The Big Android Dictionary: A Glossary of Terms You Should Know

A Glossary of Terms You Should Know

Android comprises an entire ecosystem of apps, games, functions, and features, so it would only make sense that it has its own lexicon. Words, phrases, and acronyms that didn't exist ten years ago are now used in an off-the-cuff style by developers and support technicians across the web.

As the platform matures, this list of unique Android words continues to evolve, which makes it hard to stay on top of the latest terminology. But breaking things down into simple terms is what we do best here at Gadget Hacks, so below, we'll cover all of the latest Android lingo in layman's terms.

If you're looking to define a specific term, use the "Find" function in your browser (Ctrl + F or Command + F) to jump right to it. Italicized links will take you directly to that word's definition within this very page.


A screen or menu within an app that can be called on specifically. Use an app like Tasker or Activity Launcher to open an activity directly.


Short for "Android Debug Bridge." Software that bridges the gap between your Android device and a computer, allowing you to send high-level commands to your phone or tablet over a USB data cable.


Short for "active-matrix organic light-emitting diode." A type of display panel pioneered by Samsung where individual pixels emit their own light, removing the need for the backlight required in traditional LCD panels. AMOLED screens are distinguishable by their deep blacks and saturated colors.


The world's most popular operating system for any platform, even eclipsing Windows in market share. An open-source platform that is currently developed by Google, but was originally derived from Linux as a touch-oriented fork of the popular desktop operating system.


Short for "Android Open Source Project." The base of Android as a whole, which is used by manufacturers and independent developers to create the firmware an Android device runs on. Used colloquially to refer to an unmodified version of Android in some cases (see Stock Android below).


Short for "Android application package." The extension used in Android app installation files (e.g., app.apk). Similar in nature to an EXE file on Windows.


Short for "application." A software program, generally developed for a mobile platform, that can be used to perform any number of tasks.

App Standby

A battery-saving feature introduced with Android 6.0 Marshmallow that forces unused apps into a hibernation mode. When you have an app installed but don't use it for a long period of time, Android will prevent the app from syncing in the background or holding a wakelock until you launch the app again.


Short for "Android Runtime." Android's new virtual machine library that replaces the older Dalvik. ART enables the same applications to run on vastly different hardware by acting as a go-between.


Term used in reference to generally unwanted apps that come pre-installed on an Android device by its manufacturer or carrier. Our in-house definition is "A duplicate app that performs the same functionality as another pre-installed app, or an app that the OEM was paid to install on the device." Bloatware typically cannot be uninstalled, so it occupies space, thus "bloating" the device's software.


A type of wireless connectivity for battery-powered devices that allows for data transfer at speeds of up to 24 Mbps over a theoretical range of up to 100 meters. Used commonly to connect accessories like headphones and speakers to an Android device.


The software that launches Android and its ancillary services when you power on your device. Also provides an interface for sending fastboot commands over a USB computer connection.


An error that occurs when software has become corrupt and your device immediately restarts when attempting to boot into Android, then repeats this process infinitely. Similar to a soft brick (see bricked entry below).


A device whose software has been compromised (generally by the user) to the point where it will not boot into Android, rendering it as useless as a paperweight or brick. The term hard bricked is used to refer to a device in such a state as a result of failed hardware, while the term soft bricked generally denotes a software failure that can potentially be fixed.


A text file located in Android's system folder which contains many lines of code that determine several settings for the device. Editing these lines of code can remove restrictions, give users access to new features, change display density, or even boost performance—but root access is required in order to modify the file.


A set of specialized commands or tools that can be installed on a rooted device to give certain apps more functionality. Generally, a BusyBox installer app is used to add the commands to a rooted device.


The service provider for calls, mobile data, SMS or MMS, and other communication resources that are used by a mobile phone or tablet. North American carriers include AT&T, Bell, Sprint, T-Mobile, Telus, and Verizon Wireless.


Used as a verb to describe the act of sending media from a mobile device over to a television or larger screen. Generally used in reference to Google's Chromecast, but can also be used to describe this act with regards to DLNA, Miracast, or other similar technologies.


Short for "code division multiple access." A mobile voice and data communications standard used by cellular carriers such as Sprint and Verizon. A competing standard to GSM.


Abbreviated CWM, ClockworkMod was one of the first custom recoveries to be made available for a wide array of Android devices. Like all custom recoveries, ClockworkMod can be used to perform NANDroid backups, apply third-party modifications to Android, or install a custom ROM.

Command Line

A text-based interface for executing tasks. Also referred to as Command Prompt, Terminal, or Shell. Command Line interfaces are commonly used with Android to remotely execute ADB or Fastboot commands from a connected computer, or with a terminal emulator app within Android.


The code name for the first public version of Android (1.5). Released on April 27, 2009.

Custom Launcher

See Launcher below.

Custom Recovery

Third-party software that replaces the stock Android recovery menu, adding the ability to install modification packages (flashable ZIPs), create NANDroid backups, and install custom ROMs.

Custom ROM

A version of Android made by independent developers to replace the existing operating system on a phone or tablet. Normally installed through custom recovery, and generally includes several optimizations, as well as extra features.


Also Cyanogen, CM, CM 12.1, etc. One of the first Android custom ROMs to include support for a wide range of devices. Based on AOSP, CyanogenMod included several additional features and tweaking options. This project has since been abandoned and replaced with LineageOS.


The virtual machine library used from Android Cupcake to Android KitKat . Dalvik was deprecated in favor of ART in 2014.


The code name for Android version 1.6. Initially released on September 15, 2009.

Doze Mode

A battery saving feature introduced in Android 6.0 Marshmallow (see below) that prevents apps from disrupting a device's low-power deep sleep cycle. After Android has detected that the device has been laying flat and motionless for a period of time (sitting on a table, for instance), Doze Mode kicks in and ensures that no nonessential apps request a wakelock (see below) or sync in the background, which would otherwise drain the battery in a situation where the user is obviously not actively using their device.


Verizon's marketing term for its line of Android devices, generally manufactured by Motorola. The term is not synonymous with Android, though it is mistakenly used this way quite a bit.


The code name for Android versions 2.0 through 2.1. Initially released on October 26, 2009.


Software that lets an operating system run non-native apps or games from another operating system. Most commonly, Android emulators are used to play console games or ROMs (see below) from Nintendo, PlayStation, and others.

Factory Reset

To return a device's software to its initial state by deleting user settings and files. A factory reset can be performed in custom recovery (see above) or through Android's Settings menu.


A protocol used for sending commands from a computer to an Android device over a USB data connection while the device is in bootloader mode (see above). Fastboot is generally used to manually install firmware (see below) or to install a custom recovery (see above).


The base-level software installed on a device, up to and including the operating system. "Factory firmware" is used to describe the software that comes pre-installed on Android devices before any apps or modifications are added.


The highest-end device made by a manufacturer (see below) in a release cycle or year, generally the most expensive devices sold by a particular manufacturer. Popular flagship Android devices include Samsung's Galaxy S series (see below), LG's G series, HTC's One series, Motorola's Moto X series, Google's Nexus series (see below), and Sony's Xperia Z series.


To install a custom ROM or flashable ZIP through custom recovery, or to install a factory operating system image using either Fastboot or Odin.


A term used to refer to an app suddenly closing, either as a result of a bug, or the user intentionally stopping the app through Android's "App Info" menu. Often abbreviated as FC.


The code name for Android versions 2.2 through 2.2.3. Initially released on May 20, 2010.


Samsung's name for its line of Android smartphones and tablets. Popularized by the Galaxy S series of flagship phones (see above) that have been the highest-selling Android smartphones to date. Similar to Droid (see above), many people mistakenly conflate the name Galaxy with Android as a result of marketing.


A piece of information embedded into common media files that displays geographical location data. Geotags are generally included as metadata in pictures, video, and even SMS messages (see below), and will usually contain GPS coordinates (see below) that describe where the file was created.


The code name for Android versions 2.3 through 2.3.7. Initially released on December 6, 2010.

Google Now

A service that debuted with Android Jelly Bean (see below) that uses information gleaned from various sources throughout Android to predict the information users will want to see at a given time. Sometimes used to refer to Google's Voice Search feature.

Google Play Store

Android's primary app store, where users can download and install software such as apps and games. The Google Play Store is also home to additional content, including movies, books, music, and TV shows. Generally referred to as simply "Play Store" or "Google Play."


Short for "Global Positioning System." A technology used in smartphones and navigational aides that uses a network of satellites to pinpoint a device's location.


Short for "Global System for Mobile Communications." A mobile voice and data communications standard used by the vast majority of cellular carriers, generally distinguished from CDMA (see above) by its usage of SIM cards (see below).

