Android A to Z: A glossary of Android jargon and technical terms

Do you know your ARM from your API from your ADB? We clear up the sometimes confusing terminology in the world of Android.

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youtube android overflow menu

The Overflow menu as seen in the YouTube app.

Overflow button: You know the three dots that appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screen in many Android apps? It has a name—the Overflow button. Tap it, and you’ll be able to get at additional options, tools, or settings that don’t have a home in an app’s toolbar.

Overlay: An overlay is a customized interface that smartphone manufacturers develop for their phones and place atop Android. Most custom overlays look, feel, and work similarly to unmodified “stock” Android, but are modified somewhat to suit manufacturers’ and carriers’ needs. Some overlays also come bundled with device-specific apps. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy devices run a customized version of Android that features Samsung’s TouchWiz interface and apps like Samsung Pay.

In truth, most manufacturer “overlays” are not merely overlaying a new interface on top of Android. Rather, the manufacturer has its own individual version of Android with its own interface, features, and hardware optimizations, or even the features for the carrier you bought the phone from. This is one reason Android operating system updates can take so long to reach you (see: Fragmentation). Still, these custom versions of Android are  often colloquially referred to as “overlays.”

Qi and PMA are two competing standards for wireless charging. The Wireless Power Consortium—which includes LG, HTC, and Verizon—backs Qi, while the PMA standard gets its backing from the AirFuel Alliance, a group that includes AT&T, Broadcom, Intel, Powermat, Duracell, and Starbucks. Some companies, like Samsung and Qualcomm, are involved in both groups.

Quick Charge: Typically, fully recharging a phone can take a few hours. Quick Charge, however, can help speed things up: It’s Qualcomm’s name for its fast-charging technology, and the company claims that it can increase your phone’s battery-charging speed by as much as 75 percent. To take advantage of Quick Charge, you need a device that supports it, as well as a Quick Charge wall adapter. Curious if your phone or tablet supports Quick Charge? Take a look at Qualcomm’s compatibility list (PDF). Other phone makers have built their own fast-charging capabilities into their phones—the Nexus 6P and 5X use USB Type-C’s power delivery standard to charge the phone faster, and Samsung has its own fast-charging technology in the Galaxy S6, to name a couple examples.

Rooting: By default, Android has security precautions in place to prevent you—or an unauthorized party—from messing up your phone too badly. When you “root” your phone, you bypass these security measures, which in turn allows you to customize it in ways that are otherwise not possible. You can even replace the Android OS that shipped with your phone with something else like Cyanogenmod, one of many alternative versions of Android out there. Rooting is, specifically, gaining “root access” to the operating system, allowing you to change or replace parts of the OS that you’re not meant to be able to tamper with.

As for the legality of rooting your phone, it’s allowed in the United States as of this writing through an exemption in the DMCA, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The bad news? That exemption runs only through the end of 2015.

Rooting your phone can allow you to do neat things, but it also poses a serious security risk.

Smart Lock: It’s a good idea to use a passcode or password to protect your phone, but it can be a pain to enter it every time you take your phone out of your pocket. Android’s Smart Lock feature can detect when you have your phone with you—when it does, it’ll remain unlocked. Smart Lock has lots of features and methods to unlock your phone: like when your phone is connected to a particular bluetooth device (like your car) or is in a specific location (your home or office). Smart Lock is also built into Chrome OS, and it even works with passwords.

Stock Android (Also vanilla Android): “Stock Android” is a term often used to describe pure, unadulterated Android—that is, versions of Android that phone vendors and carriers haven’t customized. It’s Google’s interface, features, and apps, and nothing else. Relatively few phones run unmodified versions of Android; if you want a phone running stock Android, your best bet is to go with one of the Nexus phones. Some manufacturers have their own versions of Android that look and feel very much like Stock Android, with precious few modifications only to enable exclusive features. Motorola, OnePlus, and Nvidia are good examples.

usb types compared

USB Type C (left) compared to the more common USB Type A (right).

USB Type-C: You’re probably familiar with a good many of the USB connectors out there: There’s USB Type A (the port most likely to be on your computer), USB Type B (often found on printers), Mini USB, and Micro USB (commonly found on phones and tablets).

USB Type C is a brand new USB connector that’s only a tiny bit larger than Micro USB and more versatile than other kinds of USB ports. For one, USB C connectors are reversible: You don’t need to figure out which way is the right side up as you do with other USB connectors. It also has a higher theoretical data rate, but your devices will need to use the USB 3.1 standard in order to take advantage of it. Perhaps most importantly, it makes possible much higher power transmission; enough to serve as the power cord for lightweight laptops.

For now, only a few Android devices, such as the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, make use of USB C, but you can expect to see it on more phones and tablets as time goes by.

WakeLock: Typically, you aren’t going to want your phone to stay awake indefinitely—you’ll want it to go to sleep after a set amount of time to prevent its battery from running out at an inopportune time. But once in a while, an app will need to keep the phone awake: For example, you probably don’t want your phone’s screen shutting off if you’re in the middle of a video chat, or while following step-by-step directions in your car.

This is where WakeLock comes into play: It’s a developer feature built into Android that lets an app force your phone to stay awake so it can carry out some sort of tasks. An app developer can choose to keep the screen awake or switch the screen off but keep the CPU running. (Technically, only the CPU-wake feature is known as a “wake lock,” but in casual use, the name is used to describe both functions.) 

intel core i7

An Intel Core i7 is one processor you won’t ever find in an Android phone, but there are smaller x86 chips made by Intel for mobile devices.

x86: If you are familiar with PC hardware, you’ve probably seen this term get brandied about. In short, x86 is a name given to the kind of processor architecture popularized by Intel and used by the vast majority of PCs. (More modern 64-bit x86 processors are sometimes called “x64” or “x86-64” chips, but they still fall under the x86 umbrella.) Intel’s Pentium, Celeron, and Core lines—as well as AMD’s processors—are all x86 processors. You won’t find x86 in many Android smartphones or tablets, but those that use Intel’s Atom processors are based on the x86 architecture.

This story, "Android A to Z: A glossary of Android jargon and technical terms" was originally published by Greenbot.

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