Quick tip for Android users - change your user agent

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I can't take credit for this - I found this on a few random Google searches - but if you are sick and tired of sites that force you into a mobile version and don't provide a way out (like all of the Gawker sites - and yes, I tried to file a bug report and found it nearly impossible), you can try this trick.

In your browser, enter about:debug for the URL and hit enter.

Nothing will happen.

Click Menu, go to Settings, and you may have a new debug menu. If you do, there will be a user agent section that you can use to switch your UA to one of a few different options. On my Xoom they were: Android, Desktop, iPhone (really?), iPad (eh?), and Froyo-N1. When I set mine to desktop and hit io9.com, they did not bounce me to their stupid, useless, less practical mobile version. (Ok, sorry for the bile there. I just hate that they've done this for a while now and still don't offer a way to change it.)

I tried this on my Inspire and was not able to change the user agent. I did see additional items in the settings, but nothing related to user agent. I don't mind so much on the phone though.

Any way - I hope this helps. It's been bugging me for weeks now and I'm glad I finally found a decent solution.

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Mike posted on 9/26/2011 at 7:52 PM

Are you talking about the default browser? I have been using Dolphin for a while and they have the option for the user agent stuff in the settings, but what I have noticed is that some sites will not only look for the user agent but also the browser type and then slam you in the mobile site

Comment 2 by Raymond Camden posted on 9/26/2011 at 7:54 PM

Yeah, just the default browser.

Comment 3 by Josh posted on 9/26/2011 at 8:19 PM

On my Asus Transformer the user agent option is present by default in the broswer settings. On my Captivate, I don't think even using the About:debug brought it up for me. Of course, after I rooted and installed a new rom, all those stupid carrier restrictions/tweaks disappeared and I could use my phone as Google intended.

Comment 4 by Kevin posted on 9/26/2011 at 8:45 PM

My HTC (Aria) also has the mobile/desktop toggle in the default browser options. I've had it set to desktop since day one.

Personally, I've always thought the "mobile view" of a website was a flawed idea, and one destined to die once the devices caught up. Why would I want a limited version of the site when my device can display the full site in all its glory? Most smartphones can handle most web content with very little problems, and they are only getting better. Add to that fact that carriers are constantly improving their bandwidth, and I just can't think of a reason why, in the next couple of years (at most), "mobile view" will be as dead as other temporary fixes like "low bandwidth view", "Netscape/Internet Explorer views", etc, etc.

Comment 5 by Raymond Camden posted on 9/26/2011 at 8:49 PM

I don't know. I do like the mobile view most of the time on my phone. But my 10 inch tablet is _huge_.

Comment 6 by Mike posted on 9/26/2011 at 8:53 PM

I personally am not a fan of the mobile view because its like great now I have to figure out how to navigate the site again, but as with anything the buzzword now is Mobile! So regardless of what I think the buzzword holds more power :)

I will say that using things like jquery mobile do make creating a mobile version of the sites a lot faster and more enjoyable to do.

Comment 7 by Dave DuPlantis posted on 9/26/2011 at 9:20 PM

I can think of several reasons to provide a mobile view for your site, depending on your audience.

The biggest one is your audience itself. If you're aiming for leading-edge users, then yeah, scaling things down doesn't make as much sense now as it did a year or two ago. If more of your audience uses older or small-screen devices (or older, small-screen devices), then a simpler version of your popular pages is probably a good idea, or at least your support people (if they are not you) will tell you that. This is particularly important for sites that have a lot of stuff on their pages. (Hello, auto-play video.)

Your visitors might be using their data plans to visit your site. The age of unlimited data around these parts is ending ... as it does, people will find light sites when they need to. (There is the ominous specter of data caps on the home front as well; it may be that scaling down full sites will solve issues with providing mobile-ready sites.) Also, they might be in an area where their 3/4G signal is not strong - even larger cities have plenty of dead spots, and it's not always easy to find an open wireless network in many places. (Those of us who live in or near big cities are frequently spoiled by such things.) Impatience with page loading time is just as bad on a mobile device as on a full-screen device.

Site navigation, if done in certain ways, can prevent mobile users from accessing pages ... menus that are easily navigated with a mouse may not translate well to touchscreens that don't also have pointers. (Thankfully the whole Flash-as-menu craze ended several years ago.) The same issue applies to sections of the site where several links or options are close together: easy for a pointer, difficult for a fingertip, and not all users will have the patience to expand and touch for every link they visit.

Having said that, I would probably lean toward providing scaled-down versions of the most important pages on your site, preferably through CSS alone, and providing visitors with the option to choose the full site if they like. It doesn't make sense to me to prevent a mobile user from seeing the full site if she wants to, and it's not a good idea to maintain two complete versions of a single site just to support a subset of your users: it's probably sufficient to cover just the most necessary/easiest to convert features and explain to users that the rest of the content is best experienced on the full site.

Comment 8 by CephalidOne posted on 10/4/2011 at 1:16 PM

i also suggest phony add-on on firefox...