If you received a new smartphone this Christmas, statistics suggest it's most likely to have been an Android device. They're rather popular, you know.
Meanwhile, the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and Google Nexus 10 have finally made Android a viable platform for tablet fans. It's easy to see why - that widget-heavy Android UI is beautifully suited to the large screen. Far more so than iOS on the iPad, we'd venture to say.
Whatever Android device you have in your hands now, though, it's important to know this: it's a really flexible, genuinely smart device that's capable of many things, not least of which is gaming.
Here are a few handy suggestions to help you on your way to mastering your new Android device. Oh, and to getting the best gaming experience out of it. Of course.
How to download games for your Android
You're reading this guide rather than one from one of those tech sites, so the chances are you're interested in mobile gaming. You clearly have impeccable taste, too.
Let's start by going through how to download games onto your new Android device, then. You can do this straight from your Android device. Simply hit the white shopping bag icon labeled 'Play Store', either on your home screen or in the main app menu (brought up after hitting the virtual button at the bottom middle of the screen).
The Google Play Store is full of all the games, apps, books, movies, and music you could possibly need on your Android. And all of them are very competitively priced.
Once inside Google's online marketplace, you'll see that there's a dedicated 'Games' icon below the top banner. Hit this to open up a whole world of gaming goodness.
Select one of the featured games, or scroll to the left to browse games by their categories (Arcade and action, Sports, etc.). Scrolling right will show you some of the most popular free or paid apps, while the little magnifying glass symbol at the top will allow you to search for a specific game.
Once you've selected a game, tap on the price, followed by 'Accept & buy' to start the download. You might need to supply some credit card details initially - don't worry, it's secure - but after that you'll just need to provide your Google password (which you would have created when you set your phone up).
I don't like this UI much
If you've got yourself one of Google's 'vanilla' Nexus devices, such as the Google Nexus 4 or the Google Nexus 7, this isn't an issue for you. Move on to the next point.
For every other flavour of Android device, we dare say it is. You see, the vast majority of Android manufacturers just can't help themselves. While Android 4.1 (a.k.a. Jelly Bean) in its purest form is arguably the finest mobile OS on the market, the likes of Samsung, HTC, and Sony think they can make it better by applying their own custom interfaces on top.
All they do is make the Android experience unfriendlier, slower, and less intuitive. Fortunately, the open nature of Android means that you can download something called a launcher. This is a lightweight user interface that sits on top of the Android OS, bypassing the manufacturer's typically bloated and unwieldy efforts.
We'd recommend Apex [download] or Nova [download], as they replicate much of the look and functionality of stock Android, while allowing for a good deal of tweaking and customisation should you wish to be a bit more adventurous.
Fiddle with your widgets
One of the key areas that makes Android stand out from other mobile platforms is its widget-friendly nature.
Widgets are essentially advanced app icons that provide you with up-to-date information at a glance. So, for example, you can have a calendar widget that shows you your next appointment, or a weather widget that shows you, well, the weather.
Another helpful one is the power control, which provides shortcut controls for wi-fi, GPS, and the like without your having to trawl through the settings menu every time.
The beauty of Android is that you can resize many of these widgets to show more or less information.
To place a widget on one of your home screens, it's typically a case of pressing and holding on a blank space and selecting 'Widgets.'
How to update your apps
Game developers are always updating their apps. While it might be a little annoying to have to keep downloading such updates, it's actually a good thing. It means your games will be constantly improved and expanded upon.
You'll be told when updates are available via a notification, and tapping on this will take you straight to the area of the Google Play Store that handles these updates.
If you want to check for updates manually, just go into the Google Play Store app, hit the three-dot icon at the top right and select 'My Apps'. This displays a list of all your apps (obviously) and will tell you whether any updates are available.
How to take a screenshot
Want to take a screen capture of a fantastic bit of a game you're playing, or of an innovative website you're visiting? Maybe, you want to share the moment with a friend, or to make the scene your wallpaper.
Whatever, you can do this on any device running Android Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. The process differs according to the phone, but try either holding the volume down and power buttons simultaneously, or the home and power buttons simultaneously. The captured image will be saved to your gallery.
How do I get a refund on this poopy app?
There are so many games (and apps) available in the Google Play Store for which you won't be able to find reviews on Pocket Gamer... or elsewhere. This means that you're bound to experience your fair share of duds.
If you realise you've made a serious error of judgement in purchasing yet another lightsaber app, don't worry: you have 15 minutes in which to secure a refund.
Just go back to the product page for the now-unwanted app on the Google Play Store and you'll see the option for a refund.
Which games should I get?
Now you have a good idea how to locate and download the apps that you want. So, err, what apps do you want?
Allow us to make some suggestions based on some of the most popular game categories. All of the following titles have won a Pocket Gamer Award of some description, which virtually guarantees a high degree of fun.
Rayman Jungle Run
By Ubisoft - buy for Android
Rayman Jungle Run is one of the critical darlings of the year thanks to its gorgeous Disney film-like graphics and intuitive single-button platforming.
By Robots vs Wizards - buy for Android
If you'd prefer to play a 'traditional' platform game on your new 'droid, then Paper Monsters is for you. Yep, you'll have freedom to roam and explore hidden areas.
Real Racing 2
By Electronic Arts - buy for Android
By downloading this amazing game, you have a console-style racer in the palm of your hands, complete with a roster of licensed 3D cars and realistic driving physics. Real Racing 2 feels real alright.
Reckless Racing 2
By Polarbit - buy for Android
If you prefer your racing looser and more arcade-y, check out Reckless Racing 2. It's full of varied events - both on and off-road - and plenty of power-sliding action.
Piyo Blocks 2
By Big Pixel Studios - buy for Android
Probably the slickest and purest match-three puzzler on the Google Play Store, Piyo Blocks 2 is a tactile joy to play.
By Cipher Prime - buy for Android
Splice is a completely different sort of puzzler, requiring you to manipulate molecules to form new patterns. It's beautiful, weird, and oddly calming.
New Star Soccer
By New Star Games - buy for Android
In New Star Soccer, you step into the boots of a young footballer who is tasked with making the crucial passes, shots, and off-pitch decisions throughout his career.
Backbreaker 2: Vengeance
By Ideaworks - buy on Android
Take to the American-football pitch and dodge, weave, and hurdle your way to the end zone as quickly as possible. It's like British bulldog with body armour.
Knights of Pen & Paper
By Behold Studios - buy for Android
This is a role-playing game in the truest sense, riffing charmingly and humorously on the old tabletop Dungeons & Dragons experiences.
By Spacetime Studios - buy on Android
Prefer your RPGs to be massively multiplayer and online? Arcane Legends is the ideal Android game for you, then, for it boasts a rich fantasy world and fun social questing.
Angry Birds Star Wars
By Rovio - buy for Android
Everyone knows about Angry Birds, and everyone knows about Star Wars. That you can experience them together in such fine style for free almost seems wrong. Almost.
By Halfbrick Studios - buy on Android
This shining light of the endless-runner genre sees you skimming along an interminable corridor, avoiding lasers and missiles and collecting coins. Riotously good fun.