How to use your phone with one hand

And no, you don't have to be Mr. Fantastic or Elastigirl.

hand holding a iphone xs
Are your thumbs having a hard time keeping up today's ever-bigger phones?dhe haivan via Unsplash

Remember back in the era of the iPhone 4 and 5, when Apple’s phones seemed diminutive compared to their growing competitors? The company claims they did so to keep the phones usable with one hand. They eventually caved, though, and even today’s smaller phones (like the iPhone 8 and Pixel 3a) are huge compared to what we had a few years ago.

There are, however, a few tricks and tools—many of them lesser-known—designed to help your short thumbs deal with those large screens.

Enable "Reachability" or "One-Handed" modes

iPhone Reachability setting and appearance
Don't overstretch your hand: Help yourself with Reachability on the iPhone.Whitson Gordon

You may be surprised to learn that your phone actually has a one-handed mode built right in, designed to make all those icons easier to reach. The iPhone’s version is called Reachability mode, and I find most people enable it by accident and think it’s some sort of glitch, rather than a useful feature.

That might be why Apple disabled the feature by default in iOS 12, but you can get it back by heading to Settings > General > Accessibility and toggling Reachability on. From there, you can either swipe down near the bottom of the screen (on the iPhone X and up) or double-tap—not click, but tap—the home button (on the iPhone 8 and older) to shift your home screen icons down for easy access.

Android is a bit more fragmented. Many phones, including Samsung's, have their own one-handed mode. On Galaxy devices, you'll find it in Settings > Advanced Features > One-Handed Mode. If you have a non-Samsung phone, you may have to dig around the settings to find it.

If your device doesn't contain this feature—like Google's Pixel phones, for example—third-party tools can fill the void. Popular mobile site XDA Developers created their own application called One-Handed Mode that you can download from the Google Play Store. When enabled, it'll shrink the active app so you can reach everything with one hand. It requires a little command line work with the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) to grant permissions, but it's not as much work as rooting your phone, and the instructions here will walk you through the process. You'll also want to pony up the 99 cents for the in-app purchase that lets you easily toggle the feature on and off, not to mention other customizations.

If you want something a bit different, Reachability Cursor is another popular tool, giving you a mouse-like cursor to reach faraway icons on the screen. It's not quite as quick and easy to use as One-Handed Mode, but it's much simpler to set up since you don't need any fancy command line work. Bottom Quick Settings is a good companion app, too, allowing you to reach Android's Quick Settings panel from the bottom, rather than the top, of the screen.

Arrange your home screen for one-handed access

An iPhone with invisible Makeovr apps
With Makeovr, you can create invisible icons to customize your iPhone. They only show up when you press and hold an icon to move or delete apps.Whitson Gordon

While the above tricks will get you pretty far, there are other things you can do to make reaching your apps even easier. A bit of home screen organization, for example, can go a long way—either on its own or in addition to the reachability tools we’ve already talked about.

Both iOS and Android allow you to rearrange your home screen apps by pressing and holding on the icons to move them around. Put your most-used apps in the bottom right corner of the screen (or bottom left, if you're a southpaw) and they'll be a lot easier to reach. Android even allows you to leave the unreachable portion of the screen empty, so all your apps are reachable. iOS forces you to arrange your icons in a grid, but you can use a tool like Makeovr to create invisible icons, thus allowing you to push all your apps to an easily reachable corner while leaving the rest of the screen "empty." Be sure to open Makeovr in Safari, as it won't work in the iOS version of Chrome.

Android users have a few more tricks up their sleeve in this realm, too. With third-party home screen launchers like Nova, you can add swipe gestures to your home screen for certain actions. For example, a swipe down could reveal your notification drawer, without you having to actually swipe from the top of your phone's big screen. You can read more about how to do this in our guide to Android shortcuts, and you might also want to check out our list of Android home screen replacements, which may also provide some one-hand friendly layouts.

Shrink the keyboard

google messages screenshot with one-handed keyboard
On Android, press and hold the Gboard comma key to see the one-handed option.Whitson Gordon

Typing on a keyboard with one thumb isn’t exactly fast, and if you’re typing out more than a couple words, you’ll probably want to use both hands. But for quick texts like “on my way," one hand works well… as long as you can reach all the keys.

Many keyboards, on iOS and Android, have a one-handed mode that shifts the keyboard toward the right or left edge of the screen, so you can reach all the keys with a single thumb. On iOS, you'll usually find this option by holding the globe icon and enabling one-handed mode. On Android, it can vary from keyboard to keyboard. Google's Gboard, for example, lets you switch to one-handed mode by holding down the comma key. It won't make typing on a phone enjoyable or anything, but it'll at least save you from making so many typos.

Tweak your apps

android screenshot of Google Chrome and Pocket Cast settings
When your phone fails, your apps have your back. Google Chrome allows you to move the navigation bar to the bottom, and Pocket Cast lets you view your podcasts as a list.Whitson Gordon

Finally, your apps may have some one-handed features built-in. We obviously can’t detail every app here, but dig through the settings of your most-used apps and see what you can find.

Google Chrome, for example, recently moved the navigation bar to the bottom of the screen on iPhones, and you can move it on Android by typing chrome://flags into the address bar and enabling the "Chrome Duet" experimental feature. You may need to manually restart Chrome after doing so for the new address bar to show up, though.

Pocket Casts, meanwhile, arranges your podcasts in a grid by default, but you can change this to a list format that's much easier to navigate with one hand. The official Reddit app allows you to swipe right to go back, eliminating the need to reach the faraway back button. Dig around in your favorite apps' settings to see what features they offer that may make one-handed use easier. Every little bit counts.