Android is a simple platform to pick up and use, but there’s a lot of depth hiding beyond the attractive Material Design surface. There are plenty of little tips and tricks scattered around the operating system that might not be evident unless you know about them.
One hidden Android feature, the Developer Options, is actually fairly well-known but houses a lot of options that you may not have tinkered with. Let’s dive into the Developer Options menu!
How Do I Access the Developer Options?
In modern versions of Android, the Developer Options (DO) menu is hidden by default. This is presumably to keep inexperienced users from changing settings that could adversely affect performance. We’ll clearly explain each setting, but be sure to watch what you’re tapping while in the DO.
To open up the DO menu, first open Settings on your phone and scroll all the way down to the System header at the bottom. Tap About Phone and find the Build Number entry. Tap it several times until you see a little message that says “You are now a developer!” Once this is done, you’ll find a new Developer Options menu entry close to where About Phone was.
Note that this process may be slightly different if you have a phone that’s not running stock Android, like a Samsung or HTC device. Because hardware manufacturers customize Android, one of the above steps may fall under a different name.
Useful Developer Options Settings
Let’s discuss the items in the DO that most people will want to check out, along with their intended development uses where appropriate.
1. Stay Awake
With this option enabled, your phone’s screen won’t ever turn off when it’s plugged into a charger. For developers, this is useful so you can keep an eye on your app over long periods of time, but you can also take advantage of it.
If you need to keep Twitter or a similar app open for live updates and don’t want to constantly tap the screen to keep it awake, this setting can help. Just note that if you have an AMOLED screen, you should be careful about leaving the screen on for too long to prevent burn-in.
2. OEM Unlocking
Unlocking your bootloader is one of the first steps to using a custom ROM on your phone. If the bootloader is locked, you won’t be able to get into Android’s recovery menu and install a new OS.
This setting won’t actually unlock the bootloader, but it gives the phone “permission” to do so. Thus, you probably shouldn’t enable this if you don’t plan to do any Android modding. It could help you fix a rare boot issue, but it also makes your phone more vulnerable if a malicious person got ahold of it.
3. Running Services
In Windows, you can use Windows Task Manager to see which processes are running. It can help you diagnose why your computer is running slowly and see which programs are using the most resources. Android doesn’t have a solid equivalent to this in the main Applications menu, but this Running Services entry is close.
Running Services lets you view how much RAM apps are using, as well as currently running apps on your phone. Don’t be too stressed out by anything here; Android does a fantastic job at managing RAM, so you don’t need to intervene.
Android's "Running services" page is probably scarier than a serial killer standing beside your bed watching you sleep… ?
— v?noth (@_vinr) August 11, 2016
What you can do here is check to see which apps are running processes in the background, which can help you identify battery-sucking apps. Remember that RAM boosters and task killers are absolutely terrible, so use this menu for information only.
4. USB Debugging
Perhaps the feature that most people dive into the DO for, USB Debugging is essential for developers and useful for anyone else. We’ve explained the specifics of USB debugging before — its main purpose is to let you perform actions on your phone using commands on your PC. Paired up with the Android SDK on your computer, you can issue commands to your phone to install apps, collect logging information, or even root the device.
It’s certainly a useful tool, but for security, the wise option is to enable this only when you need it, and turn it off afterwards. As a safety feature, Android requires you to manually approve all connections to new PCs. However, this wouldn’t prevent someone who stole your phone from using USB debugging to mess with it.
5. Select Mock Location App
It’s no secret that our phones are able to track our location, which some see as an invasion of privacy. But did you know that Android is able to report fake locations instead of real ones? This DO setting actually requires a separate app to be installed to handle mock locations, such as Fake GPS location or Fake gps – fake location.
Once it’s installed, you can use this option to make your phone report that you’re anywhere you like. Try confusing your friends into thinking that you’re in the middle of the ocean, for instance. We’ve also discussed how to play Pokemon GO on a PC using an Android emulator and mock locations.
6. Cellular Data Always Active
By default, when your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, it stops the connection to mobile data. This makes sense, because being on Wi-Fi saves data and is faster than a 3G connection. By enabling this option, however, you can keep mobile data live in the background all the time.
This is not recommended for those on a limited data plan, but if you experience issues with your phone taking a long time to switch between Wi-Fi and data, it might be worth a try.
7. Disable Absolute Volume
Here’s an interesting case of a setting that came directly out of user feedback. Some Bluetooth speakers or devices might have issues working with Android’s volume control. Normally, changing the volume on your phone should change the volume of the Bluetooth device. Some devices don’t work with this feature, or have the volume become extremely quiet or super loud.
If you’ve experienced this problem with your devices, try enabling this setting. Otherwise, you should leave it turned off for normal functionality.
8. Show Taps
When this option is enabled, a small circle appears on-screen wherever your finger touches. This can be useful in two situations. The first is as an accessibility feature — those who have difficulty with precise motion might appreciate having feedback of where they’re touching.
Having these circles is also useful if you’re creating a video, as viewers will be able to see exactly where you’re touching.
9. Animation Scales
Depending on how fast your phone is, you might not notice them, but Android plays animations when opening or switching between apps. Using the Window animation scale, Transition animation scale, and Animator duration scale, you can adjust how long these transitions take.
You can set each of these animations to be double the default speed, anywhere up to ten times as long, or completely off. You’ll probably notice a difference no matter which speed you pick, so if you’d like to make your device feel a bit snappier, try reducing the animation time.
Note that depending on how speedy your device is, these animations might act to mask some hidden loading times when switching between apps, so it might be best to leave them alone if your phone seems sluggish.
10. Don’t Keep Activities
We’re including this one as more of an educational tool than anything else. When you enable this option, Android will destroy every app’s process as soon as you leave it. Developers can use this to test how their app behaves under different circumstances, and we can use it to see how awful task killers are.
Protip for building rock solid Android apps: make yourself dev with "don't keep activities" on. Highlights so many crashes and state bugs
— Jarrod Robins (@jarrodrobins) October 5, 2016
Task killers destroy processes running in the background — processes that Android is using to make sure you can switch back to other apps quickly. This ends up forcing your phone to do more work stopping and starting the process than it would if you had just left it alone.
Don’t enable this setting unless you really want to experience the awful performance this brings for a few minutes!
Developer for a Day
There are plenty of other settings in the Developer Options, but most of them don’t have any use for those who aren’t developing Android apps. It’s awesome that Google provides these tools for developers who would otherwise have to jump through a lot of hoops to re-create certain conditions. Neatly, many of the settings still have use for the average user, as we’ve seen.
Looking to become an Android app developer? Check out the best YouTube videos on the subject.
Which Developer Options do you use on your own phone? If you have questions on any of the other settings, leave them down in the comments and let’s talk!