Copy & Paste

A powerful yet completely hidden feature is easy to use once you find it.

Those of us who have been using Android for many months and years may take it for granted, but the ability to copy and paste text on our phones isn't the most discoverable feature in the OS. Android has steadily marched away from "hidden" features behind long-press actions since Ice Cream Sandwich was released, but copy & paste is one of the last big features holding on.

Adding to some of the confusion are different apps and manufacturer software customizations that handle copy & paste differently, which certainly isn't helping new users. Hang tight after the break where we quickly break down using one of the more useful features of your Android phone or tablet.

Copy & Paste Copy & Paste

Although there are some small differences in implementation, the general process of using copy & paste is quite simple. Find the block of text that you'd like to copy, and do a long press on it. A menu will pop down from the top of the screen and you'll see small tabs and a highlight on the selected text appear as well. Drag the tabs to select the desired text you wish to copy, and look up to that new menu.

In the top bar, from left to right are options to select all text, copy selected text, share the selected text and perform a Google search on the selected text. The buttons aren't the most intuitive, but once you're used to what they do this copy & paste menu becomes quite useful. When you want to paste the text you copied, simply do another long press in a text field and select the "paste" option that pops up.

As we noted before, many of us are already pros with copy & paste and other basic functions on Android, but remember that many of us are also new to the platform. Use this opportunity (and guide) to show someone you know how to better take advantage of the copy & paste functions on their own Android, and they'll be on their way to power user status in no time.


Reader comments

Android 101: Using copy & paste


I find it awkward to use the tabs to select the precise text I want to copy. Anybody have any tips for that?

Posted via Android Central App

Not only do I find it extremely awkward and hard to use and frustraing, on some sites it is so slow to do it is almost unusable. I was trying to select some text in a scrolling region on a forum yesterday on my Nexus 10 and finally just gave up in disgust.

One of the weaker UI elements in Android for sure.

I agree, it's pretty annoying especially when you have text that isn't in a simple paragraph on a page.

Some manufacturers "zoom" around the handles when you touch them to help you precisely select text, but i don't think it helps that much.

On my droid 1 with froyo you just swyped on the text you wanted with your finger tip and traced down the words, and it highlighted and selected. But hard to do with big fingers

Nice brief article. A suggestion, however.

Since "The buttons aren't the most intuitive" why not revise the article a bit, and show a screen shot of each button, along with the button's function. I think this would clarify the issue a bit better. Some people might not even know where the buttons you're referring to are on the screen. :)

He did say that they were at the top of the screen, and shows a screen shot of them, and details each one, left to right, in the article.

Before we get the inevitable "Must be a slow news day!" or "Does anyone really not know how to do this already?" comments, everybody needs to remember that not everyone has been using Android phones since the G1 & OG Droid.

There is someone somewhere who just bought a Moto X, Galaxy S4, or HTC One as there first Android phone today & is online trying to find this info out. That is who these Android 101's are for...not the people who already know.


Copy and paste is a feature I use a lot on my Android, and up until 4 months ago my wife didn't know how to do it nor did she know that it was available without installing a 3rd party app. And while we're talking copy/paste, let them know about the wonderful clipboard feature as well.

I'm thinking those coming from a G1 and OG Droid would have more problems with copy/paste than people new to Android.

Does anyone remember when you had to press the menu button and select "copy" to copy text? You had to drag over whatever you wanted to copy and once you released your finger, whatever you ran your finger over was copied to the clipboard. I had to train myself to over-copy things otherwise I wouldn't get the right area selected. Then paste and shave off the beginning and end to get exactly what I wanted.

I found this way to copy/paste after I bought my nexus 7 2013. I have had every nexus device except a nexus 10 so I'm not sure on that one. Also any other phone/tab with on screen buttons. But if you hold in the black where the on screen buttons are (not the actual button) just the black part, then press the word you want to highlite. Bam!!! copy/paste away.

That's a neat trick. It basically just works as a press and hold without pressing and holding what you're tapping on. For instance, if you hold the area you're talking about and click on a link, you'll get the options to open in a new tab, incognito tab, copy link, etc.

I find it difficult to copy on Nexus 7 2013 just by holding my finger on browser text. It seems like the high resolution screen means your finger moves too many pixels to register as a hold or something. My only big problem with interface so far. Will try this way

Great to keep seeing these Android 101's. I love Google and Android, but my biggest beef is how it's not clear on how to access all the neat little features.

For example, after updating my GS3 to 4.1.2, there was nothing at all that even showed what the new features were. The phone was just simply, updated. If I didn't look it up online myself, I would still never know about multi-window.

Shame apps like Twitter won't let you copy/paste -- I assume because they want you to visit the website. The latest versions don't even appear to show the tweet contents when you "share" them, just the URL. I use to work around it by sharing to "copy to clipboard" then deleting the extraneous link to the tweet.

I also have an app (I can't actually remember what it is now!) that only seems to let me copy one word -- I can long press to highlight the word and show the tabs, but then can't drag the tabs.

One of the problems is the Menu which pops up when you select text. The icons are not labeled, I initially couldn't tell which one would be copy selection or copy all.

If you hold down on any of the buttons, it'll tell you which one it is. After a while, you remember what they are.

