Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

Get more from your Google-powered TV or set-top box

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets
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Android TV isn't going anywhere: we're seeing more and more televisions with the platform built in (from the likes of Philips and Sony), while Nvidia recently refreshed its popular Shield TV set-top box, which also runs Android TV.

All the important details about the platform can be found at our comprehensive guide to Android TV, but if you're just looking to get more from your own smart TV setup then read on for our top Android TV tips and tricks, with details on a few great hidden features you might not have known about...

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

Add a gaming controller to Android TV

There are plenty of great games for Android TV, but playing them with a remote control isn't the easiest. You're much better off pairing up a Bluetooth-enabled game controller – newer PS4s and Xbox Ones have compatible controllers, or there are a ton of cheap ones available online.

On your Android TV device, open up the Settings menu (from the cog icon, top right), then choose Remotes & Accessories. If you then choose Add accessory, the Android TV looks for your controller, which should be in pairing more. You can even use the controller to navigate your TV's home screen and non-gaming apps too, if needed.

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

Sideload extra Android apps

You'll probably have noticed that the Google Play Store on your Android TV is nowhere near as jam-packed as the one on your Android smartphone: Android TV's Play Store simply shows dedicated apps that have been developed with the big screen in mind.

In theory though, you can add any Android app to your system – such is the beauty of Google's open-source approach. We say "in theory", because some apps simply won't load up on a TV, even if you manage to get them installed (a quick search online should tell you if your favourite one makes the cut).

To get at more apps, first you need a file manager. X-plore File Manager is one of the best of the bunch, and once it's installed, head to Settings, then Device Preferences, then Security & restrictions – choose Unknown sources and make sure the X-plore toggle switch is set to on.

After that, you need to launch X-plore File Manager itself. Enable the W-Fi server option in the central console, which will give you a URL you can use in your computer's browser to get at the Android TV file system (assuming the devices are on the same Wi-Fi network).

With that done, copy over the APK (Android Application Package) of the app or game you want to launch – we'd recommend APKMirror as the best place to get these files. Transfer the APK over, open it with X-plore, and the app should install.

As we've said, this can be hit and miss. Some apps won't understand the Android TV interface, or work with your controller, which is the reason Android TV restricts the apps you can install in the first place. If there's an app or game you're desperate to get up on the big screen though, this is one option for doing it.

Use voice control and Google Assistant

Google Assistant comes built right into Android TV, as you would expect, and that means you can adjust the volume, search for shows and movies, check the weather forecast, control your smart lights, and much more – all using your voice.

A bit of housekeeping might be required before everything works as advertised though. Open up the Google Home app for Android or iOS on your phone, then tap your avatar (top right), then tap Assistant settings. Tap Assistant, pick your Android TV device and make sure Personal results are enabled.

To get to Google Assistant, you probably have a microphone button on your remote that you can press and hold. Using the "okay Google" voice command to get attention might also work: from Settings on Android TV, go to Device Preferences, then Google Assistant, to see if the option is available.

A whole host of voice commands are supported – everything from running calculations and conversions (like you can do on Google Assistant on your phone), to searching for films with an actor in or launching apps (try "okay Google, watch Stranger Things" if you've got Netflix installed, for instance).

If you've got smart home devices linked to Google Assistant in the Google Home app on your phone, then these can be controlled too. You can even ask Google Assistant to stream the live feed from any connected Nest security cameras you've got set up.

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

Use your phone as a remote control

You don't need to use the clunky controller that came in your TV's box if you don't want to – it's particularly difficult to operate settings screens and to type in text using this. Instead, utilise the official Android TV remote control app to get around the Android TV interface – you can find the Android version here, and the iOS version here.

Use Android TV as a Chromecast

Your Android TV actually doubles up as a Chromecast, with all the same beaming skills as a dedicated Chromecast device available to you. You don't need to do anything to set this up either – whenever casting is available on your Android or iOS apps, you'll see your Android TV device listed as an option (on Android, you can also mirror your phone's display on the TV via the Screen Cast option in Quick Settings).

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

Tweak the home screen

It's your Android TV, so make sure it's showing the stuff you want to see – you can take control over the order the apps appear in, which apps show up in the 'play next' queue, and even whether audio and video previews are allowed as you browse.

Open Settings on your Android TV device, then select Device Preferences and Home screen to make changes. You can also make quick adjustments by pressing and holding the select button on your remote as you browse around the home screen thumbnails.

Android TV tips, tricks and hidden secrets

The best 5 apps for Android TV

So you've got yourself an Android TV... what are the apps you should be installing first? These are the five we find ourselves turning to most often.

Netflix

Of course Netflix is here – it's revolutionised the way we consume content, and its Android TV app is polished and comprehensive. It integrates neatly into the Android TV experience, with its own recommendation bar on the home screen (which you can turn off if needed). All the necessary features and options are easy to access, the choice of movies and TV shows seems to be improving all the time, and Google Assistant control is supported too.

Spotify

You probably think about video when you think about Android TV, but there's a Spotify app here for all your music streaming needs as well (or a Deezer one, if you prefer that particular platform). Logging into your account is easy, the app makes good use of the extra screen space on a television, and background playback is supported too – you'll see a now playing bar up at the top of the home screen if you back out of the Spotify app.

YouTube

You probably don't need us to tell you that the YouTube experience on Android TV is a great one – from the way you can get recommendations, trending videos and your subscriptions up on the home screen, to the vast amount of content that's available to you, to the ease with which you can get around the interface. It's possible to access a whole load of music and your Google Play Movies & TV purchases through this app too.

Plex

If you're not yet familiar with Plex, get to know it immediately – you can build your own personalised Netflix or Spotify through the app and then stream it to every device you own, including your Android TV. The Plex app for Android TV is just as well done as the other Plex apps, letting you jump straight back in to what you're already watching, and integrating neatly with the home screen – this is how all TV apps should be made.

News360

Something a little bit different to your standard Android TV app, News360 gives you access to news... as the title might expect. It's easy to browse between the sections and the content that's of most interest to you, and of course video features heavily – the app pulls in news clips from a variety of sources. It's the perfect way of keeping up to date with what's happening in the world through your Android-powered television screen.

TAGGED    televisions    google

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