Android Basics: Intro to Android Devices

Lesson 2: Intro to Android Devices


Introduction to Android

android logo

You're probably here because you already have an Android device or are thinking about buying one. Congratulations—a new smartphone or tablet can be useful, empowering, and also lots of fun!

Unlike the iPhone or iPad (which are only available in a few different models), there are hundreds of Android devices to choose from. That's part of what makes them so appealing. You're bound to find something you like, whether you're shopping on a budget or looking for the latest high-end device.

If you're wondering why there are so many choices, it may help to understand what Android is. Technically, it's an operating system for smartphones and tablets. Many different companies make devices that are powered by Android, including Samsung, HTC, LG, and other lesser-known brands. That's why every Android device is different—each manufacturer likes to put its own spin on it.

What makes every device unique?

Android devices vary based on the manufacturer and sometimes even your mobile carrier. For instance, take a look at the two Android phones below. What do you see?

samsung galaxy s5 / LG nexus 5

Some differences are obvious, but others are less apparent. Here are some examples:

  • The phone on the left is slightly larger
  • The hardware is different (notice the buttons at the bottom)
  • Each screen has its own unique layout
  • Some of the icons look different; for example, compare the two Phone icons

This is a pretty good example of the type of variety you can expect from Android devices. There will always be differences in hardware, including things like outer appearance, storage capacity, and camera quality. There will also be differences in software (in other words, the on-screen features) that can affect your experience with Android in general.

There's one more thing to be aware of when it comes to Android devices. Not only are there different phones and tablets to choose from, but there are also different versions of the Android operating system. This can affect everything from the layout of your screen to the availability of certain features. To learn more, check out our FAQs.

Purchasing an Android device

By now, you know that every Android device is unique. If you don't have one yet, it's time to choose the one you want (this is the fun part!). You'll also need to pick a mobile carrier and find out what types of service options it offers. Keep in mind that some of this information will apply more to phones than tablets.

Choosing a device

three different smartphones

There are hundreds of Android devices to choose from, and each one is different. It's a good idea to do some research before making a decision, especially if there are certain features that are important to you.

If you're not sure where to begin, you might want to check out some reviews on sites like CNET and PCMag. This can give you a better idea of which devices are available and how well they perform. In general, there are three factors to keep in mind: price, features, and carrier.

  • Price: Android devices can vary widely in price. For example, many carriers offer certain phones for free (usually older or lower-end models) if you sign a two-year contract. If you have your heart set on a higher-end phone, you can expect to pay $100 to $300 with a contract, which is still a discounted price. Tablets generally cost more, and so do no-contract phones.
  • Features: Androids come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. While you're shopping around, start thinking about which features are important to you. Some basic specifications to keep in mind are screen size, battery life, camera quality, and general performance. Beyond that, there are a number of cutting-edge features to consider, including hands-free operation and fingerprint recognition.
  • Carrier: If you haven't chosen a carrier yet, it's a good idea to think about which one you might want to use. Some carriers have fewer devices to choose from, so your options may be more limited than you think. Others offer different prices on the same phone or tablet. This can have a significant impact on the device you end up choosing.

Choosing a carrier and service

To place calls with your phone—or use mobile data with your tablet—you'll need to purchase service from a mobile carrier. Most carriers offer a variety of plans to fit your budget and lifestyle. There are generally two types of service to choose from: a two-year contract or no contract. Both have their pros and cons.

  • Two-year contract: Signing a two-year contract means you'll receive your device at a discount; however, you'll be committed to paying for service on a monthly basis for the next two years. Every contract is different, so make sure you understand the terms, including when and if you can upgrade your device in the future.
  • No contract: Some carriers, like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, offer a no-contract option. This means you'll pay full price for your device (either up front or in monthly installments), but your service will cost less. You'll also have the freedom to cancel your service at any time with no penalties or fees.

When you're ready to buy

Have you decided which device and carrier you want? When you're ready, there are many different ways to make your purchase, including online or at a local store. Take some time to research your options before you decide.

  • In-store: Most mobile carriers have brick-and-mortar stores where you can browse their stock and talk to an associate if you need help. If you want more flexibility, check out a retailer like Best Buy, where you can shop several different carriers at once. When you buy a device in person, an associate will usually help you set it up.
  • Online: There are a variety of ways to buy a phone or tablet online. For example, you can go directly through your carrier, or a choose a retailer like Target or even Amazon. This option is great if you feel confident navigating your choices and eventually setting up your device on your own.

Beware of any sales or promotions that sound too good to be true (especially online). Some Android devices are very expensive, so there will always be sellers and scammers looking to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers. When in doubt, purchase your device from a well-known retailer or mobile carrier.