How to . . . get more from your Android phone

Hidden games, screen pinning: 10 things you might not know your phone can do

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


Android has some clever tips and tricks to help you do a bit more with your phone, from locking children out of your important apps to experimenting with developer options.

Do you know how to set your phone to unlock when you are in the safety of your own home? Or how about blocking unwanted callers?

There are different versions of Android out there, so not all of these will work with older versions of the software. Also, each manufacturer can have slightly different options on their menus, so you may have to look around a little bit to find how to use the tips below.

Screen pinning

Handing you phone over to someone else to use for a specific purpose? You can keep them out of everything else on your device with Screen Pinning.

It’s been a feature of Android since Lollipop was introduced, and it’s especially useful if you have young children who use your phone regularly for playing games etc. It locks access to a single app, which you “pin” to your screen.

To enable it go to Settings>Security>Screen Pinning. It may be under different menus depending on your phone manufacturer; for example, Samsung has it under Settings>Lock Screen and Security>Other Security Settings>Pin Windows. Enable it from the security menu.

Each phone will have its own method of pinning, which is outlined when you enable the feature.

Smart Lock

Locking your phone while it’s out of your sight is sensible. If you lose the device or leave it somewhere, your data will stay safe as long as no one can guess your code or unlock pattern. But having to constantly unlock your phone when it’s in a reasonably safe place - at home, on your person - is also a bit of a pain.

There is a way around it though: Smart Lock. This Android feature lets your phone automatically unlock in certain circumstances.

To set it up go to Settings>Security and look for Smart Lock. It may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer: for Samsung, it’s under Lock Screen & Security>Secure Lock Settings>Secure Lock; HTC usually has it under Settings>Security>Smart Lock; Sony has it under Settings>Lock Screen & Security>Trust Agents.

If you choose the on-body option, just be warned: Smart Lock is smart, but it’s not a genius. It detects when it’s being carried in a bag or on your person, and will only lock when it’s set down. The bottom line: it won’t always distinguish between you and someone else holding it.

Trusted places is probably a better option, which lets you set somewhere such as your home or workplace as a location to automatically unlock.

You can also use other devices to automatically unlock your phone - if you have a bluetooth enabled watch or an in-car bluetooth system - or even your voice. The latter works by training the phone to recognise your voice, but it comes with its own issues - most notably that someone with a similar sounding voice or even a recording of your voice could trigger the Smart Lock. For some phone,s you can also use face detection to unlock your phone.

Do Not Disturb

At 3am, you don’t want notifications from Candy Crush or Facebook, but you use your phone as an alarm so switching it off isn’t an option. Do Not Disturb is a great feature that will allow you to leave your phone switched on but cut out notifications until a certain time. You can schedule Do Not Disturb to kick in on certain days - Monday to Friday, for example, from 11pm to 7am.

To enable it, got to Settings>Do Not Disturb

But what if you want to receive calls from certain people, or are awaiting a notification from a specific app? You can set exceptions to the night-time lockdown. There are different ways to do this. Newer Samsung phones put it under Settings>Do Not Disturb>Allow Exceptions. Older phones put the option under Priority Mode.

Make a notifications a priority

When notifications pop up on your screen, you can choose how the phone handles them by pressing and holding on the notification in question. It will pop up the App Notifications screen, which will give you the option to allow notifications from the app - or not - set them as a priority so the notifications will come through even when Do Not Disturb is on, preview in pop ups, or hide the content from the lock screen.

Quick Settings

Android allows you to quickly access a limited number of settings with one swipe, and opens up the wider quick settings menu with a second swipe down. Cut out one step by swiping down from the top of the screen with two fingers, giving you access to the full quick settings menu with one move.

Developer Mode

There are plenty of functions in your Android phone that are kept hidden from regular users, but you might want to play around with. To enable developer mode on your Android phone, go to Settings>About Device>Software Info and tap on Build Number a few times. You’ll see a prompt telling you that developer mode has been activated, and when you go to the settings menu, it will be visible.

Map zoom

A particularly handy one if you are using Google Maps one-handed. Instead of pinching to zoom, double-tap the screen with one finger. You can then pan around the map with one finger. If you need to zoom in further, simply double tap the screen again.

Split Screen mode

If you are a Samsung user, you may already be familiar with Split Screen mode, which allows you to use two apps side by side. But Split Screen mode is coming to more devices with the latest version of Android, called Nougat. To use it, simply open one app, then tap and hold the Recent apps button on your device to enable split screen. Then open the second app you wish to use.

One caveat: not all apps support split screen, but a pop up prompt will tell you if you are trying to use an app that isn’t compatible.

Block specific numbers from calling you

Open the dialler app. Tap the menu button at the top right of the screen (It may also be under More>Advanced settings). You can choose to block anonymous calls, or add numbers to your block list. These calls will then be barred from your phone, leaving you in peace.

Find the hidden game

Android includes a hidden game that long-time users might be familiar with, but newer converts may not. To access it, go to Settings>About Device>Software Info and repeatedly tap on Android version. A logo will appear in the middle of the screen. Tap it until the game appears.