How do you Learn Smartphone Basics?

LearningI know that some people got a brand new shiny smartphone over the holidays. If it is your very first smartphone, where do you start? With everyone around you using their phones constantly you figure you can just ask for help, right? But they grab your phone, tap here, drag there and give it back to you. You still don’t know what to do, but you don’t want to look too stupid, and you don’t want to bother them anymore – they have texting and posting to do! Read on, this article is for you.

What Kind of Phone did you Get?

There are two main types of smartphones – iPhone and Android –  and your instructions will differ depending on the type you have. With tablets, there are the same two types and the instructions are basically the same. So what is yours? All you have to do is hold it upright and look at the bottom. If you see a round button, you have an iPhone. It will also have an Apple logo on the back.  If you don’t have a round button, it’s probably an Android. The third option is a Windows Phone, you will see a Winodws logo image  – very few people have those and we don’t cover the specific instructions.

Round ‘Home’ button Not Round ‘Home’ button No real button at all, just an icon for ‘Home’ button


Android by Samsung


There is a LOT to know about these devices because they do so much, we livecast a weekly, 40 minute Youtube show on using Smartphones and Tablets. We’ve recorded 66 episodes and we’re just getting started! Episode 66 is on this topic: Learning the Basics, just click to watch the show on Youtube.

Before you can go too far with using any given function on your phone, we think there are some basics about using the device that will get you started. If this were a car, we’re talking about knowing how to lock and unlock the door, start the ignition, use the accelerator, brakes, and gearshift, and how much to move the wheel to accomplish your turns. Only then can you start learning about getting to your destinations.

Is It On? On/Off, Sleep/Wake, Lock

If your phone is on and you press the power button, it appears to turn off, but its not. It’s just asleep. The screen is off, but the phone is still on. You should never leave the screen on when you’re not actively using your phone, it drains the battery faster than anything else. When the screen is off and you press the power button, the screen comes on – it wakes up – but it may be ‘locked.’ The ‘Lock’ screen is what is shown until you swipe the screen to get to your Home screen – the one with all the icons. If you have security turned on, and you should, then you need to enter a passcode, or use your fingerprint, or some other procedure to unlock it. This is so someone who steals your phone can’t get in and see your stuff.

To turn the phone off, powered off, you hold down on the power button until a message appears on the screen, follow the instructions on the message. How do you know it’s off? If you give a short press on the power button and the screen doesn’t come on – then the phone is powered off. To turn it on, you need to hold down on that power button (aka the Sleep/Wake button) until you see something happen on the screen. Usually, you will first see a logo then it takes a minute to come fully to life.

Speaking of turning it off and on reminds me of our friend Abby Stokes’ book, Is This Thing On? She calls it A Friendly Guide to Everything Digital for Newbies, Technophobes, and the Kicking & Screaming. Check it out on her website,


How to use the touchscreen: tap, double-tap, longpress, drag, pinch, zoom

These are very touchy devices. You need to get some practice in learning how your particular device likes to be touched. If you find a game you like to play on it, that is a good way to get practice. If tapping an icon doesn’t seem to work, do not tap it harder! You may be issuing another command entirely, called a longpress. That is when you touch and hold on a spot and something is programmed to happen. On an iPhone, if you touch and hold on an icon on a home screen, you will see all the icons start to wiggle. That means they are ready to move. You can drag one to another spot, you can even drag one on top of another and they will combine into a folder. When you’re done, you press the home button (the round one, remember?) to stop the wiggling.

If you have a mapping program (App) open, a longpress does something quite different – it drops a marker on the map. With the map, you can use two fingers on the screen, pinch them together, and the map gets smaller, zooming out to show you more. With the same two fingers on the screen, if you spread them (reverse pinch?) you will zoom in to a closer look at the map. Double-tap does the same thing – zooms in. One finger on the screen, dragging around, moves the map to a different location. If you’re viewing a photo, double-tap will zoom you in, enlarging the photo. Another double-tap will zoom you back out to the original size. The point is to try these ‘gestures’ they’ll do something different in each application, but they’ll almost always do something – and you’ll learn.

Navigating the device: Home button, Back button, multitasking button, Search, Notifications

Tapping an icon opens that App, then tapping something within the app takes you somewhere within the App. If you want to get back to your phone’s starting place, that’s called Home, and guess what?! The Home button will take you there so you can start over with something else.

On Android devices there is a dedicated ‘Back’ button. It is represented by some kind of arrow, and it is beside the Home button. If you don’t see it, tap anyway, it may light up. So, if you tapped an App, let’s call that ‘level 1’, then you tap a button within an App to get to ‘level 2,’ and then another to ‘level 3.’ If you now tap the Back button, you’ll get to level 2, tap Back again to level 1, tap Back again and you’re back to the Home screen where you first found the icon for the App. The Back button is great for backing up one or two steps, but remember the Home button to get you all the way back to the starting point. iPhones do not have a Back button, but most Apps will show an arrow at the upper left corner to back up one step.

Let’s say you opened a map App to look up a location. You pinched and zoomed and dragged to get in the vicinity, but then you couldn’t remember the name of the city. That information is in an email. So, you tap your Home button to go home, swipe thru your Home screens to find your Email App, open it up and find the email with the information. Now you want to get back to the map. You could tap Home again, find the icon for the Map App and tap it, but since you were just there, the Map is called a “Recently Used App” and there’s a button for that! It’s called Recent Apps. On an iPhone you get to Recent Apps by double-tapping on the Home button. You should now see a screen with a representation of all your recently used Apps with the most recent at the bottom. Tap the Maps App from there and your right back where you were. Now you need the address from the email? No problem. Go to Recent Apps (double tap on Home) and Email will be right there.

On Android, the Recent Apps button can be very different from phone to phone. On my Samsung Galaxy S5 it’s to the left of my Home button and it looks like two overlapping squares. On my older Motorola phone, there is no dedicated Recent Apps button, I need to longpress on the Home button. This function is also referred to as Multitasking. The Recent Apps view is also how you close an App – you swipe it off the screen.

Did you Learn Something?

REVIEW Questions: we end every show with Review Questions. Here are the questions for Episode 66 on Learning the Basics. You can watch the video where we answer these questions.

1.The power button is also known as the Sleep/Wake button. What other button can Wake a sleeping phone?

2.What do you do with the power button to turn the phone OFF?

3.T/F: if tapping an icon doesn’t work, you should press harder

4.If you’re on a call and you need to look at your calendar, what do you do?

5.If you don’t see an App, yet you know it’s on your phone, what can you do?

6.If you don’t have a dedicated Back button (like on iPhone) where do you look for an onscreen Back button?

Keep on Learning!



The first several episodes of What Does This Button Do? were all on the basics. Spend some time to watch and review:

Show Notes with Timeline Links to Video
(requires premium membership)
Free YouTube Videos of complete Episodes
#1 Home Button#2 Sleep/Lock

#3 MultiTasking/Recent Apps

#4 Organizing Home Screens

#5 Synchronizing Email

#6 the Back Button

#7 Onscreen Keyboard

#8 Connecting to WiFi

#1 Home Button#2 Sleep/Lock

#3 MultiTaskgin/Recent Apps

#4 Organizing Home Screens

#5 Synchronizing Email

#6 the Back Button

#7 Onscreen Keyboard

#8 Connecting to WiF


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