler. I save tons of articles to Pocket for offline reading, but I'm so busy I don't always have the time to sit down and actually read them. So I use Android's text-to-Speech feature to narrate those articles to me while I'm preparing dinner or doing things around the house.

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Text-to-Speech Output and make sure you have a language pack installed. You can also hit the settings for your Text-to-Speech engine and enable it to auto-update new voice data.

AndroidPIT Accessibility Text To Speech Pocket
What's better than having your phone read articles to you while you're busy? / © ANDROIDPIT

8. Borrow someone else's data 

I'm always surprised by how many people fail to use the hotspot functionality on their Android phones. Even if you're not in the habit of sharing your precious data with your cheapskate friends, you should know how to enable a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can steal your friends' data when you're running low instead.

Go to Settings > More > Tethering and Portable Hotspot and flip the switch. You can set up a password so that every Tom, Dick and harry isn't chewing through your data allowance, and also use Bluetooth to share your data connection with others.

AndroidPIT Lollipop portable Wi Fi hotspot active
Knowing how to ''borrow'' your friends' data is even better than knowing how to share yours. / © ANDROIDPIT

9. Switch phones painlessly

Tap & Go is an indispensable tool for those of us who switch between Android phones more frequently than clean underwear. Tap & Go is an NFC-based data migration tool in the Android system: simply place two NFC-equipped phones back to back during setup (usually your old phone and your new one) and Tap & Go will automatically add everything from your old phone to your new one. Just like magic.

OEMs have even come up with their own versions, so many devices running Lollipop have two options during setup. It doesn't really matter which one you use, either way you'll never have to install all your apps manually again.

AndroidPIT Android 5 0 Lollipop Tap Go
Only barbarians manually install apps on a new Android device. / © ANDROIDPIT

10. Save on data consumption

Chrome's compression feature was one of our Chrome browser tips and tricks recently and we were a little surprised by how many people weren't aware of it. It used to be called Reduce Data Consumption but now it's simply called Data Saver.

Just open Chrome browser, tap the overflow button in the top right, choose Settings and tap Data Saver. Flip the switch and watch your data savings grow. Data Saver works by compressing web pages before it loads them. This can make some sites slightly slower to load, but the data savings are often around one-third – you decide what's more important to you.

androidpit chrome reduce data usage
One-third off your data usage just in Chrome? Sounds good to me. / © ANDROIDPIT

11. Take advantage of the camera options

Smartphones come packed with camera options to make use of, including everything from slowing down time to adding wacky effects to portraits. We recommend playing with your camera's HDR setting to bring landscape photos to life and enable grid lines to ensure your pictures are always straight and in perspective. You will find access to these options, and more, in your camera app.

Check out the rest of our tips for better smartphone photography at the link.

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The HDR+ mode on the Nexus 6P can really bring out the best in the camera. / © ANDROIDPIT

12. Use the lockscreen shortcuts

With locksceen shortcuts you can launch the camera app without even unlocking your phone. Since Android 6.0 Marshmallow you can also launch a voice search: just swipe in from the bottom right- or left-hand side of your device. Easy.

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The camera icon on your lock screen works as a shortcut to your camera and voice search. / © ANDROIDPIT

Bonus: best Android apps

If you're now a little more motivated to know what other magic lies dormant in your Android device, you might want to take a look at our best Android apps list and be sure to check out its equally popular cousin, the best free Android apps.

How many of these features do you use? Any other cool pro tips to share? Tell us about them in the comments.


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