How to make Android's Honeycomb browser load desktop -- not mobile -- Web sites

By JR Raphael

Android Honeycomb Browser User Agent

With the launch of the Motorola Xoom this week, the world's getting its first taste of Google's new Android Honeycomb tablet operating system. And for the most part, it's as sweet as can be.

Like anything, though, Honeycomb isn't without its quirks. And one of the most pesky traits comes in the platform's browser.

To be sure, the Honeycomb browser is generally very nice to use; with its tabbed browsing and large-screen optimizations, it feels almost like using Chrome on a PC. There's just one problem: By default, the Honeycomb browser identifies itself to Web sites as a mobile-based application. And that means you frequently end up getting limited-function mobile versions of sites -- like you would on a smartphone -- instead of the full desktop versions. The latter, of course, are what you really want on a tablet.

This happens because of the browser's "user agent" setting: The Honeycomb browser is set as an Android device, which most Web sites read to mean smartphone. Luckily, there's a fix. At the moment, it's a bit tricky to get to -- hopefully something the Android team will adjust in a future update -- but if you know where to find it, it's actually quite simple to pull off.

[UPDATE: Google's Android team has given me some more technical details about what's happening here: In Honeycomb, the browser's default user agent string is "Android"; in previous versions of the OS, it's "Android Mobile." This is meant to serve as a way for Web sites to differentiate between large-screen and small-screen Android devices and then respond appropriately. Thus far, however, most Web developers haven't implemented support for the two strings, which is why both are currently being treated the same.]

So, ready to get everything working the way it should? Follow these instructions, and you'll be browsing like a king in no time.

1. Open the Android Honeycomb browser on your tablet.

2. In the address bar, type: about:debug and press enter.

3. Now open the browser's settings by tapping the icon in the very top-right corner of your screen (it looks like four horizontal lines) and selecting "Settings" from the drop-down menu that appears.

4. On the left side of the screen, tap the section labeled "Debug."

5. On the right side of the screen, tap the item labeled "UAString," then select "Desktop."

6. Press the back button (in the very bottom-left corner of your screen) to exit the browser's settings.

7. In the browser's address bar, type: about:debug once more; this will disable debugging mode and return the browser to its normal state.

Android Power Twitter

That's it -- you're done. Any Web site you visit should now pull up in its full desktop form instead of its mobile version. If you want to test it, just go to AndroidPower.com; that'll take you to this blog's landing page at Computerworld. If you see my smiling face, you're officially good to go.

[UPDATE #2: It appears this process, unfortunately, may not always be permanent; in some cases, the user-agent setting seems to reset when the Xoom reboots. So for the moment, at least, you may have to make the adjustment each time you power up the device.]

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies