What I learned from reading the Android user manual

I love my Nexus One Android phone and, in general, I’ve found the user interface to be very intuitive. However, I recently discovered that there’s a 340-page [user manual](http://www.google.com/support/android/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=182077) for Android. I decided to read the whole damn thing and find out if there were any great hard-to-find features or tricks in there. I learned a bunch of stuff that probably should have been obvious but I also made some nice discoveries.

### It’s easier to use the trackball to position the text cursor and select text.

I had been trying to use my finger on the screen to position the text cursor, that usually required extreme accuracy and multiple tries. The manual points out that the trackball is much better for this.

### International dialing: touch and hold 0 to enter a “+”.

I’m probably the only idiot who didn’t know this.

### That scroll icon on the bottom left corner of the Phone app is the access voicemail button.

Again, this is probably a universal symbol that only I hadn’t figured out.

### Touch a contact’s picture to bring up the quick contact menu.

Wherever you see a contact’s picture or icon, such as a shortcut on your home screen or in the contacts list itself, you can touch it to bring up a neat quick contact menu with icons for each contact method for that person.

### Compass Mode in Street View is really cool.

This seems like a pretty buried feature to me so here’s how to get to it. Open Maps, then long-touch a point on the map you are interested in. A balloon will appear with the address and place name. If Street View is available at that location, there will be a photo thumbnail next to the address. Now touch the balloon to open an info screen for the location. On that screen you’ll see a Street View icon which you can touch to open Street View. Just this much was new to me, I hadn’t realized you could access Street View from Maps. It get’s cooler though, touch menu and select Compass Mode. Now you can tilt, pan, or turn your phone to look around.

### In Gallery, you can peek into an album stack by touching it with two fingers and spreading them apart.

This doesn’t seem terribly useful to me but it’s kind of a neat effect.

### In album view, touch Menu twice to enter batch mode.

I never would have figured this out on my own. Very useful for photo management.

### Hello, augmented reality.

I haven’t seen this work yet but the manual claims that Goggles will display nearby locations once it has a GPS lock.

### The rest are self-explanatory:

  • In Music Playback, touch and hold track information to search for it with various apps.
  • In Weather, touch the screen for details and then touch the hour of the day for the forecast for that time.
  • Drag the Calculator screen right to left to access advanced functions.
  • In Calculator, roll the trackball down to access previous operations.

Mozilla Messaging

The new Mozilla organization dedicated to developing Thunderbird, Mozilla Messaging, has launched. They will also be developing Lightning, Sunbird, and an IM client, which is all very exciting. I’m using Lightning as my calendar at work now and it is looking and feeling much better than it has in the past.

Yahoo and Microsoft

Many people have pointed out that the scary thing about Microsoft potentially buying Yahoo is that Yahoo owns many important web sites (Flickr, del.icio.us, upcoming.org, etc.) and supports many important open source projects (PHP, FreeBSD, YUI, Hadoop, Squid, etc.) I’m not worried, though. These days Microsoft is so ineffectual that it would take them at least a decade to ruin all of those sites and projects.

OLPC’s Many Misfortunes

The Wall Street Journal has a sort of tragic story about the trouble the One Laptop Per Child project has had selling its XO laptop to developing nations. OLPC has faced competition from Intel and other low-cost laptop manufacturers and several of the nations that had initially committed to purchasing laptops now seem to be going with Intel. The story ends on a bright note, however. Intel and OLPC now intend to collaborate on an Intel-based laptop and OLPC is in good financial shape.

Personally I don’t have a problem with commercial competition for the OLPC, I just think it’s a shame that the nations buying the Intel laptops are putting Windows on them. The extreme hackability of the XO is one of its most important innovations and you miss out on that if you load up your laptops with proprietary software. I ordered an XO through the Give One, Get One program. Mostly I hope it will make a good ebook reader and maybe I’ll play some Micropolis on it.

Google’s Phone Plans

It strikes me that the problem with Google’s open phone plans is that the carriers all still suck and are the opposite of open. Google should just buy one of the carriers and run it in a reasonable manner. If it turns out that you can’t make money running a high-quality, neutral network and being nice to your customers then they would still make up the difference by driving lots of traffic to their web apps.