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Grading Verizon's Android Smartphone School

Making the switch to a smartphone from a feature phone or BlackBerry can be a daunting task if it’s your first time. Fortunately, new users can learn the ropes through classes and workshops. Apple started the trend, first offering its Genius Bars at every Apple Store, then expanding to classes, workshops and one-on-one tutoring. But Android and Windows Phone 8 users can also increase their smartphone IQs, because Verizon Wireless stores are now offering the same treatment.

We checked out Verizon’s workshop offerings, and the number of classes and variety of topics offered varied widely by location. Fortunately, in the New York City area, we had our pick of a large range of classes, including “Android: Getting Started,” “Android: Apps for Everyone” and “Android: Doing More.” We also found workshops that were highly specialized, such as “Google Docs on Android,” “Applications for Small Business” and phone-specific courses for various popular smartphones. In smaller cities, class selections weren’t quite as broad. Classes are generally scheduled for an hour, and are available both during the day and in the evening hours.

We stopped into “Android: Getting Started” with a Motorola Droid RAZR M and a background story of never having used a smartphone before. The class was scheduled from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. When we arrived, we were one of three students.

Our classmates were a man and a woman, both of whom were in their mid-50s and held brand-new Samsung Galaxy S IIIs. Coincidentally, both fellow students had upgraded to this Android device after years of owning a BlackBerry. (However, one student admitted he never really understood that phone, either.)

In the back of a Verizon Wireless store, a few foldout chairs sat against the back wall. After a few minutes, a sales associate approached us, holding a printed packet of paper, which, we assumed, was filled with tutorials to cover Android basics. It was not. She started the class by asking each student their skill level and fielding any specific questions.

One student immediately asked how to disable predictive texting. The teacher explained the phone’s settings panel as we used our phones to navigate to the keyboard settings screen. We all disabled this feature, but I’m not sure my classmates could get back to this setting in the future.

The other student asked about composing new emails. We each opened up our respective email clients, as per the teacher’s instruction, and were shown the compose button. She then walked us through the process of typing a contact’s name in the recipient field before moving to the body of the message. The teacher was patient and showed each of us how to perform this function, staying with us until we felt confident.

The next question referred to apps. We each opened the Google Play store, while the teacher explained how both free and paid apps add functionality to your device and that there’s an app for almost anything you could ever want. She explained if we wanted to purchase an app, it would be charged to our credit card, not our Verizon bill. She then walked us through a free app download.

Next up was Google Maps and Navigation. Our instructor correctly told us this would provide us with turn-by-turn navigation and subway directions and would help prevent us from ever being lost. She then asked us to search for a local sushi restaurant.

During our class, one of the students’ batteries died. She was able to plug her phone into the wall and continue following along, but it highlighted a problem that concerned us all: battery life. Our teacher suggested that while we’re out of range of service, such as underground on the subway, to enable Airplane mode. This disables Wi-Fi and cellular data features, which, in turn, saves battery life.

Final Grade

At this point, we had reached the end of our hourlong class. We were encouraged to stop by the store again for future assistance, regardless of class schedule. Everyone went their own way, a little more comfortable with their new smartphones.

While students received answers, there didn't seem to be much structure or curriculum. There was also no formal classroom space. We would have appreciated a handout to reinforce the lessons after we left. If you have specific questions, a Verizon Wireless smartphone class might be right for you, but if you’re looking for a well-rounded class that’s guaranteed to cover all the basics, you’ll have to look elsewhere.