How to Make an Android Home Dashboard

A home hub to keep your schedule and notes in plain sight

Black Friday Deal Alert: The Amazon Fire 7″ Tablet is on sale for $30 at Target (and everywhere else, but hey – REDcard discount!) A perfect choice for an inexpensive Home Dashboard Tablet!


Hello world. 

In an attempt to save my F5 key from total destruction as election results roll in on this Guy Fawkes evening, I figured I ought to work on putting together the material for this blog post to teach y’all how to make an Android Home Dashboard.  

The Home Dashboard How-tos

A home dashboard is a way to have your to-dos, calendar, and whatever else you need at-a-glance. It fits into a similar space as the voice assistant devices with a screen like the Echo Show, except with a lot more customizability.

This how-to is the first part in a series (at least three parts, eventually) of how to make a device that you can use to display all your family’s comings and goings. In this part, I’ll show you step by step how to make an Android home dashboard tablet. 

This is a how-to for the non-techy types. If you’re looking for what to do with your raspberry pi I suggest checking out magic mirror (and then sending me your finished product because they’re sooooooo cool) or else Dakboard (which will later appear as a part of this series). This guide will show you what apps to download and set up widgets to turn your old tablet (or phone) into a home dashboard tablet. Or phone.

Because this device depends entirely on widgets, it does require something running Android. 

How to Make an Android Home Dashboard

How to Make an Android Home Dashboard

To set up a home dashboard, there are a number of options available, some mentioned above. What works best for you will depend on your family’s specific needs as well as what tech you happen to have lying around. 

On one hand, a phone might seem like a tiny screen for this purpose, but on the other hand the new Echo Show 5 (if you click this link and purchase anything on amazon I may receive a commission at no cost to you) is only 5 inches and my phone is something like 6.5 inches so… Depending on what phone you have lying around, it might not be too small to use as a display as long as your widgets are laid out well. A tablet is preferable for most people though, so if you’ve got one that you don’t use very much anymore – dig it out!

I’m using a 10” Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 that my husband no longer takes to work. It’s still a quality tablet, and one of the things I like about using a tablet for this purpose is that it’s easy to pick it up and just use it as a regular tablet. If you are using a wall-mounted screen with a dedicated computer, you’ve got a lot more options for perfecting your dashboard layout, but the device itself won’t be as flexible as the home dashboard tablet displayed here.

Apps

Must-have Apps

  1. Calendar (aCalendar+ or standard google calendar)
  2. Clock (HD Widgets or default)
  3. To-do (aCalendar+ or preferred to-do app)
  4. Notes (Keep, evernote, one note, Samsung notes…)
  5. Communication (hangouts, whatsapp, Facebook messenger, etc…)

Recommended Apps

  1. Launcher (Nova, Microsoft launcher, whatever you like) 
  2. Background image gallery (muzei)
  3. Weather (Dark Sky, HD widgets, or default) 
  4. News (Flipboard, or whatever sources you like)
  5. Sectograph (acts as a calendar and clock and shows how much time you have until your next event)

Other Options

  1. Location Display
  2. Voice Assistant (Alexa App, Google Assistant, even Bixby if it’s available)
  3. Automation apps (IFTTT and/or Tasker if you’re more technically inclined or KWGT to make your own widgets)
  4. Music and/or video
  5. Smart Home control (Ring doorbell viewer, Roku/FireTV/Chromecast control, Harmony remote, smartthings, Hue bulbs, etc…)
  6. Daywise (but really I just recommend turning off notifications for this one)
  7. Your favorite organizational apps

Setup

1. Launcher

If you want an alternate launcher, set it up now. Open the app and follow the instructions.

2. How to add a widget

In case you need a refresher, it’s pretty easy. 

  • Long press on your home screen 
  • A menu will pop up along the bottom with three choices
  • Click on “widgets” and it’ll pull up a list of all the widgets on your device, organized by app name
  • Find the widget you want then hold it down to drag into place on your home screen. 
  • Once it’s placed you can long press on the widget to move or resize if needed. 

3. Clock

Start off with your clock widget, because you need to make sure it’s big enough and with enough contrast that you can see it from wherever you might be. 

4. Calendar

The ideal here is an agenda app where you can see exactly what’s coming up next. But you also want something visual so you can see how much time you’ve got. I like to use Sectograph with an agenda widget as well. 

Sectograph handles the visual aspect for me while the agenda from aCalendar+ allows me to see what’s coming up. 

5. To-do

My favorite calendar/tasks combo is still aCalendar+ tasks. But the tasks app isn’t included in the free version. A few years ago I would have unreservedly recommended spending a few bucks on the premium version, because it utilized the then-unknown Google tasks API.

Unfortunately, Google has since tried to make tasks into its own thing and nerfed it significantly in the process (why??) which also injured aCalendar+ tasks. The team still regularly updates and improves the app, and I still love how easy it is for me to assign tasks to my family members, but there are potentially other better options now. 

6. Notes

Right beneath my tasks I have my notes app (Google Keep in this case) – there I can pin notes I want later or leave a message for another family member. 

7. Background

Download the Muzei app and the add-on Phuzei in order to use Google photos for your background. Muzei also has access to rotating artwork if you prefer that to pics of your kids (you see them all the time anyway!) but for some reason when I was doing this write-up they kept showing me pics of cows… 

8. Always-on Screen

The last thing is to set up your tablet so that the screen stays on. I am using my home dashboard tablet at least 50% or more as a clock so an always-on display is important. 

If you have a device with an always-on-display that shows when your screen is locked, that’s one option. Otherwise, android has an alternative that is hidden in the settings. It’s easy to enable. Some menu options may look slightly different or be named slightly differently than in the instructions here.

1. Open the Settings app

2. Scroll to the bottom and open “About Phone”

3. Tap “software information”

4. Find “Build number” and tap it repeatedly.

After tapping a couple times it should come up and say “You are now 4 steps away from being a developer.” Tap 4 more times.

5. The phone should then tell you something like “Developer Mode has been turned on.” It may ask you to enter your PIN or password first. 

6. Once this is successfully enabled it should tell you “Developer mode has already been turned on” if you tap Build Number again.

7. Return to the main Settings menu (tap back twice, or just reopen it) and go all the way to the bottom and open the freshly unhidden “Developer Options”

8. If the button at the top is turned to off, turn it on. It should be on automatically though following step 5. If you turn it off you’ll have to start back over at step 1.

9. Most of these options are things you’ll never use unless you’re an actual developer. That’s ok. Touch nothing but the lamp.

10. Somewhere near the top is an option called “Stay awake” with the description “Screen will never sleep while charging.” Turn it on. 

9. Customize

If you’re feeling ambitious, now’s your chance to change things up a little. On a second page (reached by a swipe) I added news with Flipboard, the Google Now widget, and Dark Sky weather.

Before you go

To be super vague, if this post still felt too techy, I’ve got some more plans up my sleeve. Let me know though, so I can see exactly where I need work! 

And let me know if you tried today’s post. Send me some pics!
What are your favorite widgets? Or do you not use them at all because you’re not an old man like me?
Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!

All that Nerdish

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