How Flash Can Be Actually Useful On An Android Phone

Some have stated that the Flash video on Android phones is "startlingly bad". That might be true, depending on your setup. But there are smarter ways to set up Flash on an Android and get some real use from it.

Image via RJL20.

First Things First: Make Flash "On Demand"

One of the biggest complaints about Flash on Android as it is on desktops and laptops is that it pops up everywhere, without warning, making the most annoying ads and page controls float over what you're trying to focus on.

To fix that, at least on phones with the stock Android or generous manufacturer modifications, open your phone's stock browser, hit the menu key, choose the "More" option, then pick "Settings". Scroll down to find the "Enable plug-ins" entry, tap it, then pick "On demand" from the options that pop up. Now when there's a Flash video or control on a page, it shows up with a downward-facing green arrow, which you can click to activate Flash for just that page. It's a lot more hospitable than just hoping that sites have a good mobile version with minimal Flash.

Watch Shorter Videos or Use Mobile-Friendly Sites

In many tests of Flash video, the videos being loaded are longer takes or extended trailers in HD — the kind of thing you'd normally sneak into a lunch break at work. Depending on your device, this either works out decent or results in a kind of slideshow-like stuttering. That has to do with memory as much as processing power.

It's not quite the advice you'd like to hear, but stick to shorter videos if you're going to play them through Flash, and try to hunt down the non-HD version whenever possible. If you're finding a video just impossible to play, head to or, where most videos are available for non-Flash HTML5 streaming direct to Android phones — usually at better resolutions and rates than through Flash or the YouTube app too.

Use Flash Where It's Useful: Work Sites, Restaurant Menus, Logins

Honestly, Flash isn't something the Lifehacker editors use all the time while browsing on their Android phones — the editors that do have Android 2.2 running, anyway. It's just something that's available for sites that need Flash to work properly — for better or worse.

Lifehacker reader @soul4real uses Flash to get at the educational websites she needs access to, and that makes sense. Many sites, like @sabiddle's bank, use Flash elements for login forms, in part to offer secure "virtual keyboards" and other elements that can't be trapped or traced as easily as HTML. Lifehacker's own content-editing system uses Flash to upload and modify multiple photos, and I've used it from my Nexus One in a pinch (usually with an assist from the handy Dropbox app).

@keatonreckard noted that many restaurants and some businesses simply love Flash for displaying menus or even simple contact information. You can feel free to call up these businesses and browbeat their web managers, or refuse to frequent them on the principle that they must have hired a scammer for a web developer, but in the meantime, it's helpful to have click-on Flash access to the information you'd like to know.

Alternatives for When Flash Simply Won't Work

Had it up to here with too-slow Flash on your device but still want access to nifty videos around the web? You've got options in the form of free apps.

Skyfire offers a browser that detects Flash videos on any site you're looking at. Hit the "Video" button in the lower left, and Skyfire sends the video to its servers, then pushes it back to your browser in a more mobile-friendly feed. Dolphin Browser HD can download YouTube and a few other Flash video sites' contents straight to your SD card for better performance and later viewing.

What Flash-on-Android tips and alternatives did we miss? Tell us how you find peace with Flash on your phone in the comments.


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