Like a well-chosen keyboard shortcut, a button combination can save you some serious time on your phone – whether you want to snap a photo, launch a digital assistant, or take a screenshot. What you might not know is that you can change these button combinations to suit your own needs.
We’re mostly talking about Android here, which is unsurprising given Apple’s reluctance to let third-party apps really dig deep into the fundamental workings of the iPhone. The best you get on iOS is the Change with Buttons toggle switch in Sounds & Haptics in Settings, which sets whether the volume buttons change the overall audio volume level or just the volume level of calls and alerts.
On Android, it’s a different story, both in terms of what you can do using the OS that comes with your phone, and what you can do with some third-party software. We’ll cover both remapping options here.
Remapping Android buttons with third-party apps
You’ve got a few options for third-party apps. First, and this is perhaps our favorite, is Button Mapper: to begin with, you need to grant it access to Android’s accessibility framework, which gives it the permissions it needs to work properly, and then you’re ready to start customising.
The app lists all the buttons on your device, so that’s typically the volume buttons and, if you have them, the button on a connected pair of headphones. You might also see extras like Active Edge, if they’re supported by your phone. There’s no option to remap the power button though – it’s just not possible on Android.
To change what a button does, tap on it then pick your preferred function. Available options include going to the home screen, going back a screen, returning to the last app, taking a screenshot and turning the flashlight on. You can also mute your phone, skip through audio tracks or launch something in Tasker (which lets you automate a variety of tasks on Android).
Separate actions can be set for a single tap, a double tap and a long press on each button. If you’re prepared to pay a few pounds to unlock the Pro version, the app gives you access to a few more button choices (mostly of interest to developers) and a pocket detection feature that stops buttons getting activated while your phone’s in your pocket.
So, to give you one example, you can tap Volume Up, then Customise, then Double tap to choose an action – Mute volume, maybe, or Split screen. The newly remapped function stays in place until you change it again, turn customisation for the button off, or uninstall the app from your phone.
Besides the lack of access to the power button, the app is restricted in that remapping won’t work while the screen is off, unless you’re prepared to use some developer tools on your computer to get deeper hooks into Android – you can find instructions for that here.
Buttons Remapper is also worth a look and works along similar lines to Button Mapper. In this app, you need to tap the Plus icon (lower right) to start remapping, then choose your key and the action that’s associated with it. Again, there’s a lengthy list of actions available, from launching the web browser to changing the screen brightness.
Like Button Mapper, Buttons Remapper can handle short and long presses, but it doesn’t do double taps. Unlike Button Mapper, this app can remap software buttons as well as hardware buttons, and it can also set up combinations of key presses – though that last feature requires a small paid one-off upgrade.
Everything considered Button Mapper is the friendlier and slightly more comprehensive of the two apps, though Buttons Remapper has some unique tricks up its sleeve that Button Mapper can’t do. There’s no harm in giving them both a try. Just perhaps not at the same time, lest your device get confused.
If your device has a dedicated Google Assistant button, then Assistant Shortcuts will let you remap that specific button to something else if you can’t already do it natively (also some Samsung and LG devices don’t play nicely with the app). If it works on your phone, it’s a capable option to have.
There is a caveat, which is you need to set Assistant Shortcuts as your actual assistant app on your phone, replacing Google Assistant. If you choose to do this though, you can do everything from open up the notification panel to taking a quick note with the dedicated button on your device.
We also like the look of Keyboard/Button Mapper, though it’s still in the early stages of development and hasn’t yet been officially released. As well as remapping the hardware buttons on your phone, it can also work with connected keyboards, and a long list of triggered actions are included. It’s one to keep an eye on while it’s developed.
Remapping Android buttons with built-in options
Active Edge on the Pixel phones.
The Android OS that comes with your phone may well have some remapping options built into it. If you’re using a recent Samsung phone, for instance, you can remap the Bixby button: from Settings tap Advanced features then Bixby key. Options include using the button to launch a quick command inside Bixby, or another app entirely.
If you’ve got a Pixel phone with Active Edge capabilities, you can disable or modify the squeeze-to-launch action by heading to Settings and choosing System, Gestures and Active Edge. You can squeeze to launch the Google Assistant, or to silence your phone. Those of you on HTC handsets, where the feature is called Edge Sense, can make changes via Edge Sense then Customise squeeze action in Settings.
OnePlus gives you several options in its own OxygenOS version of Android – you can, for example, use a quick press on the power button to launch the Google Assistant. To see the available options, which include software key customisations, open Settings on your phone then choose Buttons & gestures.
Huawei button options
You’re out of luck if you’re using an LG handset though (at least as far as native options go): the dedicated Google Assistant button that recent LG phones come with can’t be remapped. You can turn it off the functionality if you definitely don’t want to use it though – from Settings choose Extensions and then Shortcuts to find the options.
The most common alternative use for the volume buttons is of course to take a photo in camera mode, and most Android phones will let you adjust this setting. On stock (Pixel) Android, if you tap More, Settings and then Gestures on the camera screen, you can adjust what the volume keys do with a press or a double tap (switching between front and back cameras and zooming are among the options).
This may well be different on whatever handset you happen to be using, such is the variation in Android devices: on recent Huawei handsets, if you tap the cog icon on the camera screen to bring up its settings, you can go to Ultra snapshot and then configure the volume buttons to take photos from the lock screen.