Going Online with Your Android-Enabled Phone
- Sep 21, 2009
The first thing users want to do when they get an Internet-enabled cellphone is to go online. That's doubly true if you have a touch phone because the screen is bigger, which means you have more capabilities. The Android phone is no exception. It is a little different, though.
Google backs Android, so the whole operating platform is designed with web functionality in mind. That's part of what makes an Android-based phone so special. Other phones enable you to connect to the Internet, but they don't enable you to interact with it. Android does. And it all starts with the web browser and getting online.
Before we get too deep into connecting to the Internet, we need to take a detour. Don't worry, we'll get back on the right track. But it's important that you know how connected you can be with the Android phone: All that connectedness can work together to give you a richer Internet experience.
Connection Is More Than Just the Internet
Most of this chapter is about connecting to the Internet and using the web browser, but you can connect in more ways with the Android phone. In addition to your wireless carrier's connection, you can connect to other services, such as these:
- Wi-Fi—This is a wireless network similar to what you might have in your home or that you'll find in various places such as coffee shops and restaurants. It enables you to connect to the Internet through a router. These networks might not be secure, so you should understand the risks of connecting to them.
- Bluetooth—A Bluetooth connection won't help you get connected to the Internet. In fact, the only thing you can currently use Bluetooth for on the Android phone is to connect to a Bluetooth device for hands-free calling. However, future iterations of Android (and the Android phone) should include Bluetooth capabilities for exchanging files and for connecting to other Bluetooth devices such as audio equipment or printers.
- Global Positioning System (GPS)—This is a satellite connection that enables location services such as mapping and even device tracking. This is important because many third-party applications work with both the Internet and the GPS capabilities of the Android phone to enable social networking and other services.
Including the wireless carrier's connection, you have four methods of connecting to services on the Android-based phone. Two of those methods—the wireless carrier's network and the Wi-Fi connection—enable you to connect to the Internet. You're required to have a data plan with the Android phone because the wireless carrier connects to the Internet for everything that it does: calls, syncing, and even text messaging.
Although calls are not routed through the Internet unless you're using a Skype service, the Android phone connects to it as calls are incoming or outgoing. Syncing needs to take place over the Internet because, as you learned in Chapter 4, "Core Applications," most of the Android phone's core applications are actually web-based versions of Google applications. You can use web-based versions of third-party applications to enhance the other applications.
Text messaging is a form of data transfer all wireless carriers use; a data connection instead of a voice connection. That's why all wireless carriers have separate voice and data plans. It's no different on the Android phone. Your text and multimedia messages travel across a data connection that, in essence, is an Internet connection.
A Bit More on Bluetooth and GPS
The other two connections—Bluetooth and GPS—are used for services such as mapping, tracking, and audio connections. These are standalone services, but developers can also connect them to other applications for use in web-based programs.
However, these two services can seriously drain the Android phone's battery life. Both Bluetooth and GPS have radio capabilities. That means they're always on and they're always eating battery life, as if it's fine chocolate.
To help preserve your battery life, you need to know how to enable the Bluetooth and GPS when you need it and disable it when you don't.
Follow these steps to enable or disable Bluetooth:
- From the Home screen, press the Menu key and select Settings. Alternatively, from the Home screen, touch the applications menu, and then select Settings.
- The Settings screen opens. Touch Wireless Controls.
- The Wireless controls screen opens, as shown in Figure 5.1. To enable Bluetooth, touch the checkbox to the right of Bluetooth to place a check mark in it. To disable it, touch the box again to remove the check mark.
Figure 5.1 You manage your Bluetooth connectivity and settings from the Wireless Controls screen.
- When you're finished, press the Home key to save your settings and return to the Home screen.
Just because you have Bluetooth enabled doesn't mean that you're connected to another device. To connect the Android phone with a wireless device, you need to go into the Bluetooth Settings menu. When you touch Bluetooth Settings, it opens the Bluetooth Settings menu, shown in Figure 5.2. If you want your device to be discoverable by other devices, touch the checkbox to the right of Discoverable to enable that feature. To turn off discoverability, touch the box again. If you want to have other devices connected to the Android phone, the Discoverable option must be selected.
Figure 5.2 Use the Bluetooth Settings menu to turn Bluetooth on, to make it discoverable, or to see what devices you have a pairing relationship with.
