Android A to Z

A glossary of Android terms

If you're new to Android, you might find yourself wondering exactly what we're talking about from time to time. As such, here's a glossary of terms you're likely to run across.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

  • ADB: Android Debug Bridge. A tool used to connect and sends commands to your Android phone from a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Alphabet: Umbrella corporation formed in 2013 by Google CEO Larry Page that wholly owns Google, Inc.
  • AMOLED: Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode. Basically, a very colorful, bright, display found in some smartphones. (See also Super AMOLED.)
  • Android: Google's open-source mobile operating system. It's used primarily in smartphones but also can be found on tablets, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) or even in kitchen appliances and automobile navigation. 
  • Android Market: The original name for Google's repository for Android applications. Rebranded in March 2012 to Google Play.
  • Android Sideload Wonder Machine: A simple program for Windows or Linux and Mac that lets you easily sideload applications.
  • Android Pay: Google's contactless payment system, born from the old Google Wallet.
  • Android TV: Google's not-quite-a-set-top-box TV interface.
  • Andy RubinFormer Vice President of Engineering at Google, overseeing project strategy and development of Android. Founder of Danger, which created the Sidekick and was later bought by Microsoft.
  • AOKP: The Android Open Kang Project. A group that takes the open-source Android code and compiles it with other customizations for multiple devices.
  • AOSP: The Android Open Source Project. When you hear about Android being "open source," this is what we're talking about. It's a repository of the code released by Google, which can be downloaded and compiled by anyone. (If you know how.) 
  • .apk: The file extension of an Android application.
  • AppsShort for "applications." The programs you download and run on a smartphone. Can be free, or for sale.
  • App Inventor: Google's web-based system by which Android applications can be made without having to know how to code. Discontinued by Google, but released by MIT as an open-source project. 
  • Apps2SD: An unapproved method of storing applications on the device's microSD card. An official method was included in Android 2.2, mostly making this moot.
  • Archos: A line of mid-grade Android tablets. Not all that well known, but held in fairly high regard.
  • ASUS: A Taiwanese manufacturer of phones and tablets. (Among many other things.)
  • AT&TOne of the four major U.S. carriers.
  • AWS: Stands for Advanced Wireless Services. It is a band of frequencies used for cellphone connectivity, occupying the combined 1700MHz and 2100MHz frequencies (aka 1700/2100MHz.) Used primarily by T-Mobile USA for HSPA+ service, and by other carriers for LTE service.

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B

  • Bloat(ware): Applications — usually unwanted — that are preloaded onto a device. It's a bit subjective as to what constitutes bloatware, and the flip side is that these applications are what allow carriers to sell phones and tablets at subsidized prices.
  • Bluetooth: A short-range radio build into smartphones that lets you connect headsets, speakerphones or even computers to your smartphone.
  • Bootloader: An internal mode on a phone that helps in the flashing of ROMs and other behind-the scenes actions.
  • Breaksclusive: Not breaking news, not exclusive news. It's BREAKSCLUSIVE!
  • BSI: Backside Illumination. Used to improve low-light performance in smartphone cameras.

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C

  • CarrierA company that provides cell phone service.
  • CDMA: One of two major standard for cell phone communications. Is used by Sprint and Verizon in the United States, and by a few nations elsewhere. Is largely seen as a dying standard. (See also GSM)
  • CESNorth America's largest consumer electronics show, held in January at the Las Vegas Convention Center. 
  • Civilian: What we lovingly call a non-smartphone nerd. Someone who doesn't buy a phone every few months.
  • Clockwork: Developer of the ClockworkMod custom recovery mode for Android.
  • Command line: In Windows, it's a DOS prompt or Command Prompt. In Linux or Mac, it's Terminal.
  • Craplet: A cheap tablet, often one that doesn't even have Google apps installed.
  • CTIAA U.S. convention of the wireless industry. Nobody really knows what the abbreviation stands for anymore.
  • Cupcake: Android 1.5. (More on Android versions here.)
  • CyanogenThe online handle of one Steve Kondik, relatively famous in the hacking and modding community and the creator of the CyanogenMod series of ROMs. Also Cyanogen, Inc. which provides commercial Android software for several companies, like OnePlus.

