One of the things that makes Android, well, Android is the incredible control we have over the interface. And it’s not just wallpapers and ringtones. With a little tinkering we can completely change the look of our phones, whether it’s through rooting, flashing a custom ROM, or installing a third-party launcher.
But if you’re a little skittish at the thought of voiding your warranty and possibly bricking your phone, you can still tweak Android with a few tricks via the System UI Tuner, a feature Google has built right into Settings. You just need to know how to find it.
Hide and seek
When the Marshmallow preview launched in 2015, it brought a menu of customization options in Settings called System UI Tuner. It was sort of a preview of features that Google was still working on; the menu could be found under the System heading. However, once the third preview came along, Google stopped making it something you could accidentally stumble upon and changed it to a hidden menu that needs to be activated through a very deliberate process. And it's still there, hidden away from casual users.
First, you need to pull down the notification shade. Then, tap and hold the gear icon in the top right of the screen for a few seconds (on newer phones you’ll feel a vibration upon activation). Once you let go, the tiny cog will roll away and you’ll be taken to the Settings app and a box will appear saying, “Congrats! System UI has been added to Settings.”
To get to the menu, scroll all the way to the bottom of the settings screen. In the second-to-last spot, you’ll see a new System UI Tuner option, right above the About phone tab. Tap it and you’ll open up a set of options for tweaking the interface.
While System UI Tuner is guaranteed to work on Nexus and Pixel phones, your mileage may vary with other manufacturers. Most notably there is no way to activate the menu on the Galaxy S7.
Also, as is the case with any beta or developer feature, there’s no guarantee that the toggles will work properly, as evidenced by the warning at the bottom of the window: “These experimental features may change, break, or disappear in future releases. Proceed with caution.” However, it’s one of the first things we do at Greenbot whenever we get a new phone, and we’ve never experienced any real problems with it.
Over its near-two-year existence, the System UI Tuner has contained a variety of options, some of which have been moved into the main settings and others that have disappeared. For example, during the Nougat beta testing, both a night mode and a dark theme could be enabled via the System UI Tuner, but only the night mode made it into the shipping version (as Night Light), while we’re still waiting for a dark theme to re-emerge.
Depending on the version you’re running, you’ll see different options inside System UI Tuner. For phones that are still on Marshmallow, there will be three: Status bar, Show embedded battery percentage and Demo mode. And in its most recent incarnation in Nougat, there are also three options, for Status bar, Do not disturb, and Other.
As you might have guessed, the Status bar tab does the same thing across both versions. Tap on it and you’ll see a page of toggles representing each of the icons that appear in the status bar. If you’re tired of staring at the same icons every day, you can turn some (or all) of them off to stop them from appearing.
Marshmallow’s Embedded battery percentage option (which can be found at the bottom of the Status bar tab in Nougat) lets you show how much juice you have left via a tiny number inside the icon. Marshmallow’s Demo mode might not be as useful, however, unless you’re a developer or a tech journalist who takes a lot of screenshots. All it does is strip the status bar of any notification icons and makes sure the battery icon shows fully charged. In Nougat, it’s been moved to the Developer options tab.
Nougat’s Do not disturb settings are fairly straightforward. Inside the tab you’ll find two options: Show with volume controls and Volume buttons shortcut. Turn the first one on and you’ll see a Do not disturb switch whenever you raise or lower the volume. Toggle the second and you’ll be able to quickly turn on DND by lowering the volume all the way and pressing the volume down button one more time.
The final option, Other, hides the setting for the most interesting UI tweak, power notification controls. Turn it on and it will add a slider to the individual app settings inside the Notifications settings. Divided into six levels, they are intended to give you granular control over the notifications you receive, from blocking all alerts to preventing full-screen interruptions and peeking.
At one time, the Other tab also included toggle for enabling a split-screen swipe up gesture, but that has since been removed. That’s kind of the point with the System UI Tuner. With any given update, options can be added or taken away with nary a warning. It’s one of those fun elements that Google provides to users in the know (kind of like those cat Easter eggs), and once you activate it, you’ll likely never want to turn it off.
But if you ever want to, it’s much easier to find. Just tap the three dots in the right corner and select Remove from Settings.