The other day, our team thought about how to test our soon-to-be-released iOS and Android app in the most efficient way possible. First we planned to set up automated tests via Sauce Labs+Appium, but finally opted out and settled on manual testing with actual devices (which we would've done otherwise as well, ofc). To expose us to real and meaningful tests, I knew that our own devices just wouldn't cut it - we have too new and an extra i before our phones - so the following weekend I ended up building our own mobile device testing suite.

I had a lot of fun building this and the end result wasn't too shabby, so here is a brief step-by-step guide if you want to make one for yourself. I have still two pieces of timber left, so if you're quick you might even get one for free!

0. The equipment

Make sure to get all the equipment beforehand - it sucks to realise in the middle of the build that you're just missing the crucial piece of mounting tape. Check out the list below to get it all - you can also find the list as a Kit Collection.

  • Timber, a blank at least 100cm long
  • 5 x smart car holders
  • Android phones, 3 in total
  • iPhones, 2 in total
  • charging cables
  • a USB charging hub
  • paint and brushes
  • cable holders (the ones you hammer in)
  • sandpaper
  • glue
  • mounting tape

When it comes to phones, the 3 Androids and 2 iPhones give a good coverage as they have both small and large screen sizes and Android OS's vary as they do in the wild as well.

1. Sandpaper the shit out of the wood

We want the wood to feel silky and smooth, don't we? Don't be too hard on yourself though if it isn't like a baby's butt - the paint will forgive you on that a bit.

2. Paint it (black)

I have zero idea what's the best paint to use, I just went with regular furniture paint (I think). I went for black but that's totally up to you.

3. Let it dry.

Let it dry. I repeat. Let. It. Dry. Seriously. 1-2 hours is adequate.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3

Twice. That should amount to three coats of paint in total.

5. Mount the smart holders

First, measure the spots. Start in the middle, then mark the leftmost and rightmost spots (equally far from the edges) and finally then position the two spots in between the existing ones (leftmost and center, rightmost and center, that is). No matter how long your plank is, you can't go wrong with this method. Or can you?

Important note: I screwed up on this one quite a few times, not with the measurements though but with the actual mounting itself. In case the surface of the plank is not totally smooth, it's not possible to use the rubber thingies that are used to mount the holders into a windshield. The holder in the picture eventually dropped of, so I just removed the rubberings (let's say it's a word) and just applied a shitload of super glue to the bare plastics of the holder and got it to stick. Needless to say, this prevents you from removing the holder from the plank if the need would arise. Life is :(

After you've mounted the holders, you can number each one of them to help you on gathering feedback later on ("The big white phone" vs. "Number 2")

6. Mount the charging hub

We want the testing suite to be a mobile one (pun intended), so we don't want it to have wires or any other equipment hanging loosely on it. That's why we mount the charging station on the plank with a piece of mounting tape. I put the station to the middle to balance the whole monument, but if that's not the case with you (the plank is wide enough to stand on its own "legs"), I'd prefer to put the station on either end of the plank).

7. Wire it up

The same rules apply to this part as it did for the previous one: no loose cables, ever! Make sure to stick the cables to the plank with cable holders (pictured). Also make sure to measure the cable so that there is not too much of cable hanging next to the smart holder. Too little is also bad. Make it just right - the cable should be a bit longer for Android's as some of them are charged from the top opposed to the bottom like all iPhones (what's wrong with you androidians, seriously!?).

8. Set up the phones

Starting to look pretty good! All you have to do now is to plug in the phones and start testing the s....nope, not so fast my friend. You should know better. You have to treat those phones right to get the best out of them - they are real phones after all, even though they are only for testing.

So what to do then? With Android phones, it's pretty straightforward - there's no SIM cards required or anything, so you just need to enable developer mode and preferably hook the phone to your test Google account. To enable Developer Mode you go to Settings --> About device and tap Build number seven times in a row. Once you get the "You are a developer" alert, you know you got it right. On developer mode you can set up the screen to never go to sleep and start logging performance etc - just go ahead and play around with the settings to find out for yourself.

With iPhones it's a bit trickier as you need a SIM card to activate the phone in the first place. Luckily you can use any SIM card to do this and can take it out immediately after activation - I just went ahead and used my own SIM to do this. No harm done (fingers crossed). After activation, you need to add the new phone to your Apple Developer Account, and my advise is to attach it to some Apple ID to download apps if the need arises.

One final touch for me was to mark all the phones as follows, to get a clear view of what you're testing on, no matter who's testing and when.

9. Start testing

That's it, you're all set to go! Easy, wasn't it?

ps. I was serious about the plank giveaway. If you're interested in making your own wooden mobile testing suite, send me an email at akujaakko.saukkonen@gmail.com and let's make it happen!