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D

  • Dalvik Cache: Writable cache that contains the optimized bytecode of all apk files (apps) on your Android device. Having the information in it's own cache makes applications load faster and perform better.
  • Donut: Android 1.6. (More on Android versions here.)
  • DLNA: Dynamic Living Network Alliance. A method for wirelessly streaming photos and videos from your smartphone to your TV.
  • DroidAn extremely popular horizontal slider made by Motorola on the Verizon network. The first to run Android 2.0 (and Android 2.0.1). Is currently running Android 2.1. Also the name for a line of Verizon Android phones.

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E

  • Earth: Mostly harmless.
  • Eclair: Android 2.0 - 2.1. (More on Android versions here.)
  • EOL: Stands for "End of Life." Means a carrier or manufacturer is phasing out a particular product. It does not necessarily mean that phone or tablet is bad, nor will anyone come and take your EOL'd device away from you.
  • ETF: Stands for Early Termination Fee. Also known as an ETF, it's what a carrier chargers you to break out of your contract. Usually are prorated.

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F

  • Factory restore/reset: See hard reset.
  • FastbootAnother mode akin to the bootloader, from which you can manually flash low-level components onto a phone.
  • FC: Short for "force close," meaning an app that has crashed.
  • Froyo: Android 2.2. Announced at Google IO in May 2010, first released onto the Nexus One. (More on Android versions here.)

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G

  • Galaxy: The brand name for Samsung's mobile ecosystem.
  • Geotagging: Wherein in your phone finds your location via GPS and attaches coordinates to pictures you're taking. Can be a privacy/security concern.
  • Gingerbread: Android 2.3. Mostly a behind-the-scenes update, though there are some UI tweaks. First loaded on the Nexus S. (More on Android versions here.)
  • Gmail: Google's web-based e-mail service.
  • GoogleOur benevolent overlord, and owner of Android.
  • Google Now: An enhanced, location-aware section within the Google search app. Offers timely info, such as weather updates, transit times and locations, photo spots and travel times when out and about.
  • Google Play: Google's one-stop online shop for movies, music, apps, games and books. At the time of its launch on March 6, 2012, it basically was a rebranded Android Market.
  • Google TV: Announced at the Google IO conference in May 2010, it's a combination of hardware and Android that features a full web browser, Android applications, and combines it with video that's available online -- Youtube, television, etc. Now defunct, and missed by nobody.
  • Google Wallet: Google's early attempt at a mobile payment system based on NFC. Has since been replaced by Android Pay. (Google Wallet lives on as a peer-to-peer payment system.)
  • Gorilla Glass: A scratch-resistant glass product from Corning used on a number of smartphones and tablets.
  • GPS: Stands for Global Positioning System. Uses a constellation of satellites in space to find your location on the ground.
  • GSMOne of two major standard for cell phone communications. Is used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States, and by the majority of carriers worldwide. (See also CDMA)

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H

  • Hack (Hacking): Modifying the Android system to add customization, features, or bypass carrier and manufacturer restrictions. See root.
  • Hard reset: The act of resetting your phone to its "factory" state. Erases all user data, logins and passwords. May or may not erase what's on the internal storage or microSD card, too. (Also see soft reset.)
  • Hiroshi Lockheimer: Senior VP of Android, Chrome and Chromecast for Google, Inc.
  • Honeycomb: Android 3.0. The first version of Android designed with tablets specifically in mind. Allows apps to "fragment" or split over a single screen. Is the first Android version to fully support dual-core processors. The first tablet with Honeycomb was the Motorola Xoom.
  • HTCA Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer. And a darn good one.
  • Huawei: A major Chinese manufacturer, handles infrastructure as well as handsets and tablets. Gold Nexus 6P.

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I

  • Ice Cream Sandwich: Android 4.0. The follow up to the tablet-centric Android 3.0/3.1 that brought Honeycomb-like features back to Android smartphones. First appeared on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
  • IFA: Internationale Funkausstellung — an annual consumer electronics show hosted in Berlin, Germany. International, and funky — just as described.
  • IMEI: Stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. Basically a unique identification number assigned to every phone.
  • Intel: The longtime processor manufacturer. Entered the Android arena in 2012 with its "Medfield" Atom processor. At CES 2012, announced a deal with Motorola. Four years later, threw in the towel.
  • IPS: Stands for "in-plane switching." Gives better viewing angles and better color reproduction. First gained popularity in Apple displays, then made its way to mobile devices.

