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7 great ways to customize your Android phone

7 great ways to customize your Android phone

A new smartphone is a blank slate. You change the wallpaper, download your favorite apps, add a cool case, and eventually your smartphone becomes unique to you. When it comes to Android phones, there are some easy ways to really make it your own.

Customizing your Android phone can mean a lot of things. It's about the look of the phone, as well as how it functions.

Some people choose to root their phones in the quest for customization. This is a process that gives you deep access to the operating system. It gives the user a lot of power over the phone, but has certain risks and can void the warranty. We'll leave that one up to power users and instead focus on what you can do without rooting.

Keep in mind that different versions of the Android operating systems can have different settings and options, so you may need to hunt around a little to get to the right place to make some of these customizations.

1. Decorate with wallpaper

Android wallpaper

If you're still rocking the background your phone came with, then it's time to pick a look that's a little more you. To change the background, hold down on a blank space on your home screen and select "Wallpapers" when it pops up at the bottom. Here, you can change the look for both your home screen and lock screen from a variety of options covering everything from landscapes to cityscapes to geometric shapes. You can also select from your own photos for a truly custom appearance.

2. Add widgets

Android widget

Widgets are little programs that hang out on and run from your home screen. They're different from full-fledged apps, and are an incredibly convenient way to make your home screen more useful. You can access your widgets settings in the same way you change your wallpapers. Touch and hold down on a blank spot on your home screen and choose "Widgets."

Once you're in the widgets menu, you can select from different clocks, quick contacts, and app-related widgets. Time and weather is always a popular option that can help keep you on schedule and clue you into the local weather conditions. To add a widget to your home screen, just touch it and hold it to move it into place.

3. Install a launcher

Nova Launcher

If you really want to shake up your Android layout, then look to a new launcher to change your icons and personalize the look of your home screen, making it as minimal or as fancy as you like. It's like giving your phone a fashion makeover.

You can browse the Google Play store to find a launcher to your liking. Not sure where to start? Check out the highly rated Nova Launcher, which gives you options for a scrollable dock, custom grids for your apps and widgets, and endless choices for icon themes. The standard version is free while the upgraded Prime version costs $4.99.

4. Download an icon pack

Google Play icon packs

This customization ties in with using a new launcher. If you poke around the Google Play Store, you will find a lot of options for icon packs. Icon packs are apps that replace your existing icons with a brand new look. Take a peek and see what you like. Most cost just 99 cents and require that you're already using a launcher, like the Nova Launcher we talked about above. Icon packs are a quick and inexpensive way to give your Android phone a fun, fresh appearance.

Click or tap here to learn how to change your phone's ringtone to something more soothing.

5. Clean up your notifications

Notification options

Android's notification system is extremely helpful, but it can also quickly get overwhelming and distracting as almost every single app wants to notify you of something, whether it's a photo memory from five years ago or a news update.

Here's a simple recipe for getting a handle on those notifications so only the important information comes through: As a notification pops up on your phone, take a moment to evaluate if it's useful to you, or if you're just swiping it out of the way.

If it's useful, carry on as usual. If you want to make it stop, then hold down on the notification until a series of options pop up. Usually, you will have a choice of "Show notifications silently," "Block all notifications," or "Don't silence or block." Block or silence that app's messages to help declutter your notifications.

6. Use app folders

App folder

Your home screen is the heart of your Android device. You can make it more efficient and less messy by taking advantage of app folders -- a handy, but sometimes overlooked, organizational tool.

App folders work a lot like folders on a desktop computer. To make it easy, put all the icons you want to group together on one screen. Hold down on one icon, move it, and drop it on top of another icon to create an app folder that groups the two together.

You can put multiple apps together in a folder and you will see smaller representations of each icon. Tap on the folder and it will open a window with full-size versions. Tap on where it says "untitled folder" to give it a name. App folders help reduce visual clutter and can keep you organized. Best of all, you get to arrange your apps in a way that makes sense to you.

7. Try a new keyboard

Google keyboard

Chances are your Android device gives you the default Google Keyboard, known as Gboard. It's a solid keyboard that's a good fit for most users, but you're not stuck with it. You can try out other keyboards if you want to explore whether or not a change will help you type more efficiently.

SwiftKey Keyboard is a popular choice. It's a smart keyboard that learns your writing style and offers a lot of different themes so you can change up the look. Check out our look at SwiftKey and the options it offers. If you're interested in trying a different keyboard, this is a good one to start with.

One of Android's most enjoyable features is the ability to endlessly customize it. So go ahead and experiment. Try out a launcher. Change up your wallpaper. Test out a new keyboard. Don't like those new icons? Try some different ones. Have fun and play around until you get it just like you want it.

5 ways to free up space on your Android

Our digital lives may be getting more complicated, but there are some smart ways you can reduce the clutter on your Android device so you have plenty of room for your photos, games, and favorite apps.

Tap or click here to learn how to make space on your Android phone.

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