The Best Android Shortcuts You Should Be Using

Launch your camera, send a text, and find answers in just seconds

Close-up shot of brand new Google Nexus 5
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Smartphones are supposed to save us time and give us convenience, but in order to get the most out of our devices, we have to do a little legwork, at least for now. Android devices are highly customizable and feature-packed, but some of its best time and sanity-saving shortcuts have to be unlocked. Here, I present a bunch of shortcuts so you can take quick pictures, send texts and make calls without fumbling through your contacts, and make efficient use of "OK Google" and voice commands.

Note: The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Launch Your Camera

This happens to me a lot. I see something interesting on the street like a dancing squirrel, but the action is over by the time I launch my smartphone's camera. Luckily, there's an easy fix. On many Android smartphones, you can quickly open the camera by double-tapping the power or home button. (Confession: I do this by accident all the time.) This shortcut should work on newer Samsung and Nexus devices. The LG V10 lets you access the camera by double tapping the volume down button, while some of the newer Motorola smartphones let you open the camera by twisting your wrist, as long as you have gestures enabled.

If you're running Android Marshmallow, you can also launch the camera from your lock screen. Just tap, hold, and swipe the camera icon and snap a photo without unlocking your phone. Don't worry, this doesn't unlock everything on your device; once you exit the camera app, you're back to the lock screen, so you don't have to worry about nosey friends and family or would-be thieves or hackers seeing your private information or compromising your device.

Unlock your Device

Unlocking your device isn't exactly time-consuming, but it can be annoying to constantly unlock it when you're comfortably at home or at work or anywhere you don't feel the need for a lockdown. Google Smart Lock lets you keep your device unlock when it's in a trusted place, paired with a trusted device such as a smart watch, or even when it recognizes your voice. You can also use this feature to save passwords. Read more in my guide to Google Smart Lock.

Time Savers and Gestures

Android has a lot of gesture-control options, but they vary by device and operating system. If you have stock Android, which includes all Nexus devices and some Motorola devices (Moto X and Moto G), you can use one finger swipe down to see all of your notifications or two finger swipes down to view quick settings (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode, etc.).

Devices running Marshmallow have an easy to find app search function in the app drawer (about time!). If you don't have Marshmallow, you can launch app search by double tapping the drawer icon at the bottom of your screen, just above the home button.

I always have a million tabs open on Chrome and sometimes when I go back to read an article or find the information I need, the page doesn't look right. Refreshing the page is surprisingly tedious; either press a tiny refresh button next to the address bar (not ideal with my giant fingers) or tap the three-dot menu button and choose refresh from the options. It doesn't have to be this way, though; you can simply pull down anywhere on the page to refresh it in seconds.

Screenshots are relatively easy to take, though the button combinations vary by device, and it sometimes takes me a few tries to get it right. With Marshmallow, you have another option. First, you launch Now on Tap, Google's enhanced assistant, which offers information related to what's on your screen. You can use it to get information about the music you're listening to, a restaurant you're researching, a movie you'd like to see, and much, much, more. Once you enable Now on Tap, you can access it by pressing and holding the home button and then pressing the share button to take a screenshot. Then a menu will pop up that offers all of your sharing options.

Finally, if you need information about any of your apps, such as how much storage it's using, how much data it eats up, notification settings, and more, there's an easy way to do so. Rather than going into settings, choosing apps, and then scrolling through a long list, you can go to the application drawer, tap and hold an app icon, and then slide it up to the App Info button at the top of the screen. This brings you directly to the apps settings page. From here, you can also slide it up to an edit button, to change the app's label and its group.

Phone Calls and Messaging

Widgets are one of the best features that Android offers. You can not only create app widgets, but also contact widgets for your favorite people. Press and hold the home screen, choose widgets and then go to the contacts section. There you can add widgets for calling and messaging any contact on your device. Nice!

Incoming phone calls often come at inconvenient times. Quick Responses let you set up canned text messages such as "can't talk now" or "call you back in an hour," that you can send to avoid an endless game of phone tag. Phones running Lollipop can access this device by doing into the Dialer app settings and choosing Quick Responses. There, you can create or edit the quick response messages, but you can only have four at a time.

This feature has a different name if you're running Marshmallow: call-reject messages. It can be found under Call blocking in the Dialer settings. There are five default messages, including "I'm in a meeting," I'm driving, and I'm at the movie theater. You delete any of these and add your own; there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many you can have at once.

When you get an incoming call, you'll see an option to respond by text. Swipe that option, choose your text and hit send.

When I wrote about Android's accessibility features, I discovered that you can opt to end phone calls by pressing the power button. I love this since I sometimes have trouble "hanging up" when using the touch screen (sometimes the end call option disappears.) You can also opt to answer calls using the home button. Set up these options in the phone dialer settings under answering and ending calls.

OK Google and Voice Commands

You can enable the "OK, Google" command on any screen by going into the Google search app's settings and selecting voice, "OK Google" detection, and "from any screen." This also enables you to use the aforementioned trusted voice option in Google Smart Lock. Use it to settle bar bets: how many Oscar's has "actress" won? Ask simple questions "when is the next Mets game?" or better yet "when is the next home game for the Mets?"

Of course, you can also use voice commands to get things done, such as texting a friend, setting up a reminder or an appointment, making a call, or firing up Google Maps to get directions. This is great when you need a hands-free solution while you're driving, but it's also handy when you just don't feel like typing.