For now, Android Lollipop is the most recent and most powerful mobile operating system available from Google.
Whether you’ve had it installed for months or it’s just rolled out to your handset, there’s lots to explore in the software — here are 15 tips and tricks that you may not have come across before, from device security to app alerts.
Use screen pinning
If you want to pass your phone over to someone, but want to restrict him or her to a single app, how do you do it? If you’re on Android Lollipop, you use screen pinning — it’s enabled via the Security section in Settings, then head to the Overview screen (via the square soft button), drag up the front app and tap the pin button. The app can’t then be exited without entering your PIN or pattern.
Chromecast your screen
Google’s Chromecast dongle is a fantastically simple way of getting content from your smartphone or tablet up on the big screen with the minimum of fuss. In Lollipop, you can beam your device’s entire screen over to one of the dongles: drag down from the top of the display with two fingers, tap on Cast screen, and your Chromecast should appear. It’s useful for showing off photos, playing games and so on.
Silence notifications while you’re sleeping
Lollipop includes a built-in feature enabling you to hang a virtual ‘do not disturb’ sign on your smartphone or tablet during certain times of the day. Go to Settings, Sound & notification then Interruptions, and tap the Days heading to configure your quiet times. Bear in mind that notifications are still going to come through to your phone during these hours, but they won’t make any noise when they arrive.
Set up safe zones
A new Lollipop feature called Smart Lock lets you configure specific areas that are considered safe: whenever you’re in them, your device’s PIN code is disabled, saving you from having to enter it a hundred times while you’re at home on the couch. Go to Settings, then Security, and tap on Smart Lock to get started — Bluetooth or NFC devices (like your car stereo) can also be trusted by your device.
Switch on the battery saver
Third-party battery savers have been available for a long time on Android, but Google has finally got the message — there’s now a similar feature built right into Lollipop. You can find it by choosing Battery from the Settings app, then tapping the menu button (three vertical dots in the top-right corner). You can turn it on manually or have it activated automatically when the battery level drops below a certain level.
Enable guest mode
In Lollipop, Android now includes user accounts just like Windows or Mac does — that means someone else can use your phone or tablet without interfering with your apps, settings and customisations. There’s also a guest mode for people who need to use your device temporarily. Drag down from the drop of the screen from two fingers, then tap your avatar icon (top right) to access and configure user accounts.
Search through the settings
You might have spotted a lot of these tips deal with new settings in Android Lollipop, and there’s also an easier way to find something you’re after in the options menu: when you go into Settings, you can tap the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner, then enter a keyword (like “battery” or “network”). The same search tool can be used to look for Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth devices in your nearby area.
Hide less important apps
After you’ve updated your smartphone or tablet you can configure notifications on an app-by-app basis. Open Settings, tap Sound & notification, then choose App notifications from the list — the subsequent screen lets you choose individual apps and block alerts from appearing. You can also give certain apps ‘VIP access’ to enable them to show notifications while your phone is in Priority Mode. And speaking of Priority Mode…
Switch on Priority Mode
When your phone (or tablet) is in Priority Mode, notifications come through as normal, but only certain ones will make a noise. Tap the volume up or volume down button, then tap Priority. Use the drop-down menu underneath to set how long Priority Mode lasts for: indefinitely, for a set time, until your next alarm or until the end of your designated quiet time. More options (like setting VIP contacts) can be found by tapping on the cog icon.
Try a new launcher
Launchers are the apps that take over when you tap the Home button — they offer different designs, icons and interface elements — and Lollipop makes it easier than ever to manage them. From Settings, choose Home and you can switch between launchers as you like (the default is the Google Now Launcher). Well-known and popular launchers you might want to try include Apex, Nova and Themer — search for them on the Google Play Store.
Change networks quickly
In the most recent Android 5.1 Lollipop update, Google added a better way of switching between Wi-Fi networks: drag down from the top of the screen with two fingers, then tap the name of the current network to see a list of alternatives — much quicker than having to delve into the Settings app. The same trick works for Bluetooth connections too, which is the icon to the right of the Wi-Fi one.
Launch the camera from the lock screen
If you want to quickly snap a shot from the lock screen on Android Lollipop, you don’t have to unlock your phone, launch the app and wait for it to appear: you can drag up from the lower right-hand corner of the lock screen and get straight into the camera from there. Of course it means anyone who grabs your phone can take a picture with it, but it’s worth it to be able to capture something that’s happening spontaneously.
Enable surround sound
For those of you with a high-end home stereo system hooked up to your Android phone or tablet, this is one not to miss: go into the Play Movies & TV app, choose Settings from the app menu, and make sure Enable surround sound is checked. If your chosen movie or show supports it, and you have the right speaker system connected, you’ll get the best audio possible — use the Play demo link to run a test first.
Switch on the torch
Down the years there have been many apps that have switched on the camera LED flash, enabling you to use your Android smartphone as a torch. Now, Google has written the same feature into Android itself — drag down from the top of the screen with two fingers, then tap Torch (or Flashlight depending on your version) and you can use your device to navigate a dark alley or find something that’s gone missing under the sofa.
Play Google’s Flappy Bird
You might have forgotten about Flappy Bird now, but round about the time Google was developing Lollipop, it had a much higher profile. That might be why the Android engineers hid their own version of the app inside Lollipop: you can find it by opening the Settings app, choosing About phone and then tapping quickly four times on the Android version number. When you see the lollipop, tap several times and then hold to launch the game.