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Android and iOS (iPad / iPhone) devices each make up roughly half of sales of tablets and smartphones in the UK. Apple's iPads are used widely in schools for educational purposes, while Android devices are more likely to be used at home.

While iPhones and iPads are all made by Apple, phones and tablets using the Android operating system are made by many different companies, including Samsung, Acer, HTC, Huawei and LG. There is a much broader price range for Android devices, compared with Apple, with 10" tablets available for less than £65 in April 2020 and the highest specification devices typically costing around £750. If you are wanting to use a tablet for watching videos, listening to music, online shopping, social media and the occasional basic game, it makes perfect sense to get a relatively low cost Android (though we wouldn't recommend the very cheapest devices).

When you buy a new iPad or iPhone, it will generally have the latest version of the iOS / iPadOS and the same apps pre-installed. The Android situation is more complicated. Devices are sold with different versions of the Android operating system and it is not always possible to upgrade to later versions. As of July 2020, Version 10 is the latest operating system, but Version 11 is in 'beta' for testing. Until recently Version 10 was only available on Google Pixel devices, but it is now becoming available for other devices. Version 9 (also known as Pie), released in 2018, will still be found on many new devices, though some of the cheaper devices may only have Version 8 (Oreo) or even Version 7 (Nougat), which was released in 2016. In addition to the basic operating system, tablets will come with a variety of apps pre-installed. Some of these are common to most Android devices, while others will only be installed by a particular manufacturer. These will generally allow you to browse the internet, read emails, take notes, play music and videos, etc. When you buy an Android device make sure it has the features and apps you need, or be prepared to buy and install any additional apps you may want.


Getting Started with the Android

When you first use an Android tablet or phone, you will be asked to set up a 4-digit PIN to allow you to access the device, and you will have to provide details of your Google (gmail) account. If you already have a Google account, your emails, calendar, etc. can be transferred to your new device. If you don't have a Google Account, you will need to create one to get additional apps and to make full use of your device.

Using Your Android.

Finding your way about an Android tablet can be daunting, particularly if you haven't used an Android phone. If you have used an iPad / iPhone, some features will be familiar, but it can take a while to get used to the differences compared with the Apple devices. There is a useful series of articles on the How to Geek web site to help you with Getting the Most from your Android Device.


Getting Apps from Google Play

Most Android devices come with many useful apps installed, but there will always be other apps that you will want to add, e.g. particular games, educational apps, apps relating to hobbies and interests. You can search for and download apps from the Google Play store, which currently has nearly 3 million apps, or by tapping on the Play Store icon on your tablet. You can also get movies, music and digital books from the Play Store.

Using a computer, go to the Google Play Store to get apps for your Android device. When you go to the store, you'll arrive at a general 'welcome' screen offering you a choice of Apps, Movies, Music, Books, etc.. Choose Apps, for the moment. If you know the title of the app you want, or a word in the title, enter it into the Search box at the top of the screen and click on the blue Search button. Alternatively, you can search by Categories.

Once you have found the app that you want to install, click on its icon and you will be taken to a screen with more information about it. The Play Store will tell you if the App is compatible with your device.
It is also a good idea to check the rating given to an app and to read any reviews available on the Play Store to see what other people think about it.

You can install an app directly onto your device by using the Google Play app. Tap on the Play Store icon on your device. The opening screen will vary, depending on your use of the device as the Play Store tries to guess your interests, but you will be able to search for apps by name, or category.


Built-in Accessibility Features

Android devices have had various accessibility features to help people with various disabilities added over the course of the years so that by Android 9 the features provided either built-in, or with the addition of the downloadable Android Accessibility Suite, are fairly comprehensive. Tap on Settings, then Accessibility to see the available functions:

Screen Reader

The built-in Voice Assistant can be used to provide spoken descriptions to support blind and low-vision users, describing what you touch and activate on the screen. There is a Tutorial accompanying Voice Assistant and various Settings can be adjusted to suit the user. TalkBack is also available within the Accessibility Suite.

