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Dark themes on Android should be the norm, not the exception

Once upon a time, Android cloaked itself in shadow and cerulean. Triumphant cries of #YOLOHOLO rang out throughout the net as users reveled in a mobile experience that didn't blind them like the sun every time they checked their phone in bed. But then a shift came. Material Design ushered in a new age of bright, white Android apps, and one by one, even Google's own apps were drained of their contrast and their charcoal. The manufacturers followed in Google's footprints and system theme after system theme was dragged into the light.

Today, dark themes on Android are an exception, an increasingly uncommon feature sought out by users almost as fervently as it is avoided by nearly all major services and manufacturers. Android Pie dashed the hopes of a system-wide dark theme for another year, and none of Google's most prominent apps have dark themes available for their Android apps.

This is unfortunate for users, but even more so for the developers that shun the darkness, for there are a holy trinity of benefits to these devilishly dark designs.

Hexes and helpers

Dark themes can help your device last longer — with a catch

Minimal dark theme

Legends of dark themes whisper of miraculous power-saving, of letting a phone's screen sip battery like a fine whiskey for days instead of mere hours. It is indeed possible for a dark theme to be a boon to your battery when two conditions are met:

  • The phone uses an AMOLED display, where black pixels remain powered off and unilluminated
  • The app uses true, hex black — #000000 — for the majority of the dark theme

HOLOYOLO

If your phone uses an LCD or IPS display, it doesn't matter if the theme uses hex black: your phone's entire screen is illuminated and drawing power. If an app developer uses anything above #000000 — the HOLO days of Android used charcoal gradients — then every pixel is turned on and drawing power on an AMOLED screen. For a dark theme to be even possibly battery saving, the majority of the theme needs to be true black with the rest of the theme using high contrast colors for text, buttons, and accents.

Dark themes are better for AMOLED displays — as long as they're using true hex black.

This powered-down perk does come with a drawback of its own. When an app uses hex black aka AMOLED black, scrolling text and swift movements can look jittery as individual pixels on your phone turn on and off. This is part of why dark themes on apps like Twitter use a dark color rather than true black, so every pixel stays on and the app doesn't look stuttery or slow when scrolling through your feed.

Twitter's dark theme is not an AMOLED theme, so it's not helping your battery

The problem with using a dark color instead of true black in a dark theme is that it lowers the contrast, and high contrast is more than a want for dark themes: it's an Accessibility need.

See in the dark

Dark themes aren't just good; they're good for you

High contrast modes are available for just about computing platform on the planet because for users with low vision, color-blindness, as well as for older users with eye strain — younger users with eye strain like me. High contrast is easier for those of us with bad eyes to read, and for everyone else, high contrast makes it easier to read/browse/work on a phone or computer for longer.

My eyes

Darkness comes with a price on Android right now: images are inverted, too.

Unfortunately, high-contrast mode on most platforms is just a color inverter. It doesn't change any hard-to-read fonts to something more legible, text isn't enlarged or spread out any better, and on Android and Chrome OS, all photos and videos are inverted, too, which makes for a trippy experience when browsing music apps or social media. These high contrast modes are also all-or-nothing, so services that naturally offer dark themes like YouTube Music are almost as blinding as an empty Google Doc.

By offering and encouraging more high contrast dark themes, Android could make itself easier on the eyes of heavy users and low-vision users, letting us keep using our favorite phones and favorite apps long into the night without our retinas yelling at us.

In the dark of the night

Dark themes let users browse and binge all night long

Because high-contrast themes with pure black backgrounds and properly spaced text are easier to read and use for longer periods of time, what a good dark theme means to a developer is more screen time, more engagement and likely more revenue.

The longer we can use an app, the more money its developer can make.

For apps that are ad-supported, the longer someone uses the app, the more ads they'll scroll through and the more money the developer will get. For apps that have in-app purchases or premium upgrades, the longer a user can spend in an app before their eyes need a break or the battery runs down, the more likely they are to go premium.

And the longer we can use our apps before our eyes beg for oblivion and our batteries beg for a charger, the longer and longer into the night we can use our Android phones for anything and everything.

Snuff out the light

Even YouTube knows people will binge longer with a dark theme

Android Pie may not have brought the dark revolution that we were hoping for, but dark themes are continuing to creep back in from the shadows of Android. Android Pie included a toggle to let Quick Settings and system popups be dark, and YouTube should soon finally get its long-awaited dark theme, but there could be so much more.