Hard Reboot

Also referred to as a hard reset. The act of pressing and holding the power button (or power and volume down on Samsung devices) to force a device to reboot when its software is misbehaving.


A term popularized by the app Greenify, which partially disables other apps when they're not in use to save battery life. Android Marshmallow (see below) includes a similar feature called App Standby (see above), and Hibernate is often used in reference to the actions performed by this feature as well.


Android's first unified interface design language, containing dark gradient backgrounds, light blue accent coloring, and tabbed app interfaces.


The code name for a tablet-specific release of Android (versions 3.0 through 3.2.6). Initially released on February 22, 2011.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Often abbreviated as ICS. The code name for Android versions 4.0 through 4.0.4. Initially released on October 18, 2011, Ice Cream Sandwich combined the previous phone-optimized versions of Android with the tablet-only Honeycomb release using a new UI design called Holo (see above).


Short for "International Mobile Station Equipment Identity." A unique number assigned to all smartphones that is used by carriers to identify valid devices. If a phone is reported stolen, its IMEI gets flagged, which prevents the device from connecting to most cellular networks.


Short for "in-plane switching." A technology used in LCD display panels that drastically increases the viewing angles.

Jelly Bean

The code name for Android versions 4.1 through 4.3.1. Initially released on July 9, 2012.


Base-level software in Android and other Linux-based systems that translates requests from apps into code that hardware such as the CPU can understand. A custom kernel can be installed by users to add functionality and bring additional hardware controls such as double-tap to wake.


The code name for Android versions 4.4 through 4.4.4. Initially released on October 31, 2013.


The home screen on Android devices, used to open and manage apps. The default launcher on any device can be replaced by simply installing a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store (see above).


An open source (see below) desktop operating system created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds that would later serve as the base upon which Android was built.

Live Wallpaper

A type of wallpaper for Android devices that displays non-static images on your home screen. Generally installed as an app from the Google Play Store (see above), many live wallpapers are capable of responding to touch, detecting motion, looping video, or shuffling between multiple images.

Lock Screen

A menu that requires interaction before a user can access the main software on their device. Lock screens are used to prevent touchscreen devices from accidentally activating inside of a pocket, for instance, but can also be used to secure an Android device from unwanted access by requiring the user to enter a pattern (see below), PIN (see below), or password.


The code name for Android versions 5.0 through 5.1.1. Initially released on November 12, 2014, Lollipop marked the abandonment of Android's previous Holo (see above) design language, and the introduction of its new Material Design (see below) interface.


Short for "Long-Term Evolution" and used interchangeably with the terms 4G or 4G LTE. A communications standard created in 2004 with the intentions of being a future-proof platform for faster mobile data (see below) connections.


The company that physically assembles and markets a device. Common Android manufacturers include Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola, Huawei, Sony, Blackberry, ASUS, ZTE, and OnePlus.


The code name for the latest version of Android (6.0). Initially released on October 5, 2015.

Material Design

Android's current interface design philosophy, replacing the previous Holo design (see above). Implemented in an attempt to unify app design with system menus.


Short for "Mobile Equipment Identifier." Similar to IMEI (see above), just another format for a unique serial number that is assigned to smartphones so that a carrier can identify the particular unit on its network.


Short for "Multimedia Messaging Service." A type of text message that can contain media such as photos. Also used to facilitate group messaging threads over your carrier's (see above) network.


See Xposed Module below.

Mobile Data

An internet connection provided by your carrier (see above) that is generally available in all areas of your country.


Short for "Media Transfer Protocol." A standard that allows for the transfer of media files from one device to another without rendering the originating device's storage temporarily inaccessible to other apps or processes. MTP is used in most modern Android devices when connected via USB to a computer or external device, and is an expansion of the PTP standard (see below) that is compatible with more types of media files.


Short for "Mobile Virtual Network Operator." A type of carrier (see above) that operates on at least one other carrier's network. Typically, an MVNO will enter a deal with a larger carrier network to use their cell towers to provide service — effectively making MVNOs resellers of cellular service. Google's Project Fi is a well-known MVNO that operates on Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular's networks.

NANDroid Backup

Also referred to simply as Nandroid or nandroid. A snapshot of your device's entire software suite as it currently stands. NANDroid backups are created in custom recovery (see above) and can be restored in the event of any critical error to bring the device's software back to the exact state it was in when the backup was created.


