“Hey, mind if I borrow your phone?” Well, sure, you say. But even as you’re handing your Android phone over to someone in need, you’re wondering what browser tabs you have open, which emails are in plain sight, and whether you remembered to close up Facebook.
Luckily, there are some easy ways to lend your Android phone to a friend, a loved one, or even a total stranger with complete confidence that they won’t see your stuff.
For a device that’s going to be shared regularly, the trick is to dip into Android’s Users feature, which lets you create profiles for other users on your Android phone or tablet. It essentially creates their own partition on the device—complete with their own data, apps, settings, and even home screen.
Another option is to switch your phone to “guest” mode, which creates a temporary profile that’s completely separate from yours. Once your guest is done using your handset, you can wipe the profile in a couple of taps.
Create a permanent user profile
So, let’s say you’ve got a family member who frequently needs to borrow your Android device. What we’re going to do is set them up with their own user profile—one that’ll store their apps, data, settings, and more in a separate user space.
The first step: Tap Settings > Users > Add user, or swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers to reveal Quick Settings, tap the active user icon near the top, and then tap the Add user button. Once you do, your Android device will start the process of creating a new user space.
Within a minute or so, your handset will prompt you for a Google account username and password. Now would be a good time to hand your phone (or tablet) over to whomever the new user profile is for; let them go ahead and enter their Google credentials (they can also skip this step until later).
After a little more waiting, the default Android home screen will appear, complete with shortcuts to stock Android apps like Drive, Play Music, and the Play Store. For all intents and purposes, it’s an all-new phone for your friend or loved one, and they can customize it, install apps, tweak settings, and more.
To switch back and forth between profiles, swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers to open the Quick Settings panel, then tap the user profile icon at the top of the display.
A few things to keep in mind about other users on your Android device…
Other device users can install new apps on their partitions, including ones that are already installed on your profile, but an app installed in two user profiles on the same device won’t consume double the space. Also, if another user on your phone deletes an app you both use, the app won’t get deleted on your profile.
While you and another user on your phone can share apps, you’ll never share each other’s data—and that goes for music, photos, files, everything.
Your fellow device users can’t make calls or trade SMS messages unless you say so; you can enable or disable phone and SMS access by tapping Settings > Users, then tap the Settings button next to a profile name. Keep in mind that if you do allow other users to make calls or send text messages, they’ll be able to see your calling and text history, and vice versa.
While other device users have the option of setting up screen locks that you won’t be able to bypass, you can always delete their profiles whenever you want; just tap Settings > Users, tap the Settings button next to a profile name, then tap Remove user.
Let a stranger borrow your phone using ‘guest’ mode
Now, let’s say a perfect stranger comes up to you and asks that dreaded question: “Excuse me, may I borrow your phone for just a minute?”
Instead of going through the whole (and potentially lengthy) process of creating a new user profile, there’s an easy way to put your Android phone in “guest” mode—essentially, a temporary profile that can be launched quickly and just as easily deleted.
To launch guest mode, open Quick Settings with a two-finger swipe from the top of the screen, tap the User profile button, then tap Guest. A “Switching to guest” alert will appear; a few seconds later, you’ll be looking at a fresh Android home screen.
A few things to know about guest users…
Just like someone can in a permanent user profile on your phone, a guest user can use and install apps, snap photos, browse the web, and even tweak system settings (although not your personal settings).
You also have the option of allowing guest users to make calls (but not text messages). From your own profile, tap Settings > Users, tap the Settings button next to Guest, then flip the switch labeled Turn on phone calls. (As with permanent profile users, guest users who can make phone calls will be able to see your call history, and you’ll be able to see theirs.)
Once the guest user is all done with your phone, they can wipe their guest profile by opening the Notifications window and tapping the Remove Guest banner. If you switch the phone back to your profile without deleting the guest profile, the next time you switch the phone to guest mode, you’ll be asked whether you want to “continue” the existing guest session or “start over” with a fresh guest profile.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.