How to User-Test Android Apps

I recently completed a Design Sprint which concluded with a series of usability tests where a number of users tried out the prototype that we’d designed and built over the previous couple of days. This is the moment of truth where you learn if the ideas you’ve developed are going to work in the real world or fall flat on their face.

If you’re not familiar with Design Sprints, they’re a methodology for rapidly answering critical business questions through structured ideation, prototyping and user-testing. We ran the 3-day feature sprint format.

There are lots of great resources out there on how to run user tests (I found these three articles particularly useful as well as Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy). Generally when testing mobile apps, you end up with 1 or 2 people in a room with your participant, conducting the test and other team members observing remotely via video.

Some approaches recommend using a document camera set up over the device to see what the user is doing; but I’ve found this to be problematic. The user’s hand can obscure what is going on and they’re restricted in how they can hold or handle the device. We tried out a slightly different approach to address these problems.


In the test room, we used two laptops joining the same Hangout. One has a wide shot of the room and the other runs Vysor. This is a pretty nifty bit of software that lets you mirror the screen of an Android device onto your laptop. There’s a free version but it will show adverts (on the phone) every 30mins and requires you to connect with a cable. The paid version removes the ads and lets you connect wirelessly. We also turned on the ‘Show Touches’ developer setting on the phone (or use this handy Quick Settings Tile). Now we simply set Vysor laptop to share it’s screen into the Hangout.

Using Vysor to mirror a phone’s screen into a hangout

With this setup, observers in another room joined the Hangout and could see not only the participants but also see the device and what the user is doing and where they are touching. They’re also able to record their screen to keep a record of the test (with the participant’s permission of course!). Here’s what it looked like in the observation room:

Observing the user test, able to fully see how the user interacts with the device

We found that this setup worked really well as we could see how the user interacted with the phone and they were free to use it naturally. There’s so much for the in-room interviewer to do during the test that it’s critical for the remote observers to see what is going on and capture good notes. This setup enabled this brilliantly and the recording was of much more value for checking back later.

I hope that this little tip helps someone out there. Running user tests are fantastic for better understanding your users and what is working in your product. Hopefully this helps you to run better tests.

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