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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Nick Ansell/PA Wire

The beginner's guide to using your smartphone*

*or a recap for the rest of us.

CHANGING FROM A normal phone to a smartphone can feel like quite a leap. One of its biggest strengths is the sheer range of things you can do on it, but the sheer amount of things you can do with it can make learning how to use it daunting.

If you’re one of the lucky people who got their first smartphone today, or you know someone who’s just starting out, we put together a guide that will get you started. If you got a tablet, the same principles apply here.

(Note: This is meant as a guide for people who aren’t familiar with the basics. For everyone else, treat this as a recap)

Operating System

Depending on the type of phone you get, you will be using one of three types of operating system: iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android (Samsung, HTC, Sony Xperia), or Windows Phone (Nokia Lumia).


The focus on apps means that both the iPhone and iPad are more suitable towards beginners. There’s only one button, the home button, which brings you back to the main screen.

Holding it down activates Siri, Apple’s personal assistant, which you can ask to complete actions such as setting reminders, playing music, and web search. Tapping it twice brings up the list of active apps, and tapping it three times allows you to add voiceover, invert colours or zoom in.

iOS starts off with one main screen, but will create additional screens when you add more apps.

imageThe iPhone 5S (Image: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)


Android places an emphasis on widgets, app previews which save you the trouble of entering them directly. These are available for the majority of apps you can download.

Android has three buttons located at the bottom of the screen. The back button which lets you return to any screen you were at previously, the home button that brings you back to the main screen and the apps button which brings up all active apps. There are five screens for you to fit both widgets and apps on.

You can also add widgets to the lock screen. To do this, activate your phone but before you unlock it, swipe left to right to find a plus button. Tapping it allows you to add an email preview, calendar, readers and other widgets.

Swiping the home button up will activate Google Now, which not only lets you search the web, but provides you with relevant information such as journey times, weathers, event information and reminders.

imageThe Sony Xperia Z1 (Image: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Windows Phone

The draw of Windows Phone is its live tiles that update in real-time. Think of a cross between apps and widgets and you’ll have an idea of how they work.

Like Android, Windows Phone has three buttons. the back button, the Start button which brings you to your home screen and search button which lets you search the web through Bing.

Holding down the Start button brings up speech, which allows you to perform actions by talking.

imageThe Nokia Lumia 720 (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)


As all smartphones are controlled through touchscreen, meaning that all you need is are taps and swipes to work it. The main ones you need to know are:

Single tap: Open up apps, menus, etc.

Double tap: Allows you to zoom in when using a browser, viewing maps.

Swipe left to right/vice versa: Unlock phone, switch between browser tabs, certain apps use it as a ‘return’ feature.

Swipe top down: Brings down notifications screen alerting you to any messages, or missed calls. Can be accessed on lock screen too.

Swipe bottom up: On the lock screen, it activates the camera. On iOS, swiping up from the middle brings up shortcuts. For Android, it activates Google Now.

Pinch screen: Zoom in. Usually features when you’re on browsers, viewing maps. Doing the reverse allows you to zoom out.

Press and hold: For your main screen, this allows you to move apps around, place them into folders and delete them.

Connecting WiFi

Connecting your smartphone up to a WiFi connection is practically the same as you would on your laptop. Found in settings, your phone will pick up any connections within range, and provided you have the right password for it.

If you don’t have WiFi, you can access the web through 3G, although it’s recommended to have a WiFi connection when you’re downloading apps, music, videos and podcasts.


Setting up your email

One handy feature is you can keep up to date with any updates online. All that’s required for you to sign in is your email address, your password and the provider (Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, AOL, Yahoo).

If you don’t have one, it’s better to set up your email account on desktop first as the majority of apps you will download require it before you sign up. Gmail and Hotmail are two good providers to start with.

The lock screen

Similar to ordinary phones, the lock screen alerts you to any missed calls or texts as well as any app notifications.

iOS, Android and Windows Phone allow you to control what notifications you receive on your screen through settings, and you also have the option to remove previews for any text messages and emails you receive.

Traditionally, you can lock your screen with a PIN code, but depending on the phone, you can add a more complex password (similar to your email account). If you’re an Android user, you can also use a pattern or face recognition password.

imageAndroid allows you to use different password methods such as pattern unlocking.

