[Guide] Using Google Services on your Android Device

Seems pretty straightforward right? Not so much. Thanks to to huge array of Google Services available, it’s not always simple to use those services on your Google phone, which is the assumption many people have when they buy a Google phone. In this article, I will attempt to outline the best ways to access the Google services that you use, may it be obvious or otherwise.

GMail – Nice and easy to start off with. Nearly all Android phones come with a GMail application, which supports threaded conversations, labels, background push notifications and much more. Since Android 2.2 this application has been updated to have quick contact access (click once on somebody’s name and it brings up all the ways you can communicate with them, including phone/SMS), avatars, multiple Gmail account support, auto-advance after read, adjustable font size and the ability to disable concurrent notifications (it will alert you once, and then no more, good if you receive rapid successions of email). If you don’t like the the Gmail app for some reason, or you have a POP3/IMAP address that you want to check, you can check out HTC’s Email program, Google’s Email program (these should both be listed as E-Mail in the App Drawer), or a 3rd party solution such as K9 Mail, which has been highly regarded. You can toggle GMail syncing with the phone under Accounts/Sync.

Bookmarks – Now that Chrome synchronises your bookmarks to the cloud, how do you go about accessing those bookmarks to your phone? There are two ways, the first is by installing a 3rd party browser, for example Dolphin HD, which supports Google Bookmark sync. Alternatively,  you could just browse on over to your Google Docs webpage, in which your Bookmarks are kept (they are hidden by default).

Books – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

Call History – You can integrate these into your Google Calendar by using a 3rd party program like CallTracker.

Calendar – Integrates with the phone’s in-built calendar seamlessly. Any changes you make on the phone are sent to the cloud to be access by your web browser and vice versa. You can toggle Calendar syncing with the phone under Accounts/Sync. Reminders also sync up, using your phone’s default (or customised) reminder tone.

Chrome – The Android browser is based on Google Chrome, incorporating features of it’s V8 Javascript engine.

Desktop – The phone search can be customised under Settings => Search => Searchable Items. From here you can choose what the search covers, including web, contacts, notes, apps, SMS, Music, etc. Then the next time you hit search, it searches your entire phone.

Docs – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version. However, there are 3rd party solutions (such as GDocs) available which employ local caching and editing.

Earth – There is a Google Earth App now for Android. Requires 2.1 and uses fancy 3D rotation effects. There is no elevation or 3D Building support yet, but it does support road overlays, wikipedia entries for locations, photos and so on. Of limited use for navigation, but good for tourists. Did I mention it has the smooth 3D rotating globe?

Groups – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

Images – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

Maps – The Google Maps app should be pre-loaded on all Android devices. It supports layers such as landmarks and buzz, both GPS/cell tower location (also known as fine/rough positioning), terrain view, traffic, scale and also integration with phone functions (such as calling a location). If you want to extend Maps to have voice-guided navigation and tile caching, consult my guide on getting Navigation working.

News – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

Picasa – If you are using Vanilla Android, in the 3D Gallery you will notice that your Picasa albums are automatically available for you to view. The pictures are generally not cached on the phone in full quality, so there may be delay while pictures load. After taking pictures, you will also notice you can send photos to Picasa (with choice of album). This uses the in-built media uploading service. If you are using an HTC Sense UI device, this option may not be present, instead replaced with Flickr integration. You can toggle Picasa syncing with the phone under Accounts/Sync.

Reader – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version, which supports main functions like tags, starring, recommendations, detailed view, etc which are then synced back to the cloud. There are also lots of 3rd party news readers, such as gReed, NewsRob, gReader, FeedR. These offer the benefits of caching articles for offline reading and periodic syncing, but I prefer the web app, due to the time required for 3rd party syncing of articles (since there are normally hundreds).

Scholar – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

SMS – You can integrate SMS history into your GMail by using a third party application like SMS Backup.

Talk – Google Talk app comes with all Android devices and supports status, off-record chats, history, multiple chats and avatars, but no video chat at this time. It runs in the background, and fellow Android GTalk users will have an Android icon next to their name. Battery use seems to be limited. You can log out of the talk service as you see fit, but don’t kill the Google Talk task completely, as it is required in order for you to download apps from the market.

Translate – There is no in-built web translation in the Android browser, unlike Chrome which has in-line translation. The good news is there is a Google Translate app, as well as many others. I will do a roundup soon.

Trends – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version.

Voice – There is an official Google Voice app which many rate highly, but being in Australia, I cannot test it to report on it.

Video/Youtube – No specific native/app support in Android, consult web version. However, with Google Video being phased out, refer to the built-in Youtube app. Note that also in Android 2.2 onwards, Flash support is integrated into the browser, which makes viewing proprietary embedded video a breeze. Youtube app supports viewing favorites, subscriptions, recommended videos.

Web Search – Just press search and it will bring the results up in the search bar itself. One more click and it takes you to the browser to view the results.

That’s it, hopefully that gives you a better idea of how to get your commonly used Google services on your phone. Notice that it’s not all easy and straightforward as many suspect, but the Google team appear to be making great inroads to incorporating functions into the Android OS. If I’ve missed anything, please yell out!

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