Handy hidden Android features

Handy hidden Android features you probably forget to use Android is practically overflowing with options, and it’s easy to lose track of some useful stuff along the way.

Hidden Android feature No. 1: Fast app-switching

One of the most useful features to come into Android in ages is also one of the least well-known and discoverable. I’m talkin’ about the Alt-Tab-like fast app-switching function that was first introduced way back in 2016’s Android 7 and remains one of my favorite Android shortcuts to this day.

[Psst: Love shortcuts? My free Android Shortcut Supercourse will teach you tons of invisible time-savers for your phone. Get your first lesson now!]

You can be forgiven if you forgot about it — or maybe never even knew about it in the first place — ’cause honestly, there’s absolutely nothing that’d clue you into its existence. And it’s evolved a fair amount over the years, too, which makes the odds of losing track of it even greater.

So here’s how it works: First, if you’re using Android’s current gesture system — with no on-screen navigation buttons and just a thin little line at the bottom of your screen — flick your finger toward the right anywhere along that bottom-of-screen area. That’ll snap you back to your most recently used app faster than you can say “frugal Google bugle filled with tasty kugel” (which, to be fair, isn’t something you can say especially quickly). From there, you can click flick toward the right again to go back another step in your app-using history or flick to the left to snap back in the other direction.

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If you’re still using Android’s older three-button navigation system, fear not, for you can do this, too — part of it, anyway: Just double-tap the Overview key (the square-shaped icon next to Back and Home) anytime to quickly zap between your two most recently used processes.

Hidden Android feature No. 2: App shortcuts

Speaking of app-related shortcuts, Android has an exceptionally efficient system called — rather fittingly — App Shortcuts.

But Goog almighty, can they be useful. You can think of App Shortcuts as direct links to specific functions within apps on your phone — ways to get to individual actions or areas within an app without having to go through the typical process of opening it up, hunting around through its menus, and tapping multiple commands to reach your destination.

To look through your App Shortcut options, press and hold your finger down on any app’s icon — either on your home screen or in your app drawer — for about a second. For instance:

  • With Google’s Messages app, long-pressing the app’s icon lets you jump directly into a variety of recently used message threads.
  • With Google Docs, you can hop straight into a new document or to the service’s search function without having to first open the app and poke around.
  • With Google Drive, you can get direct links for searching, uploading a new file, or even scanning a physical document with your phone’s camera.
  • And with Google Calendar, you can create a new event, a new task, or a new reminder right from that hidden long-press menu.

Handy hidden Android features

Handy hidden Android features No. 3: Live Caption

Google’s Android 10 release introduced an unexpected gem into the operating system — something that has the potential to be way more useful than you’d expect at first glance. It’s call Live Caption, and it’s technically an accessibility feature for folks who have a hard time hearing.

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The benefit in that scenario is obvious, but Live Caption can also come in handy for practically anyone on a day-to-day basis — because what it effectively does is allow you to see what a video or podcast is saying without having any audible sound playing from your phone.

In such moments, all I’ve gotta do is tap a little box that shows up beneath the volume controls whenever any kind of media is playing on my device — and holy moly, wouldya look at that?

If you’re using a phone with Android 10 or higher and you aren’t seeing that Live Caption option as part of your volume controls, head into your system settings and search for Live Caption there. You’ll probably need to find the associated section and flip a toggle into the on position within it to activate the feature — and, depending on your device (hi, Samsung folk!), you might also have to activate a second toggle in that same area to make sure the Live Caption option actually shows up as part of your volume panel.

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