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J

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K

  • Kernel: The basic Linux building block of Android. It's what lets your phone do its thing.
  • KeyboardEither "physical" or "on-screen," depending on the phone.
  • Kindle Amazon's popular tablets and e Readers. Also an app for Android.
  • KitKat: Android 4.4. Released with the Nexus 5, KitKat brought a flat style and big changes to Android, along with a partnership with Hershey USA. (More on Android versions here.)

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L

  • Launcher: Collectively, the part of the Android user interface on home screens that lets you launch apps, make phone calls, etc. Is built in to Android, or can be purchased in the Android Market.
  • Legacy: Code name for "old."
  • LGA Korean electronics and smartphone manufacturer.
  • Linux: An open source variant of Unix that is used as the underlying system on Android devices. Next year will always be the year of Linux on the desktop, but every year is the year of Linux in your pocket.
  • Live wallpapersAnimated wallpapers introduced in Android 2.1.
  • Lollipop: Android 5.0 - 5.1.1. Released with the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, Lollipop brought Material Design and 64-bit support to Android. (More on Android versions here.)
  • LTE: Stands for "Long-Term Evolution." Is considered to be one of the "true" methods of 4G data (even if it technically isn't). First rolled out by Verizon in late 2010, and then by AT&T in late 2011, and Sprint will begin using it in mid-2012.

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M

  • Manufacturer: A company that physically builds cell phones.
  • Marshmallow: Android 6.0 - 6.0.1. Released with the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6P, Marshmallow brought major security features and improved battery life with doze. (More on Android versions here.)
  • MetroPCS: Regional and Prepaid carrier in the U.S. generally put in the "second tier" carrier category. Now part of T-Mobile USA.
  • Mobile World Congress (MWC): A European wireless industry trade show, held in Barcelona, Spain, the past few years.
  • MotorolaManufacturer of smartphones and other hand-held wireless devices.
  • MTP: Stands for Media Transfer Protocol. Designed by Microsoft, and used by devices that have a single, unpartitioned storage structure to transfer files to and from a computer.

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N

  • Nexus: A line of smartphones created in conjunction with Google. Also known as "Pure Google" devices. Generally are the first to launch with major updates to Android, as well as the first to receive updates. Gold Nexus is best Nexus.
  • NFCNear-field communication. Short-range communication between your phone and something else -- another phone, a cash register, etc. Used by some credit cards as a method of quick payment.

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O

  • OEM: Stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. Used by folks in the industry to mean "manufacturer."
  • Open GL: An open source 3D graphics library used in many devices, including Android devices
  • Open Source: Software which is liberally licensed to grant the right of users to study, change, and improve its design through the availability of its source code.
  • OTA: Stands for Over the Air. The act of moving data to your phone — downloading, really— without having to plug it in. Most Android system updates are OTA, as are application downloads.

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P

  • PenTile: A subpixel layout scheme, patented by Samsung, that allows greater luminance at a lower power draw. RGBG Pentile uses alternating green pixels and has more definition than RGBW, which adds a white subpixel.  
  • PIN: Stands for Personal Identification Number. Often four digits.
  • Pixel: An individual dot on the display. Also a way to measure the resolution of a camera (usually in millions of pixels). Pixels usually are made up of sub-pixels. The arrangement of those sub-pixels affects the way you see images and text.
  • PPI: Pixels per inch. How we determine a display's "pixel density." The more pixels in a display, the better graphics and text look. 
  • PRL: The Preferred Roaming List, basically a way of telling your phone which towers to connect to first.
  • Project Butter: Software enhancements introduced in Android 4.1 to improve the smoothness of on-screen transitions and animations. Project Butter uses software tricks like vertical sync (vsync) and triple-buffering to display a smooth, consistent frame rate throughout the UI.

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Q

  • Q:uit asking us when your phone will be updated.
  • QR code: A black-and-white barcode that, when scanned by your phone, can open a web link, point to an application, etc.

