I’ve owned my Samsung Galaxy Note for nearly 18 months but I’ve never actually synchronised the phone with my Laptop. This is mainly due to Samsung Kies (their sync software) being rubbish… but also because I don’t actually need to!
Kies is a bit temperamental, coincidently I used it prior to writing this article and it worked for the first time within the last year – usually the software crashes or it fails to find my phone. My HTC Desire was easy enough to sync, I’ve not tried or tested any other hardware running on Android but regardless of your device you will have to plug your phone in to your PC/Laptop or connect via Wi-Fi… either way requires you setting aside some time to set up and conduct the sync.
Synchronising your phone with your computer used to be a big deal – making sure that your phone is up to date with your latest contacts list, calendar/organiser, music, internet bookmarks, etc. I don’t have to dedicate any of my time to do this, I make sure that the relevant information on my Android phone is set up and stored in such a way that it all syncs without me having to prompt it or ever connect my Laptop and phone.
If you’re new to Android and you don’t have a Google account (a Google account gives you a Gmail address, if you have a Gmail address already then you have a Google account) then I recommend you open a Google account pronto – go to the Google homepage, there is a black menu bar running along the top of the page, click Gmail, then opt to Create an Account.
While you’re setting up your Gmail, make sure you import contacts from any existing email accounts you already have:
Ideally, you need to create your Gmail contacts list to contain every phone number and email address you have. Hopefully you’ve backed up contacts lists from your previous phone, such as syncing it with Outlook or Apple, which will make this process easier as you can import those contacts lists in to your Gmail contacts. As the illustration above shows, Google helps you along step by step when importing contacts.
The reason that this is so important is that when you’re getting started with setting up your Android phone, by telling it you have a Google account your contacts will all appear straight away and you won’t have to go through the hassle of inputting the numbers of all your contacts in to the new phone. As long as it’s synced properly, if you add/remove/edit contacts from your phone – the same alterations will be made to your Gmail contacts lists and vice-versa.
Photos and File Storage
Create a Dropbox account. That’s the only advice you need on this matter! There’s many other photo storage services which also offer automatic sync between your phone and their websites, but Dropbox is just so much easier and better.
Click here to find your way to the Dropbox website. Once you create an account (for free), install the simple Dropbox software to your PC/Laptop and then install the Dropbox app (free) on your phone. You will be able to automatically synchronise photos between your phone and your PC/Laptop. I’ve tried and tested other services for photo and file storage, such as Evernote, Google Drive, Flickr, Panoramio, Photobucket, etc etc… but Dropbox is just so much easier and idiot proof in my opinion. What Dropbox does is store your photos and files in “the cloud”; you can even set your phone app to send every single photo you take instantly to your Dropbox account so you never have to worry about backing up your photo collection.
For example: When I take a photo using my Galaxy phone, it is automatically sent to my Dropbox account using 3G or Wi-Fi. I can delete the photo within seconds of taking it and it’s already saved in my Dropbox account. On my Galaxy Camera, I’ve changed the settings so that it stores the photos on my camera until it connects to a Wi-Fi network, at which point it sends all my photos to my Dropbox account at once.
You can install Dropbox on as many devices as you wish, which means you take photos on a phone and view them on a tablet (including iPhone/iPad), or take photos on a tablet and view them on a PC, etc etc. If you’re worried about your account being hacked or going offline (both are highly unlikely!) then don’t despair – once you’ve installed the Dropbox software on your PC/Laptop, you can then click & drag your photos in to a folder located on your computer’s hard drive. Dropbox also allows you to save any file format from your computer which can then be accessed on your phone – word documents, PDF’s, spread sheets etc.
On your PC/Laptop – log in to your Google account, on the black bar across the top of the screen, click on Calendar. Set up a calendar and use this to enter your appointments and important dates. If you have added birthdays or other relevant dates to your Gmail contacts, they will appear on this calendar too.
Go to your phones calendar and sync this with your Google account. From now on, any appointments/tasks you add, edit or delete on your phone will also be added, edited and deleted on your Gmail calendar, and vice versa. The illustration here is from a Samung Galaxy – make sure your Gmail calendar is ticked and the rest are un-ticked, otherwise when you add new events or appointments on your phone they may go to the default “My Calendar” which won’t sync with your Google account.
There may be an Android device without a built-in calendar that doesn’t support sync with Google Calendar – if this is the case then go to your Google Play store and download the Google Calendar app, which will allow you to have a calendar widget on one of your home screens which you can use instead of your phones own calendar.
Tasks, Organisers & To-Do Lists
Evernote seems to be the choice of organiser for most smart phone users, and it is a top app which syncs nicely with its PC/Laptop software. I used this for a while, but I found Samsung S-Planner to be better and easier to use as it also syncs nicely with Google Calendar. Obviously this is only an option for you if you have a Galaxy Phone, I’m sure HTC, Sony etc have their own versions though so give them a go and compare them to Evernote to see what you prefer. Google recently jumped on the bandwagon with Google Keep – a post-it-note type of app which allows you to save reminders on your phone and also access them through Google Drive on your PC/Laptop. Google Keep seems handy enough for having a reminder posted on your phones home page, however it needs to develop more and maybe sync with Google Calendar to set dates/times for reminders and appointments before it competes with Evernote.
If you’re still using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to browse the internet on your PC/Laptop, then stop! Download Google Chrome for your computer, log in with your Google account and use it as your primary internet browser, save your bookmarks accordingly. Make sure your phone has the Chrome app (you can get the app from the Google Play Store if it’s not pre-loaded on the phone). Again this is free and easy. Whenever you save bookmarks or view websites on your computer at home, these will also appear on your Android phone’s internet browser. Even if you prefer not to download Chrome, if you use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at home or at work then make sure you’re logged in to Google when using Google to search anything or using Google Maps, as your Google search engine and Maps on your phone will show up with these details.
If music is a major factor for you… then stick with the iPhone. Whilst the manufacturers of most Android phones (especially HTC and Samsung) borrowed the overall design of the iPhone for their own devices, unfortunately they didn’t copy the sheer ease of downloading, choosing, organising and playing your music collection. I’ve found synchronising music and playlists, and playing music in general, to be generally poor on the Android devices I’ve had. It’s not impossible and you may even have had more luck with your music than I have. Personally, I prefer streaming music from my Napster account but this relies on paying £10 a month and can also affect your data allowance if you’re away from a wi-fi connection. Services like Napster, Spotify and Google Play Music have very good Android apps and streaming music from those services is simple and effective.
So for the purpose of this list of tips, I’ll go through the music player which is free… (back to Google again!) Google Play Music.
On your PC/Laptop – log on to your Google account and this time hit the link in the black bar which says “Play” then click “My Music”. Click on “Upload Music” – you can then upload your entire music collection from your computer to Google Play where it is stored in the cloud. You can stream this on your phones Google Play Music app. You can also access Google Play Music from any computer you log on to with your Google account, which is handy if you can access the site from work as your entire music collection is always available.
Bear in mind that if you use Google Play Music app on your phone, the tracks will be stored in the cloud, not physically downloaded. I prefer to use the Amazon MP3 app to download music as you actually receive a copy of the track which you can sync to your PC/Laptop.
If you must have your music actually on your Android device, I recommend Easy Phone Tunes, this app allows you to sync music your music library from your computer, including your music and playlists organised in iTunes. The app is free, however it limits the number of tracks and playlists you can sync. For £1.99 you can get the premium version, Easy Phone Tunes Plus, which allows unlimited transfer.