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Share Your Android Tablet (and Keep Your Privacy) with a Guest Account

android-user-accounts

Tablets are great devices to leave on a coffee table and share, but they’re intensely personal. They provide direct access to your email, signed-in apps, and even your Chrome browser history from your PC.

Modern Android tablets running Android 4.2 or newer provide a way to set up multiple user accounts, allowing you to share your tablet with anyone. You can create a guest account to share or create multiple accounts for specific people.

Creating a Guest Account

To get started, open your Android tablet’s Settings screen and tap the Users option under Device.

Note: If you don’t see the Users option, your tablet is running Android 4.1 or older. Android 4.2 has been out for some time and is found on tablets such as the Nexus 7 — the new and old versions — as well as other modern Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy and ASUS Transformer series. If your tablet is a bit older and isn’t a Nexus tablet, it may not receive the update.

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To create a guest account, tap the Add user or profile option.

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Select User — we’ll explain restricted profiles later. User accounts are probably best for guests, while restricted profiles may be best for children that you want to restrict to a few games. (If you’re using Android 4.2, you won’t see the Restricted profile option.)

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Android will show some information explaining this feature — tap the OK button to continue.

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Tap the Set up now button to set up your guest profile.

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You’ll be taken to the lock screen. Note the user icon at the bottom — you’re now signed in as the new user. Just unlock the screen to continue.

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Once you do, you’ll see the typical Welcome screen. When asked if you have a Google account, tap No and select Not now. This will allow you to create a guest account that will function like a normal user account, except you won’t be able to use any options requiring a Google account. Guests can pick up your tablet and use the default apps, like the Chrome browser, YouTube, Google Maps and other apps. However, they won’t be able to install apps without creating a Google account, as Google Play won’t function.

If you wanted to install apps in your guest account, you could create a separate Google account for it and install the apps from Google Play. Android won’t waste space by installing the apps twice if they’re already installed for another user account — Android will just make the app available to the other user account, storing a single copy of the app in its storage.

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Continue through the welcome process, entering Guest or a similar name for your new user account.

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Switching User Accounts

To switch a user account, tap the icons on the bottom of the lock screen. You’ll be prompted for your PIN or pattern if you set one up. To “sign out” of your user account, just lock your tablet.

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You can also pull down the quick settings panel from the top-right corner of your tablet’s screen and tap your username to go straight to the lock screen and switch users.

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Creating Accounts for Specific People

If you have specific people that constantly use your tablet — perhaps your spouse or children — you may want to give each of them their own dedicated user account. To do so, go through the Add a user process normally, passing the device to them and allowing them to log into their own Google account. They can then set up their own lock code to protect their account, although you — the device’s owner, or the first account that logged into the tablet — are capable of removing their accounts from your tablet.

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Restricted Profiles

If you’re using Android 4.3, you also have the ability to set up restricted profiles by selecting Restricted profile when adding a new user account.

Restricted profiles function similarly to parental controls. The restricted profile has access to apps from your account, but you can choose exactly which apps they have access to. Developers have the option to implement fine-grained settings for restricted profiles, so you could theoretically choose what the restricted profile could do in a specific app.

Restricted profiles are a great way of making only certain apps available to a user. For example, you could give your child access to only a few games and block access to other apps. When they want to play games on your tablet, you could sign into the restricted profile — the same way you’d sign into a standard user account — and hand it over. They’d be able to play only the games you specifically made available, and they wouldn’t be allowed to make in-app purchases. You wouldn’t have to go through all the trouble of creating a separate user account and installing the apps twice.

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Bear in mind that the solution for using a Guest account above is a bit of a workaround. Google doesn’t offer a way to create a special guest account and any data a guest stores on the account will be accessible to future guests using that same account.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/13/13

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