The Bluetooth settings page also shows your device name and a list of the Bluetooth devices that you have paired with. If you no longer want to connect with a device on that list, long-touch the device name, and then select Unpair. This removes the pairing relationship. You can also long-touch a device name to connect to it.
To pair the Android phone with another Bluetooth device, make sure it's discoverable, and then put the other device in pairing mode. That device should recognize the Android phone; then you're prompted on the Android phone to create the pairing. Select the Pairing option and enter the security code (if one exists); the pairing then is complete. After you've paired a device with the Android phone, they will pair up automatically each time the device is operational and the Android phone is discoverable.
Enabling and disabling the GPS system works the same way; however, those controls are located in a slightly different spot. Chapter 7, "Getting Around with GPS and Google Maps," further explains the device's GPS capabilities and associated applications. For now, these steps will help you enable or disable your GPS capabilities:
- From the Home screen, press the Menu key and select Settings. Alternatively, from the Home screen, touch the Applications menu and then select Settings.
- The Settings screen opens. Touch Security and Location.
- The My Location Sources screen, shown in Figure 5.3, opens. To enable GPS, touch the checkbox to the right of Enable GPS Satellites to place a check mark in it. To disable it, touch the box again to remove the check mark.
Figure 5.3 My Location Sources enables you to select whether you want to use the GPS capabilities, in addition to other options.
- When you're finished, press the Home key to save your settings and return to the Home screen.
A third-party application makes it easier to enable or disable GPS, Bluetooth, and a handful of other capabilities. The application, called Toggle Settings, enables you to toggle on and off the different networking services and some of the different settings on your phone (such as brightness and vibrate). If you place a shortcut to the application on your Home screen, you can turn services on or off with two touches, in most cases. You can find Toggle Settings in the Android Market.
The Important Stuff: Wi-Fi
Connecting through the GPS or Bluetooth applications is cool. It enables you to access some more useful features on the phone. But the real fun comes when you connect to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi enables you to connect to the Internet through an existing wireless network, without being charged for the data transfer.
This is important. If you're using a limited data plan and you use more than your allotted amount of data transfer (and data transfers every time you connect to the Web, load a web page, download a file, or do anything while you're online), you could wind up with a shocking wireless bill. Avoid the heart attack.
Instead of risking a ridiculous bill, connect through the available wireless capability on your phone. It's easy. These steps should help you create the connection:
- Make sure you're within range of either a wireless network that has open security or one that you have the network key available to access.
- From the Home screen on your device, press the Menu key and then touch Settings. Alternatively, you can open the applications menu and touch Settings.
- This opens the Settings page. Touch Wireless Controls.
- You are taken to the Wireless Controls page (refer to Figure 5.1).
- You need to turn on your wireless capabilities so that your phone can connect with an available wireless network. Place a check mark in the checkbox to the right of Wi-Fi to turn on the Wi-Fi capabilities.
- Alternatively, you can turn on the Wi-Fi capabilities by touching Wi-Fi Settings and then placing a check mark in the box next to Wi-Fi on the Wi-Fi Settings page, shown in Figure 5.4. When you back out of this option using the Back key, you'll see that the Wi-Fi option on the previous screen is selected.
Figure 5.4 You can turn on Wi-Fi from within the Wi-Fi Settings screen.
- When you select to enable Wi-Fi on the Wi-Fi Settings page, you should see a list of Wi-Fi Networks appear, as shown in Figure 5.5. Select your network.
Figure 5.5 Select your wireless network from the list of available networks.
- When you've created a network connection, you will automatically be connected to that network each time your device is in range and your Wi-Fi capabilities are enabled.
Sometimes your network doesn't appear on the list of available networks. This can occur when you've created a new network and the device has not yet recognized it. To set up a new or unrecognized network so that you can connect to it, use these steps:
- If your network isn't showing as an available network on the Wi-Fi Networks list, you can always add it by scrolling to the end of the list and touching Add a Wi-Fi Network.
- The Add a Wi-Fi Network form appears. Enter the network Service Set Identifier (SSID—that's the name of the network).
- From the Security drop-down menu, select the network security type.
- Touch Save to add the network to the list.
- Connect to the network using the same steps you used to connect to other networks.
Connecting to the Wi-Fi network is really that easy, and it's your key to being able to surf the Web without running up massive data transfer charges. The best part is that free Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available—in coffeehouses, restaurants, hotels, and even some businesses. Now that you're connected, you can start surfing (and everything else that comes along with a Wi-Fi connection).