Google's own flagship (see above) line of devices that are created in partnership with various manufacturers (see above). Nexus devices are released annually as a hardware companion to showcase new software features that were recently added to Android, and are renowned for their Vanilla Android (see below) software, prompt OTA updates (see below), and high-end specs at a relatively low price point.


Short for "near field communication." A very low-power wireless communication standard that is used to power Android Pay and Android Beam.

Notification Drawer

Also commonly called notification tray, notification shade, and notification panel. This option is accessible by sliding one finger down from the status bar (see below), and shows all new notifications, such as messages and missed calls, which can be swiped away or cleared, as well as persistent notifications (see below). Indicators will appear in the status bar whenever new notifications are available.

Now on Tap

A feature of Android Marshmallow (see above) that scanned your entire screen in any app to find keywords and give you relevant Google Search information about the topics it finds. Triggered by long-pressing the device's home button. This feature has been deprecated in newer Android versions.


A software program for Windows computers that can be used to install firmware (see above) on Samsung devices over a USB data connection.

Open Source

Software with a code base that is freely accessible to the public and licensed for reuse and modification by other developers. Most open-source software is free to consumers and falls under the General Public License (GPL), which allows any developer to modify and redistribute the original work by simply complying with the initial license of the software. Android itself is open source software, with its code base being published in AOSP (see above).


Short for "original equipment manufacturer." Used to refer to software, firmware (see above), hardware, or accessories that were created by a device's manufacturer (see above).


Short for "over the air." Term generally used in reference to a firmware (see above) update that is sent to your device wirelessly from your carrier (see above) or device manufacturer. If a device is rooted (see below), OTA updates will generally fail to apply.


A customized version of Android made by the manufacturer (see above) OnePlus for use on their smartphones.


An extra layer of security that can be added to Android's lock screen (see above) to prevent unwanted access, which requires the user to drag their finger to connect a series of dots in a pre-determined pattern.


Short for "personal identification number." Like a pattern (see above), a PIN is used as an extra layer of security on Android's lock screen, and requires the user to enter a 4+ digit number to verify their identity.

Persistent Notifications

There appear in the notification panel (see above) and are notifications that you can't swipe away when in use. For instance, whenever you're connected via USB to your computer, there will be a persistent notification telling you so.


Short for "pixels per inch." A measurement used to determine the density of pixels in a display. Devices with a higher PPI number will generally have a more crisp, detailed screen.


Short for "Preferred Roaming List." A database used by CDMA (see above) carriers to set the preferred order of roaming networks a device will use when service is not available from its primary carrier (see above). When carriers make new roaming agreements, the PRL on your device can be updated to improve signal strength in many cases.


Short for "Picture Transfer Protocol." The originating standard that spawned MTP (see above), PTP is still used as a secondary connection method for Android devices that works when MTP drivers are broken or unavailable. Much like MTP, PTP is used in Android devices when connected via USB to a computer or external device as a method to transfer pictures without rendering the originating device's storage temporarily inaccessible to other apps or processes

Quick Settings

A pull-down menu accessible from the lock screen, home screen, within apps, and pretty much everywhere else, that contains easy-access settings toggles (or buttons, as Samsung calls them) for a number of commonly used settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen rotation, etc. On newer devices, it can be found by swiping two fingers down from the status bar (see below).

Recovery Mode

A software menu that can be access through Android's bootloader (see above), which allows the user to perform actions such as executing a factory reset or full data wipe (see below). Android's stock recovery menu can be replaced with a custom recovery (see above) to allow for additional actions such as flashing (see above) ZIPs and custom ROMs (see above), or performing a NANDroid backup (see above).


When used in reference to an emulator (see above), a ROM is a file that contains all of the code from a console game. Also used as a synonym for custom ROM (see above).


Technically speaking, root is the topmost folder in a Linux-based device's file directory, where all operating system files are stored. As it pertains to Android, though, root refers to a user having access to the files in this directory, meaning they can modify these files with root-enabled apps to make changes to the operating system.

By default, Android devices do not provide root access, but workarounds are available that can grant root access to the user. Using such a workaround to gain access to the root directory is referred to as "rooting."


