How to: Alter the DPI on your Nexus 7 to bring up that bigger tablet feel

There's absolutely no doubt, the Nexus 7 is a fantastic piece of equipment. But, as with all Android devices, you can't please all of the people, all of the time. One point of annoyance for some is the phone styled UI that the Nexus 7 employs, and more specifically, the lack of a proper landscape mode on the home screens. 

But, this is Android, and this is a Nexus device. So, there's tweaking that can be done. Everything needed framework wise is on board to allow you to bring about what we see here. It's simply a matter of altering the DPI settings in the build.prop. Apps can mix and match elements. 

Sounds daunting, but thankfully for the less brave -- like myself -- some of the brilliant developers the Android community can call its own have done the hardest parts for us. 

The pre-cursor; this process requires root access. If you haven't already, definitely check out the fantastic step-by-step in the Android Central Forums on how to unlock and root your Nexus 7. Once you've done all that, and you've achieved root, the rest is easy. 

There are a variety of different applications in Google Play that can do the tweaks we require here. For the purposes of this article, we used Rom Toolbox Lite, which you'll find a download link to below. 

When Rom Toolbox has been opened, swipe left into the performance pane, and look for the button labeled "build.prop tweaks." Press this, and you'll be presented with three sliders, one of which will alter the DPI settings of your tablet. 

Out of the box, the DPI on the Nexus 7 is set to 213. It's worth remembering this value, to help you go back to the standard as quickly as possible should you so wish. To achieve the best results, slide the toggle right the way down to 160. 170 works too, but for proper tablet UI in some apps, we found 160 worked better. Remember, we're not actually changing any of the physical properties of the screen, just what is reported. 

Hit apply, accept the reboot and wait for the tablet to fire back up again. When it does, you'll see a much more familiar looking tablet appearance staring back at you. No more Google search bar right across the top, this is now reduced to the small box in the top left. The app drawer is now opened in the top right, and the three on screen buttons are smaller and located in the bottom left. 

Notifications are still the new, enhanced Jelly Bean notifications, but instead of pulling down from the top, they rise up from the bottom right hand corner. 

This isn't without potential issues though, it will most likely break some apps in the Play Store. But, it's pretty simple to set up, and equally simple to undo, so why not give it a try. If you just want your home screen to look a little bit like this, you could always try Apex Launcher. But, if you want the real deal, then try this. A custom launcher such as Apex will still keep the notification bar at the top, and the buttons at the bottom just as the stock launcher does. If landscape mode is all you want though, Apex might do you just fine.  

Download: Rom Toolbox Lite (opens in new tab)

Richard Devine
  • Awesome! Thanks for the tip.
  • Whoever does this, let me know if it creates noticeable screen artifacts from not being in native resolution. I suspect yes, but I'm curious.
  • Well things changed on YouTube and well it doesn't buffer as fast as it used to, no option to add to watch later
  • It still IS in native resolution. What the DPI setting change is the screen size reported to the apps. Lower DPI means a bigger screen diagonal while the nominal pixel count is still the same.
  • Android's tablet interface has always been crappy, so I definitely will NOT be doing this when my Nexus 7 arrives! Also, I have a feeling that this tweak will make some text too small and hard to read, so there are a number of benefits from staying with the default DPI.
  • Wonder if someone would be able to come up with a way to keep the DPI but trick it to use the tablet interface.
  • Yes, it already exists, just not ported to the N7 yet. It is only a matter of time though... You can run either phone, phablet or tablet UI on this rom and you can customize UI and DPI per app.
  • If i had a Nexus 7 i wouldn't drop it like the guy does at the end of the video. Shows how highly he values the thing. If i had one, (despite its sturdiness) I would handle it with more care :P
  • You will run into some side effects by going this. There are reasons the UI is how it is on that device. Some comments from one of Android's UI developers, Dianne Hackborn: 'Some people have commented that the UI on the Nexus 7 isn't a scaled down version of the 10" UI. This is somewhat true. It is also not just the phone UI shown on a larger display. Various parts of the system and applications will use one or the other UI (or even a mix) depending on what works best. For example parts of the system UI (status bar and navigation bar, settings) use the phone layout since they too compact in 600dp of width. Other apps use the tablet UI or even a mix -- for example Gmail uses the tablet UI in the conversation list, but the message screen is either a single pane like a phone or dual-pane like a tablet depending on whether the screen is currently portrait or landscape.' Source: This means that by changing the screen density, you're going to be forcing apps (and the system) to use UI's that simply weren't designed to be used on this screen. Don't blame the apps if their UI's seem too cramped after making this change. Regarding the specific point raised in this post, here's what one commenter had to say to Dianne: "I feel the bottom-drawer UI on 10.1" tablets is far superior usability-wise on a tablet. I wish the N7 had it, to be honest. Dianne... thought bubble for making your job harder in the future: Give us a choice? :P?" And Dianne's response: "+Sushubh Mittal and +Jake Weisz did either of you read the post? :) The Nexus 7 UI is a mix of phone and tablet UIs, based on what fits in the available space. The system bar design for a 10" screen just doesn't fit well on a 7" screen when in portrait. This wouldn't make sense to turn into a choice."
  • You could always sharpen your fingers with sandpaper if you think UI elements are too small after changing the reported DPI.
  • It's nice to have that full tablet experience and it brought back the feature I was missing from ICS which was having a brightness slider a click away in the notification bar, nice.
  • Surely this is ADDING to the Android fragmentation myth, not helping it...
  • No, it just shows how versatile Android is for supporting various screen sizes and resolutions.
  • What myth? It's a known fact that Android is fragmented. INTENTIONALLY. This isn't iCrap. It's about CHOICE.
  • I used "LCD density modder" app to do this and BRICKED my Nexus 7. (be warned).
  • Thanks for this. Seems so easy to do (once rooted) and easily reversed too by the looks of things
  • WOW! So the DPI trick still works? I remember back in the Honeycomb days tweaking the DPI setting would turn your Honeycomb launcher into a phone (Gingerbread-like) launcher depending on what DPI setting was used.
  • Something I've noticed just now, when you are in hybrid UI mode, the wallpapers are the standard Jelly Bean ones. Switch to the 160 DPI...they change to the ICS wallpapers. Anyone else find that, or just me? Interesting, to say the least. Kind of inconvenient for people like me who get bored with their wallpaper all too often. At the same time, its nice to have the option of both sets of wallpaper.
  • Note: This fixes the formatting issues with the Kindle app on the Nexus 7. By default with the Nexus 7 the Kindle app doesn't seem to recognize the size of the screen and sets the possible font sizes and margins much to large for a screen the size of the Nexus 7. Following the instructions here and setting it to 160 will correct the formatting issues and the font size and margins will show up similar to what you will find on the Kindle Fire.