Dark themes are better for our eyes, better for our batteries and better for developers' bottom lines. The time has finally come for Android and its developers to come back over to the dark side, so head to your favorite app, dive into the settings and find the "Send feedback" or "Contact developer" option.

Tell them to come to the dark side. We have cookies.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

75 Comments
  • I can't stand the lack of dark themes, even in the Samsung theme development world I just want a clean, dark drop-down menu, matching SMS and dialer theme and normal icons, It seems to be asking too much sometimes.
  • I would have thought Samsung would include that, the two LG phones I've owned have had preloaded black themes.
  • Get "MINU Black Edition" from the Samsung Themes store
  • Back Ribs is available and completely black on Galaxy themes. And.. you can mix and match the themes with icons that you prefer.
  • I use Black_Edition_V2 by MINU
  • What the others said... The Material_Black theme by MINU in the Samsung Galaxy app store is awesome.
  • I'm a fan of "High contrast theme II," by theme.seller
  • If you're willing to do some tweaking on a Samsung phone, try out the themeGalaxy app from the Play store. The developer updates it regularly and I was perfectly happy to donate funds to support their efforts. It was worth it to get a dark theme that perfectly suits my tastes, including the notification header and settings screens.
  • Android design peaked with ICS, and it's been downhill since :(
  • I'd have to put my phone down sooner with dark UI/themes, I get retina imprints from white text on dark background in short order. Make it fair for everyone and have it be an option during initial setup.
  • Options is all everyone has been hollering for, since f'n lollipop came out.
  • Am I the only one that actually prefers white themes for some reason? Alot of my apps have the dark theme but if doesn't have automode to turn on at night only, I usually leave it off.
  • I'm not a dark theme person either.
  • Also generally not a dark theme person, unless it makes sense for the app (e.g., SkyView, 8-bit computer emulator, many games). However, I do have Auto-/Adaptive Brightness turned on, with the max adjusted to about 75%. Also, I have a sepia mode turned on in reading apps (e.g., Kindle, PocketBible). I'd go for lightly colored, sepia themes for general use, but for now I'm sticking with a light theme.
  • You are not alone. Dark Themers are vocal, though.
  • Nope. I have a hard time with dark themes in sunlight. I also find the white to look cleaner. What I do want to know, for those that use it to scare battery life on AMOLED screens, is how much battery life does it really save? I've read that it's really not that much.
  • Up to 3 hours SOT apparently. Either way I dont see an issue with having the choice
  • As Ara points out, it's only going to make a difference when a pixel is #000000 so that it's not drawing power, but most of the time you're going to be in an app. So the battery savings could be significant, or they could be negligible. Personally, I favour "medium-dark" themes that enable smoother transitions from screen off (dark) to home screen (medium) to apps (typically light). The hardest thing on our eyes is immediately transitioning from dark to light.
  • No. And we probably aren't even in the minority. But the people who want dark are just very vocal. You see the same thing on iOS sites.
  • As you white theme people would no doubt be vocal if a dark theme was suddenly the only option available to you. Judge not, lest you be forced to walk a mile in someone else's glass house.
  • Let’s not try variations on a cliché. It never works out well...
  • I thought it worked out quite well
  • I think it's hilarious!
  • Preach girl!
  • 👍
  • I don’t know why google wants all that white. I try as much as I can to get rid of it, and have been mostly successful except for Google’s apps. Substratum helps, but sometimes can interfere with google’s apps, especially after a update(after a update, one theme for google app stopped the voice from working). Google’s app have always been a sore spot for theming to what you want.
  • What substratum really shows is how easy it would be for Google to include a proper system wide dark theme, they just don't want to.
  • Exactly.
    And I bet that's why they butchered it on 9.0. They don't want people fixing their stubbornness without losing warranties.
  • I love dark themes I have dyslexia and helps me to read post etc much better I just wish they would make it more a default
  • I see more and more apps now have a deal theme option. It's starting to get there.
  • I prefer AMOLED black, but I'd settle for a matte black if AMOLED gives people the jitters. More to the point, though, we shouldn't have to stockpile arguments to "prove" that either light or dark themes are "better" for us. We just like what works for us. But if Google can't or won't provide a system-wide dark theme, then they shouldn't be actively preventing users from theming if they want to.
  • Exactly! Let people install bright pink and green it they want to! It's their damn phone.
  • Too bad there isn't some kind of Google-provided Windows 3.x/95/98/ME/NT/2K/XP/Vista/7-type System Colors app. We all could have the color scheme we'd want, provided apps took advantage of it.
