There’s no doubt that every new Android version released improves an already fantastic device operating system, but while some of the ‘improvements’ are more intended to make it simpler for the casual user, they cause problems for those of us who become used to the way things work. In my role as president of our local seniors computer club, I often tell members that we try to teach them how to have a basic understanding of what a particular function does on their PCs rather than which button to click next to get where they need to go. Why? Because Microsoft, Google and all the rest are continually making changes and if for example we tell you to click this or that button or link, it may have changed in the next version of the product they release!
The current Android version, KitKat, is a good example of this and I’ll take you through some of the changes that might cause you grief (they caused me some problems so I expect they will affect others) or add to your experience using your phone or tablet.
Firstly, a common question is how do I turn GPS off to save battery life?
This one had me stumped for a while until I checked the ‘Mode’ button in Location. Go to Settings – Location then tap the Mode button and choose ‘Battery Saving’. This turns off GPS for you but interestingly enough Google can still guess your location using your WiFi signal with sometimes uncanny results!
While we are in the settings area a handy addition (which was actually added in Ice Cream Sandwich – don’t you love the version names? I reckon it’s better than ‘Version 4.4.4’, but that’s just my opinion) is the data usage one. Go to Settings – Data Usage. This is a very handy way to check which of your apps are using up all your monthly data. You might be quite surprised when you look in there – one that took my eye was Google Keyboard and I wondered why it would need so much data (over 50Mb in a week in my case) until I worked out that the keyboard is continually looking up – using Google of course – matches for the words as I type! Not much I can do about that as I love Google keyboard, it’s simply the best one I have ever used.
Ok Google? This great feature, which I’ll explain below, available for many KitKat devices, may not be enabled on your phone or tablet by default. To get it working you will need to download the Google Now Launcher from the Play Store (there’s a link to this below). After installing this (assuming that your device supports it of course), you run the App to set things up. I chose to use my existing apps but this filled the home screen with a bunch of apps I had on other home screens, but this isn’t too much of a problem as you can just drag them to another screen or hold one at a time and drag up to the ‘Remove’ area that appears when you do this.
Ok, now that’s done what does it do? It makes searching for stuff a heck of a lot easier for one. From any home screen you will now see the phrase ‘Say Ok Google’ at the right hand end of the Google search bar. You can now just say that phrase to start a search without needing to tap the little microphone. This is a welcome addition for the blind or people with low vision. The phrase isn’t just limited to search though – say ‘ok Google’ then ‘open <action you want to do’> or <name of app>‘ to do an action or launch one of your installed apps. How would you use this?
One example is a blind person could turn their phone and say ‘Ok Google call George’ – substitute the name of the person in your contacts here, or set up a nickname for one of them. You could for example, set the nickname to ‘HELP’ for the contact who you want to assist you then all they have to do is say, ‘ok Google call HELP!’ Another example might be to launch say, the ABC Radio app to start playing your favourite ABC radio station – just say ‘Ok Google, open ABC Radio’ – and shortly the app will open and start playing the radio for you. Now I do like that!
This is just one of the many great features that Google is adding progressively, so it may not be available for all users just yet but be patient and update your Google apps and it should be there soon. There are many more features that make our lives just that bit easier and I’ll try to tell you about more of them soon.
Google Now Launcher
Price : FREE
Size : 12Mb
Needs : Varies with device