Visibility Enhancements

Turning on High Contrast Fonts should adjust the outline of fonts to make letters stand out, but the difference is marginal. The High Contrast Keyboard settings are very helpful for many users, providing different colour combinations: black text on yellow keys; white on black; white on blue, in addition to the standard black text on white keys. Colour Inversion can help some people, but can make it harder to identify icons. Colour Correction can support people with different forms of colour blindness, but there are no options to provide screen tinting for people with Visual Stress. Screen tinting can only be provided by using an additional app, such as TintVision or Color Filter.
A screen magnifier is available to allow a portion of the screen to be enlarged, while Screen zoom allows all objects on the screen to be increased in size.

Hearing Enhancements

The Sound detectors feature can provide a visual alert for a D/deaf person, warning them of a sound, e.g. a baby crying, a fire alarm or a doorbell.

Google Subtitles (Closed Captions) appear to be available, but it is not clear how they work on our Android Galaxy Tab A - it may be that they only work on certain Android devices.

Interaction and Dexterity

The Android has a range of features to support people with a physical disability which makes it hard to control the device with a finger. These include:

  • Switch access - allows the user to select an option from the screen by pressing a switch.
  • Assistant menu - allows a choice of up to 6 out of 17 actions that a person may find hard, e.g. taking a screenshot, a pinch-zoom, etc., to be carried out with a single tap (on the screen, or on a switch).
  • Interaction control - allows touch interaction with certain buttons and parts of the screen to be blocked.
  • Touch settings - various settings can be adjusted to help a person with fine motor control difficulties - Touch and hold delay, Tap Duration, Ignore repeated touches.

Advanced Settings

These include options to use combinations of the Power and Volume Up Keys, and the Volume Up and Volume Down keys to turn on various accessibility settings. There is also an option to turn on Flash notifications, which allow the camera flash to be used to indicate a notification or alarm.

Text to Speech Support

The Android operating system includes a text-to-speech facility, known as Select to Speak. In Android 6, this can be found in Settings - Accessibility - Vision. In later versions, you can access it through the Android Accessibility Suite. We have more information about built-in text-to-speech features and apps on our Text to Speech on Android Tablets and Phones page.


Which apps to use with an Android device?

In early 2020 there were 2.8 million apps available for Android devices in the Google Play Store, compared with 2.2 million for iPads / iPhones in Apples App Store. The Android operating system was developed by Google, so it is no surprise that a broad range of Google Apps is included with most devices, including Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheet) Slides (presentation). If a school works in a Google / Chromebook environment, then it would make sense to use these apps along with others, such as Google Classroom (for distributing assignments, etc.), Google Meet (for video conferencing). However, if the school uses Microsoft software (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Teams, etc.) then an Android device is still suitable as these programs are all available (though in a slightly cut-down format).

Although there are more apps for Android devices than for iPads, there are more educational apps for iPads, particularly when it comes to apps to support learners with additional support needs. We have produced posters with 'wheels' of Android Apps for Learners with Dyslexia / Reading and Writing Difficulties and of Android Apps for Complex Communication Support Needs. These posters try to categories apps by the features they provide and the needs they attempt to address. There are links from the name of each app to its description in the Google Play store, but these posters don't address all needs.

You will be able to get ideas for more apps to try from some of our other posters, designed for people with iPads. Many iPad apps are also available for Androids, though they may not be exactly the same, so if you are looking for Android apps to support learners with Complex Additional Support Needs, or Dyscalculia / Numeracy Difficulties, you may want to see what is available for the iPad and then check the Google Play Store to see if it is also available for Android devices. You may also want to have a look at our iPad Apps to Support Creativity and our Chromebook Apps and Extensions for Learners with Dyslexia posters.


Further Information - useful list of educational apps for Android devices from TeachThought. - news, reviews, comment on everything Android. - lots of articles and videos on android devices and apps from the makers of the "... for Dummies" books. - useful list of "Top 100" Educational Android Apps, categorised by subject area, though lacking in apps for additional support needs. - guide to getting started with an Android tablet. - How to Geek guide to Getting the Most from your Android Device.


Using Android Tablets to develop handwriting skills: A case study, Miguel Candeiasa, Maria Gentil, et al.

Educational apps from the Android Google Play for Greek preschoolers: A systematic review, Stamatios Papadakis Michail Kalogiannakis and Nicholas Zaranis.

Presentation of Social Stories with Tablet Computers in Social Skill Instruction for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Ozge Ozdemir, Ceyda Turhan.