How to Use the Navigation Icons on Your Android Phone

By Dan Gookin

Below the touchscreen dwells a series of icons. They can appear as part of the touchscreen itself, or on some phones they may be part of the bezel or even be physical buttons. These are the navigation icons, and they serve specific and uniform functions throughout the Android operating system.

Traditionally you’ll find three navigation icons: Back, Home, and Recent. How these icons appear can vary. Most phones use the stock Android Lollipop icons.

Back: The Back icon serves several purposes, all of which fit neatly under the concept of “back.” Tap the icon once to return to a previous page, dismiss an onscreen menu, close a card, hide the onscreen keyboard, and so on.

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Home: No matter what you’re doing on the phone, touching this icon displays the Home screen. When you’re already viewing the Home screen, tap this icon to view the main or center Home screen page.

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Recent: Tap the Recent icon to see the Overview, a list of recently opened or currently running apps. Swipe the list to view all the apps. Tap the app’s card to switch to that app. To exit from the Overview, tap the Back icon.

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  • On Android phones without a Recent icon, long-press the Home icon to see the Overview.

  • Older Samsung phones may sport a Menu icon or button instead of the Recent icon. Tap this icon to display a pop-up menu from which you can choose actions.

  • The three navigation icons may hide themselves when some apps run. In most cases, the icons are still there but are invisible. Tap the screen to summon the navigation icons. For some full-screen apps and games, swipe the screen from top to bottom to see the icons.

  • The Back navigation icon may change its orientation. Tap this icon to hide the onscreen keyboard, dismiss dictation, or perform other actions similar to using the Back navigation icon.

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