Short for "Software Development Kit." As it pertains to Android, the SDK is a set of tools such as code libraries, a debugger, and a handset emulator (see above) that can be run on Windows, Mac, or Linux to facilitate the creation of Android apps by developers. While the SDK is generally intended for use by developers, end users can install the software on their home computer to execute ADB (see above) and Fastboot (see above) commands.


A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP (see above). Used by HTC in all of its devices.

Server-Side Update

A practice commonly used by Google and a few other software developers where major changes to an app's interface are activated remotely, as opposed to requiring users to update the app.


Part of an Android app that does not provide a user interface, but can perform actions in the background even if the user switches to another app. Services are used by apps to silently update information such as notifications, or to maintain a data connection for the app.


The process of installing an app by downloading or transferring the APK file (see above) to your device, then launching it. This differs from the normal app installation method of using the Google Play Store (see above), but comes with the added benefit of being able to install apps that weren't approved by Google.

SIM Card

Short for "subscriber identification module." A small electronic chip provided by your carrier (see above) that can be inserted in GSM (see above) phones to gain access to a cellular network.


Use to describe the user interface that OEMs (see above) build over stock Android, such as Samsung Experience (see TouchWiz below).


Short for "Short Message Service." The protocol used by carriers (see above) to ensure that simple text messages are compatible with any phone or network. MMS (see above) is an expansion of the SMS protocol that allows for attaching media to text messages.


Short for "System on a Chip." A computing chip that integrates all major components of a smartphone's processing systems. Processors such as the CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) are physically contained within the SoC. In short, the SoC is a smartphone's "brain."

Soft Reboot

Also referred to as a soft reset. A function available on some custom ROMs (see above) and via root apps (see above) that shortens the time it takes to reboot a device by simply restarting Android as opposed to fully rebooting through the bootloader (see above).

Staged Rollout

A practice used by Google (and other software developers) when issuing updates to apps or firmware (see above). Instead of issuing updates to all users at once, Google will only send the new version out to a few select users at first in case of any undiscovered, critical bug. If no users complain about the update causing issues, Google will then send the new version out to more users, then repeat this process until the update is available to everyone.


Android's default media library, used to render videos, music, and photos. Recently, Stagefright became a well-known term due to a security flaw in the library that could potentially allow hackers to assume control of an Android device.

Status Bar

The bar at the top of almost every Android device that displays the time, Wi-Fi connectivity, cellular signal, as well a wealth of indicators for apps (see above), settings, and services (see above) whenever they are in use. The status bar is not always visible depending on what app you're using.

Stock Android

The default look and functionality of AOSP (see above) Android before OEMs (see above) put their skins (see above) on top of the interface. See also: Vanilla Android (below).


In Linux-based systems like Android, the superuser is a user account with administrator permissions, which allow for the modification of system settings and files. If your Android device is rooted (see "root" above), you've achieved superuser status.


The process of using a smartphone's mobile data (see above) connection to provide internet access to other devices. Tethering is generally frowned upon by carriers (see above) since it can be used with computers, laptops, and other non-mobile devices.


A themed version of Android that includes additional features not found in AOSP (see above). Used by Samsung in all of its devices. Now referred to as Samsung Experience.


Short for "Team Win Recovery Project." A touch-based custom recovery (see above) that offers the ability to install modifications and custom ROMs (see above), as well as creating and restoring NANDroid backups (see above).

Vanilla Android

A term used to refer to the non-modified version of Android that is found on Nexus devices (see above), or on AOSP-based custom ROMs (see above).


A service (see above) used by apps to prevent your device from entering its low-power sleep state, which would otherwise clear the app from memory.


Verb used to describe the process of removing all data from a device, mostly synonymous with the term Factory reset (see above). Android users generally perform a full wipe in recovery mode or custom recovery (see above) to ensure that no personal data is left behind when selling a device, or to provide a blank slate upon which a custom ROM (see above) can be flashed (see above).

Xposed Framework

A software suite that injects an abstraction layer into Android's most basic components. Using this abstraction layer, Xposed Modules (see below) can make system-level changes to apps and interface elements across Android, allowing for easy and extensive customization by end users. The Xposed Framework initially required root (see above) to install, but newer versions now require custom recovery (see above) for installation.

Xposed Module

Apps that take advantage of the Xposed Framework (see above) to make changes to other apps or basic Android functions. Installing an Xposed Module is as simple as sideloading (see above) any app, so users can easily make major software changes like theming the main Android interface or adding functionality to existing apps.

Cover image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

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