How to use your phone with just one hand

You know what they say about a man with a big phone, right?

Big phone case.

Ok but really, though. Manufacturing specs for smartphones have gotten a bit out of hand – literally – and these days five inch screens are rare birds that most people appear not to find very interesting. This has led to more than a few difficulties in controlling a device with just one hand, which is the most natural way to handle it in vertical position. To help make your life easier, we’ve put together a list of apps that let you access most functions on your device without needing to use both hands or wrangling yourself into a sprained wrist.

Design lessons

When browsing with the screen in vertical mode, your thumb is the most natural finger to use for touch gestures. It’s easy to imagine which part of the screen is easiest to reach: the bottom of the screen, with the top being the least accessible bit. Why, then, do so many apps place most of their icons and action buttons there? Take WhatsApp, for instance: the layout of most of its menus directly contradicts these principles. Something is wrong here.


Taking this into account, it’s clear that the bigger the screen the bigger the hard-to-access area is, and thus the greater the need to use your other hand. This on top of the greater width and thickness of the devices makes it basically a requirement to hold the phone up with one hand and browse with your pointer finger, or use both thumbs to text.

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Apps to use your phone with just one hand

Building on the prior point, entering text with a virtual keyboard is crazy hard if the width of the screen is greater than the length of your thumb. What lots of people don’t know is that even the Google keyboard has a one-handed typing mode that you can access by holding down the comma key for a few seconds. When you activate this mode, the whole keyboard will narrow and stick to one side of the screen, making it much easier to type small messages with one hand.

If you want to go even further with the keyboard, check out Minuum, which completely swaps out the Qwerty schema for one with all the letters in a single line with a predictive system. You can type on it with just one finger using horizontal swipes.

In terms of day-to-day browsing, you can use a radial menu to avoid needing an extra hand to access all your shortcuts using a circular thumb swipe. Apps like Circle Sidebar are what you need here – there are tons of them with all sorts of features and customization of the submenus. We picked Circle sidebar because it’s simple, as too much versatility and nitpicky options are another of the weaknesses of the Android operating system.

But you can take it a step further with surprising results. The three buttons for the Android navigation bar have been a constant since its earliest versions, and you can give them a twist if they’re virtual buttons rather than physical ones under the screen. Simple Control or Handy Soft Keys lets you put three buttons on the edge of the screen. If you set the panel on the side of the hand you use for tapping you’ll need one more tap to access the buttons (which disappear when you’re not using them), but you’ll gain a naturalness in the controls that you’d never expect given how used to the default manufacturer controls most people are.

In short, inscrutable are the ways of hardware designers. Apple, and especially Steve Jobs, initially deemed the ideal screen size of the first versions of its iPhone for Western users as 4.7 to 5 inches. Anything bigger could be more brilliant at showing photos or give a certain margin for designs to “breathe” in the greater available area, but in the process compromises the ergonomics and adaptability that make a device an extension of your body.