Tablets running Android 4.2 support multiple user accounts. User accounts work just like they do on a PC — each account has its own apps, settings, and other data. If you share your tablet with another person, you can use user accounts to allow each person to have their own environment — including the launcher setup, Google account sync, and other settings. This helps give each of you more privacy when you’re using your tablet, and also allows each of you to log in with your own Google account and see only your own email and other data.
This feature is easy to set up if you have an Android 4.2 device. It’s a useful feature not found in Apple’s competing iPad, making it easy to leave a tablet lying around and share it with your significant other, children, or anyone else. Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets also have multiple user accounts — Apple’s iPad is the only device that hasn’t caught up.
Note that Android 4.2 does not offer multiple user accounts on smartphones, only on tablets.
Creating Multiple User Accounts on Android 4.2
To get started, open the Settings screen on your Android tablet and tap the Users option under the Device category. If you don’t see this option, your device isn’t running Android 4.2 or above.
Tap the Add User button at the top of the screen to create a new account.
Note that the first user you already set up on the tablet is considered the “owner.” They have the ability to delete any user’s space from the tablet, while other users can only delete their own spaces.
You’ll see an informational message about user accounts. If the other person who will use the account is nearby, you can hand them the tablet and they can begin the setup process by entering their Google account and other information. They’ll go through a setup process just as they would when setting up a new Android tablet. If the other person isn’t nearby, you can leave the user account alone and they’ll be able to go through the set up process the first time they log in.
Using Multiple User Accounts
Once you have multiple user accounts enabled, you can switch between them by tapping the icons at the bottom of Android’s lock screen. if the user has a PIN or password set, they’ll need it to log into their account — this prevents unauthorized people from accessing the user’s account.
To “log out,” simply lock the tablet’s screen or allow it to time out as normal — from the lock screen, other people can switch to their user account and sign in.
Only three users can be “active” at a time. Active user accounts will sync in the background, so every user’s email and other data will always be ready when they go to use the device. If you have four accounts, the least recently used user will be considered “inactive” — the three accounts used most recently will be considered active accounts and will sync.
You can manage user accounts — changing icons, renaming them, deleting accounts, and creating new accounts — from the Users screen in Settings. You can also set an “owner info” message that will appear on the lock screen from here.
But I Don’t Have Android 4.2!
Let’s say you have a tablet running Android 4.1 or older and you really want multiple user accounts. You have some options, but they’ll all probably cause you problems.
- Android 4.1 contains a hidden multi-user feature that can be enabled with root access. However, we don’t recommend this — Google has said the feature was disabled for a reason in Android 4.1 and it will likely cause problems if you enable and use it. It’s an unfinished feature in Android 4.1.
- SwitchMe is an app that purports to add multiple user accounts to any device running Android 2.1 or later. Your tablet will need to be rooted to do this. The app has mixed reviews. Let’s be honest — this app is a dirty hack over Android and will likely cause you problems. The experience is not as smooth, and reviews indicate that you’ll have to reboot each time you change user profiles.
We don’t recommend using any of the above tricks. If your tablet is still running Android 4.1 or older, you may want to try looking for an installing a community-developed custom ROM (like Cyanogenmod) that will bring Android 4.2 to your device and give you multiple user accounts without any dirty hacks.
Do you use multiple user accounts on your Android tablet? Do you have any other tips and tricks to recommend? leave a comment below and let us know!