One of Android's biggest strengths is its flexibility. Unlike Apple and its iPhone, Google lets users and third-party developers tweak just about every aspect of the Android interface, and the customisation options are nearly endless. If you find something that you don't like about your phone, odds are good that you can change it. From the desktop wallpaper to the notification sounds to the blinking LED indicator light, Android is easy to personalise. Here's how to give Android your own personal flair.

Change your phone's look and feel

The first thing you might want to customise is your phone's background. This couldn't be easier to accomplish: Tap the phone's Menu key, and then pick Wallpaper. You can select a picture from among your own photos or from the phone's included collection of wallpaper backgrounds. Beginning with Android 2.1, you can also choose any of several "live wallpapers" that move and sometimes respond to your touch.

Power Tip: You can set a photo as your wallpaper directly from your phone's gallery. While viewing an image, just tap anywhere on the screen, and then select Set as to find the option for making that picture the wallpaper. Or, if you want to expand your options, try using an app such as Backgrounds, a free download from the Android Market. The program gives you thousands of wallpaper designs to choose from and to apply directly to your phone.

The wallpaper is only the beginning, with Android, no two sets of home screens have to look alike. Thanks to the platform's wide range of widgets, there's almost no limit to the number of ways you can configure your phone.

Widgets come in all shapes and sizes. Several are preloaded on your phone, but many others are available either as standalone downloads or as part of full-fledged applications in the Android Market.

When you see an app refer to a 1x1 widget, that means the item will take up the space of a single shortcut-size square on your home screen; a 2x1 widget is two squares across but one square high, and so on. Though some widgets claim entire rows, you can find many useful widgets that occupy only one or two squares of desktop real estate, allowing you to make the most of your home screen space.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Check out the free Weather Channel app. It includes a nice 1x1 widget that will detect your current location and keep you up-to-speed with the latest weather conditions, wherever you are.
  • For calendar power, try the highly customisable CalWidget, also free. It can put your upcoming appointments on your home screen in practically any size and color scheme you want.
  • Pandora's free app includes a 4x1 widget that gives you on-screen controls for your online music stream.
  • The free VizBattery widget will put a handy 1x1 battery icon on your home screen so that you can always see exactly how much juice is left in your phone.
  • If you run a blog or website with Google Analytics, take a peek at the Analytics Widget. It shows you your total page views for the day in a 1x1 size.

Remember, each home screen panel can hold any combination of widgets, shortcuts and folders. Play around with different setups until you find the configuration that works best for you.

Set your own sounds

Itching to make your phone sound the way you want? Start by tapping the Menu key and selecting the Settings menu. From there, tap Sound and display. All of the basics should now be in front of you, including options to set the default system ringtone, the notification sound and the general volume levels.

You might notice that your own MP3s don't appear in the list of ringtone choices. That's because your phone doesn't yet see them as system sounds. Fortunately, this isn't hard to fix: Make a new folder on your memory card called 'ringtones' and copy MP3s into it, and they'll automatically show up in your selection list.

Power Tip: Want to set your own MP3 music files as notification sounds or alarms, too? Just repeat the process described above, naming the folders 'alarms' or 'notifications' instead. And if you find yourself wanting to snag a certain piece of a song, say the catchy chorus that starts 45 seconds into your favourite tune, grab the free RingDroid app from the Android Market. With this app, editing MP3s so that you can get the exact sound clip you need is a cinch.