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R

  • Reset (hard, soft): The rebooting of the phone. A soft reset is turning your phone off and on, or pulling the battery. A hard reset also is referred to as a factory reset, and wipes your personal information from the device.
  • Resolution: The term used to describe how many individual pixels are in a display. A common phone resolution is 720x1280, or 720 pixels in the short dimension, with 1280 in the long dimension. The more pixels you have in a display, the better the pixels per inch (ppi), making text and images more crisp.
  • ROM: Literally, "Read Only Memory." In Android, it's what you load for a major software update. "Custom ROMs" are just that — developed outside control of a manufacturer or carrier.
  • Recovery Mode: A small separate operating mode you can boot your device into, used for device administration. Two popular custom recovery modes are Amon Ra and Clockwork.
  • Root: A method of unlocking the Android operating system to allow deeper programs deeper access than is allowed out of the box. (For more on root, click here.)
  • Root (SD card): The base folder (or top level) of the card. Often referred to as /sdcard in a file structure.
  • RTFM: Read the (ahem) friggin' manual.

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S

  • Samsung: A Korean electronics company. Manufacturer of the Galaxy S series of Android phones, among others.
  • SD card (or microSD card): A small plastic "card" that expands the available storage memory on your phone. Used by applications to store data, and you can store ringtones, pictures, etc., on it.
  • SDK: Stands for Software Development Kit. Generally, a set of tools used to create software for a certain platform following guidelines provided in the kit. For Android, the SDK provides tools to create applications that run on Android devices.
  • Sense: A custom user interface (or skin) on top of Android. Exclusive to HTC smartphones.
  • Services: Portions of code that run in the background to provide content and services to applications.
  • Sideload: The act of installing an app outside of Google Play. AT&T (tries to) prohibit its phones from doing this.
  • Sideload Wonder Machine: A simple open-source program that lets you sideload apps via computer, bypassing any restrictions a carrier might have put in place.
  • SIM card: The little card used in nearly every phone that connects the phone to the network. Generally refers to a physical card, though some phones may have a virtual SIM — and a few use both.
  • Soft reset: The act of rebooting your phone, whether intentionally or otherwise. Same effect as when you remove and replace the battery. (Also see hard reset.)
  • Sony Ericsson: A joint wireless venture from Sony and Ericsson. Dissolved in 2012, and the mobile arm will be marketed under the Sony name.
  • SprintOne of the four major U.S. carriers.
  • Sundar Pichai: Former head of Android, Chrome and Google Drive, now Chief Executive Officer of Google Inc.
  • Super AMOLED: A generation ahead of AMOLED displays. Lighter, more power-efficient and less reflective than AMOLED. (See AMOLED)
  • Super AMOLED Plus: Take an AMOLED screen. Instead of eight subpixels per pixel, there are 12. Pretty awesome, actually.
  • Super Phone: Something other people call smartphones. If you see it used at Android Central, e-mail your favorite editor so the rest of us can make fun of the person responsible.

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T

  • T-Mobile: One of the four major U.S. carriers. Had the very first Android phone, the G1.
  • TetheringThe act of using your smartphone's data to provide Internet access to another device, such as a laptop. Can be done wirelessly, or via a USB cable.
  • TouchWiz: Samsung's custom user interface, though it's no longer formerly referred to in that manner.

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U

  • USB: Stands for Universal Serial Bus. Is a method of connecting devices to a computer. Most smartphones now use microUSB cables to charge and sync.
  • UMS: Stands for USB Mass Storage. Older devices with SD cards or partitioned internal storage mount that storage as UMS when connecting to a computer. Files can then be moved to and from the device.

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V

  • Vanilla: A term used to describe stock Android.
  • Verizon: One of the four major U.S. carriers. Launched the "Droid" line of phones.
  • Viewsonic: A longtime electronics maker that also includes some Android devices.

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W

  • Widget: A slice or certain view of an application that can be placed on one of your homescreens, for quick and easy access. [YouTube link]
  • Wipe: To completely erase a device. See hard-reset.
  • World phone: A phone that works on CDMA networks as well as GSM networks outside of the home country.

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X Y Z

  • Xiaomi: A China-based manufacturer of phones, tablets, cameras and all sorts of cool gadgets.
  • YouTubeGoogle's web-based streaming video service. Accessible from an Android phone.
  • ZTE: A China-based company that focuses on mid-range Android devices.

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