Who needs to carry a camera if a smartphone is at hand? The Android operating system packs enough of photo functionality that it can often stand in for both a camera and a PC. Once you've learned how to harness your Android phone's photo power, capturing and sharing memorable moments will always be a snap.
The Android Camera
Most Android phones have a dedicated hardware button for loading the built-in camera on demand. Alternatively, you can open it via the Camera app icon in the phone's app launcher. (If you like, you can place this icon on your home screen as a shortcut.)
When you open the Android camera, you'll see a large viewfinder plus a few on-screen buttons. If you rotate your phone horizontally, the uppermost button will be an icon for opening your phone's gallery of stored photos. The next button down is a switch that toggles between the phone's still photo and video-recording modes. Finally, the round button at the bottom is the shutter--the button you touch to capture a picture or to begin recording.
In still photo mode, you can tap anywhere on the image in the viewfinder to zoom in or out. Tapping once will bring up the zoom controls, so you can zoom in small increments. Double-tapping (tapping your finger twice in quick succession, much as you'd double-click a mouse) lets you quickly zoom all the way in or all the way out.
You can reach the camera's advanced options by tapping the Menu key and selecting options, or by touching the lined area to the far left of the screen. A slide-out menu will present you with options for photo size, photo quality, and whether to store location information along with the image.
Beginning with version 2.0 of the Android operating system, the settings panel includes other advanced camera options: built-in flash support, customizable scene modes (action mode, night mode, and so on), white balance, color effects, and macro focus mode. Phones running Android 2.0 or higher have an integrated digital zoom capability for magnifying an image to as much as four times its original size.
Viewing and Editing Photos
You can always use the Camera app to gain access to images stored on your phone: Just tap the small thumbnail image at the top left of the camera screen (the thumbnail always displays the most recent photo you've captured).
When you load your images in this way, you'll first see your most recent photo displayed at full-screen size. Tapping your finger on the image will enable you to zoom in or out; tapping your finger on the left or right side of the viewing area will let you move sequentially through the other stored images.
Buttons on the right side of the screen provide quick ways to delete the image; to share it via Bluetooth, e-mail, text message, Picasa, or any social networking app installed on your phone; and to set the image as your main system wallpaper or as an icon for someone in your contacts list.
By tapping the phone's Menu key, you'll gain options for rotating or cropping the image, as well as for viewing detailed information about the file.
Another possibility is to view images directly from Android's Gallery app, accessible from the phone's app launcher (and available as a shortcut that you can place on your home screen). Upon loading the Gallery, you'll be able to look at your photos and videos in various folders reflecting how and when you obtained them.
Once you've opened a folder, you can tap any image to view it at full-screen size. You can then tap the enlarged photo to zoom or to access other image management options.
The Gallery app allows you to play a slideshow of your photos, too. From inside a folder, tap the Menu key and select Slideshow to begin. To customize the slideshow, tap the Menu key and select Settings. There you'll find options for setting how long each image will remain displayed on-screen, what kind of transition will link images, and in what order the images will appear. The Settings menu also contains options for altering the size and order of thumbnails displayed in the Gallery application.
The Android Market offers many options for manipulating and editing images. Among the most advanced utilities is Adobe's free Photoshop.com Mobile app. The Photoshop app simplifies cropping, color correction, and blurring of your images.
Another useful app is the PicSay Photo Editor. This free app includes tools for color-correcting images and for adding visual effects, graphics, and word balloons. The PicSay Pro edition--priced at about $2.70--adds a bevy of additional photo-editing features, ranging from painting tools to multitouch-driven cut-and-paste utilities.
If you like widgets, you'll be pleased at the number of photo-related programs that can bring images onto your desktop. Android has a built-in photo gallery widget that lets you place a single, 2-by-2-inch photo on your home screen. The slightly more robust Androidlet Photo Widget (available for 99 cents from Android Market) lets you add live, cycling image galleries to your home screen in 1-by-1-inch, 2-by-2-inch, or 3-by-3-inch sizes. You can customize how frequently the images rotate and what kind of frame surrounds them, and you can even set the widget to display images from Flickr, Picasa, or another online photo gallery.
Other Ways to Get Images
Besides using photos that you've snapped yourself, you can download images from the Internet or transfer them directly from your computer. Any image you save onto your phone, regardless of where you store it, will always show up in the Gallery application.
To grab an image from the Web, simply press and hold your finger on it while in your phone's browser. A menu will pop-up with the option to save the image to your phone. To save an image from your computer, drag and drop it from your PC while your phone is connected via USB.
For comprehensive tips about Android and reviews of the best apps and devices to help you get the most out of the mobile operating system, order PCWorld's Android Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.