THANK YOU!!!! I've been using Nexus 4 since February and this simple function of cutting and pasting was always a bit of trial and error simply because I never was sure what exact functions the task bar icons executed. Not so much when using Chrome browser, but in other applications like Google Keep there is also a cut icon and a clipboard icon, and several of those icons overlap functions, i.e., "cut" also seems to copy. I agree with another poster above that it might have been helpful, for those of us who are novices and perpetual newbs, to have screenshots for each task bar icon. Regardless I appreciate the article. Thanks.

I can't stand it when apps won't use copy and paste! Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ are guilty of this. I don't always want to share, like, +1, etc., an entire post - sometimes I just want a portion of it or want to quote a portion in a reply to the post. It's really obnoxious.

Too bad getting the "Paste" feature to work is so iffy - unless I'm trying to paste in a nice big blank space at the end of a line, I never get the "Paste" action to select. Perhaps there's some trick that I'm missing, but trying to paste something between words just never brings up the action.

Thanks for this tip. On my LG-P705 with Android 4.0.3 I see a different menu. Standard it shows 'Select all', but tapping on the bar with three dots at the right there is an option 'Copy' to copy just a selected part.

Mine looks nothing like this. Thanks for nothing ac
Edit: although this was a bad tutorial for beginners it did give me the motivation to figure it out myself. So in that regard.i thank you. Shouldve explained all the icons and what they mean cuz every oem/phone will be different love the site guys and app looks great

People need to remember these are actualy little computers and a good rule of thumb is a long press more or less generates what a right click would perform and a regular touch is a left click

I used to have a Torch 9800. Copy & paste on a BlackBerry is so effortless. Direct typing on the physical keyboard is the best. Google please buy BlackBerry and make some good phones for them.

Posted from my Nexus 4 via Android Central App

It always seems to work well apart from in the stock browser, then it's very hit n miss..
A shame really because it will frustrate new users...

"Copy" on Android was not intuitive for me either... I expected to highlight, tap and hold and select "Copy/Paste" from a context menu. I cannot find any "Copy" context menu -- it seems you have to tap and hold above a word you want to copy, wait for the text brackets to show up, adjust the brackets to highlight the region you want to copy and then click the "Copy" icon at the top.... way more work that it should be, but Apple probably patented copying with tap and hold? (Though I would have sworn Windows Mobile did the same thing years before iPhone/iPad was ever thought of...basically tap and hold was the trigger for "Right click" context menu)

hey, hi, kk, well that is all fine and dandy for a small amount of text, but oh, hey, i am in a small predicament here,nwhich of course i can work around, but so i have a long 4 paragraphs to move to a new surface, when i long press i choose select all (the first of the 3 choices .. select all, cut, copy {•••}, all is selected but, when it does the menu at the top of the screen actually gets shoved right off the screen and is unreachable. i have not looked but it would be nice if copy was in the phone menu button, i know it is not but will look. i can not believe these systems are out here after 40 years of personel computers and we are actually wasting a thread on copy paste intuitiveness. oh well rolfmao i guess.

no, the command for issueing a copy ehen the menu goes off the top and is un tapable is not in the menu button. (the samsung has a great paste function i must say, there is a button to get to the clip board where it saves allcoppied stuff to be pasted from. well i guess i will copy short parts, but wow, how will i be programming with a limitation like that... lol i will have to design a program to issue copy event to a program and set a trigger for it in, hey, the phone menu button would a likely place. ya, 40 years computers have beenvaround and we want to go livenon mars.. bahaha, i must say.

it seems from what i see: each program writes it'own presentation of menu's and therefore the operating system, though has a system it gets overridden by the app author. a system of to many chiefs, if you ask me. i bet there is an app out there that can centralize and standardize the function, it really should be exactly the same across the board. copy paste is a huge function of operating a computer.

I'm a newbie altogether, so my comments may sound laughable, begging your collective patience. As a therapist, all I care about copying currently is lengthy text MESSAGES so I can put them either in Dropbox or e-mails that I can print out to add to client charts later as I do w/ our e-mail correspondence from my lappy. Anyway, on a text message I can COPY from the menu options, but to where it goes I have no idea, esp. as no amt. of "long-holding" ever produces a PASTE command, much less anything being pasted! My Android is a ZTE Valet, 4.1.1, if that's of any import.

I switched from the iPhone about 5 months ago and I know 3 things: photography is better on the iPhone, music is better on Android, and copy and paste on the S4 still annoys the hell out of me.

But, ironically, I just noticed that copy and paste works awesome on the new Firefox beta. lol

its a big bug in android 4.4 because once u make copy u cantt make any kind of other copy until u release the clipboard somewhat and somewhere.!!!!.So its happened into 4.4 and its a big mistake for programers, u can make any copy for a number on agend for example to send someone the contact after u have somethng in clipboard.Very annoyant thing.

This is basically insane. Why is copy and paste so unintuitive? Needs to be dead simple. Instead Android has chosen to make this basic set of functions into a puzzle. i'm puzzled why this hasn't been addressed yet. The icons are a confusing jumble. Change this.

Unfortunately, this obvious type of procedure simply does not work in DejaOffice/Calendar for me. The movable tabs only appear about once in fifty attempts, preventing me from selecting a string of words, which I frequently need to do. The rest of the time I get either: 1. whole word selection, 2. location selection, 3. a random number of words selected. The drop down menu above only gives you option to "select all" - which works, but is of limited usefulness.
I have tried short presses, long presses, double presses, sweeping presses, 2 finger presses - nothing works consistently.
I am running latest Android & DejaOffice on a Galaxy/Note 4.