The App Store

The bread and butter of any smartphone, the app store is one of the most important features on your phone since it gives you access to a wide range of apps and services for you to download. Depending on the type of smartphone you have, you either use the App Store (iPhone/iPad), Google Play (Android), or Windows App+Games store (Windows Phone).

Each store is broken up into different sections. You have editors choice (a selection of the most popular apps), top paid, free apps and top grossing (mostly consists of apps that use in-app purchases to make money).

imageThe homepage of the Google Play store.

Regardless of which service you use, all of them require you to create an account using your email address and password. If you’re downloading paid apps, you will be required to provide your debit/credit card details to complete the purchase.

Like all things, some apps are free, some cost you money and some are free to download but require you to pay for additional features.

imageMost apps are free to download, but more of them require you to pay for extra content within the app.

If you’ve already provided your card details, be careful if you hand your phone over to someone else as they could easily download paid apps or in-app purchases, which you won’t be able to do anything about. Windows Phone users have Kid Corner which prevents this from happening.

Only download apps from trusted stores like Apple, Google Play and Windows Store. While there are other stores available, they don’t have the same level of security so you’re better off sticking to the traditional ones.

If you’re wondering what apps you should download, we will have a list of the best ones for both beginners and advanced users.

Switching between apps

On iPhone/iPad, pressing the home button twice brings up the list of activated apps. Either tap on one to open it or swipe upwards to turn it off.

Android has a button dedicated to opening up and switching between apps, while on Windows Phone, if you hold down the back button, it brings up the five most recent apps you were using. Swiping up or across turns off the app.

imageSwitching between apps on Android.

Setting main apps & folders

If you’re using an iOS or Android device, you can place your most commonly used apps at the bottom of the screen. These apps will remain in the same fixed position on each screen meaning you can access them wherever you are.

Depending on what phone or tablet you’re using, you can place between four to six apps. Android users can also place a folder there if they want to fit more apps.

imageHow folders look on iOS

To do this, press and hold down on the app you want to move and when it expands, move it down to the bottom. If you can’t place an app on the bottom, you must then remove one first before you can place it there.

If you want to create a folder, press and hold down the app so you can move it, but instead,  place it on top of another app you want to pair it with. Doing this will create a folder which you can then name.

There is no limit to the number of apps you place in a folder.

imageAn example of a folder on Android.

The Camera

One of the handiest features of a smartphone is the ability to take photos and record videos whenever we please. It normally takes a moment or two for the camera to boot up, but the standard of cameras has improved so much, it’s the same or better than the average digital camera.

Switching on the camera is relatively easy. You can either access it through the app, or access it from the lock screen.

While there are numerous options to choose from, the two basic one are photos and video. Both are straightforward to use and will adjust itself if you hold your phone upright or sideways.

If an object is blurry, tapping it on the screen will refocus the camera so it will appear properly. You can take a photo or record a video by either tapping the button on the screen, or by pressing the volume button on the side.

imageTapping on an object on a screen will refocus the camera so the object appears clearly.

When you’ve taken your photo, it will usually appear at the corner of your screen. Tapping on it will bring it up for you to view. Here you can edit it, but if you want to email or share it, you will have to unlock your phone.

When you access your photos or gallery app, you are given a number of ways to share. You can email it, post it on Twitter or Facebook, or attach it to a message. You also can select a number of them to share, although if you’re emailing them, remember that each provider has a different size limit so you may have to send more than one email.

imageThe list of share options on Android include email, Facebook, Twitter and Google Drive.

Copy and pasting text

If you reading or writing something and you want to copy it, simply tap on a word and then drag the highlighted space across the words you want copied. When you’re finished, you will be given the option to cut, copy or paste. You can copy something and paste it on a different app (e.g: email to text).


If you want to move your pointer around, just tap anywhere on the text to move it. Holding down on your pointer will bring up a magnifying glass which you can drag around. This is handy if you need to change a letter or if if you’re having problems positioning your pointer.


Keep an eye on battery power

Smartphones are incredibly powerful and versatile devices, but because they’re doing so much, it drains the battery power much faster than a regular phone. On average, a regular charge will last a day if you use it every so often and less if you’re using it regularly.

There are ways to make your battery last longer, but it’s better to keep an eye on your percentage since it will disappear faster then you would expecting.

Read: 10 ways to improve your smartphone’s battery life >

Read: Weird Wide Web: Google robots, a Santa tracker and a blood-related app >

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