  • Love that BlackBerry added the dark theme to its Hub app. They just need to do the same for Contacts and Calendar.
  • Great article! Thanks especially for hitting on the oft overlooked accessibility reasons for including a dark theme. On app development, I avoid paying for and even installing apps that don't offer a dark theme, whereas those that do almost certainly get a purchase. Providing they're not terrible. I wish Windows phone had become an even remotely viable choice so I could've jumped ship... Unfortunately we likely won't see a dark theme again until the year after Apple "invent" it for iOS.
  • Not only dark themes, but also high contrast themes. Staring to light theme in night is like staring into headlight. And Google's apps should have such themes all
  • I was using Substratum but just like all the previous dark theme apks in XDA for years constantly having the app not function after a update is the issue. I update all my apps every 3 days usually and when using Substratum started every other week just not to break a app I use daily. It got annoying enough to where I haven't used Substratum in about a month +. Even Google's current dark theme is a lazy attempt compared to that of 1+ and what Samsung offers via it's store. All apps should offer some type of dark theme native to avoid update issues, every app I have that offers one I use religiously.
  • They're trickling innovation. They could throw it out there. It just helps push devices that come with the new OS. They're full of it.
  • Holo was peak android.
  • My last 3 phones has had amoled and with pitch black themes. It's so mutch more comfortable for my eyes
  • I hate to buck the trend here but I personally don't see the attraction. I have OP6 which has a dark theme but I love the white, it looks clean, fresh and inviting. I can see why the OEM's go for light themes.
  • Great. You like white. Others like dark. All we want is an easy way to have a choice that works.
  • That's why I'm still on O. Substratum ftw. Not sure if I can give it up for P just quite yet.
  • I don't think you have to give up Substratum on Pie.
  • You do if you don't want to root your phone. Sticking to Oreo is the best option for many people.
  • Can we make Ara Editor-in-Chief of Android Central, please?
    Actually no.
    Scratch that.
    Someone send Ara to replace Dave Burke or whomever is in charge of design at Google. Now. I couldn't agree more with the article.
    People here know how I absolutely hate stock Android.
    I hate stock Android for many reasons, but the main one is, precisely, the lack of a pure-black theme as an option. I'm not asking for everyone to be forced into a black theme like Google forces us into white themes. I'm asking for options.
    I could live with the crap split screen view on stock Android.
    I could live with the lack of font customisation.
    I could live with the lack of screen resolution control. But I can't use a phone without a system wide black-theme. I simply can't. It's ugly, it hurts my eyes and it takes away by battery.
    And thanks for Substratum, I've now also got used to how infinitely better apps like YouTube and Instagram look when they're using a pure-black theme.
    On Instagram the pictures actually stand out more and are more pleasant to see than when you have a white background around it casting extra unneeded light into your eyes.
    And on YouTube it allows you for a far better experience when searching for videos or watching videos in portrait more with live chats below. Google MUST know that a pure black theme has a ton of advantages. I don't believe for a second all their designers and engineers are so stupid that they're unaware of this. And they know that consumers want this too.
    The fact that they constantly refuse to deliver this, actively go after the people trying to get this without rooting their phones, and ignore any requests made shows that they're not only more concerned with copying the iPhone, they just despise their existing users and take them for granted.
  • They're taking a chunk out the the Pixel 3XL's screen simply to copy Apple. So yeah, that's what they're doing here as well.
  • sooo, what Hex black # does AC use for iiiiiits app?
  • Android will see a system wide dark theme if/when Apple adds it. Not before.
  • So sad and so true.
  • Almost everything it's dark on my phone (S8) due to Galaxy Themes except the Google apps.
  • For those you can use Sungstromeda (Substratum + Andromeda) and the "Swift for Samsung" Substratum theme, which will take care of the missing apps.
  • Is there a dark theme setting for Android Central?
  • The app? Yes.
  • In our app, there is. And if I ever get my way, we'll bring it to the mobile site and desktop site. Especially the forums.
  • Amen
  • Don't know what all that hate for white is about. I personally can't stand a black theme. I like it simple and light. White with just some black or grey text is perfect. My wife likes it colorful to the extreme. So, everybody is different. And everybody can style their phone the way they want. And if you don't know how to do this, it's time to educate yourself! And stop pushing 3 articles a day about how we need black themes! It's all available, so stop whining!
  • I like my eyes. I'd like to keep them.
    If I want to go blind I rather stick a fork in them than destroying them with bright white themes ;P
  • I think it's time for you to educate yourself on the things that Android 9 has removed. It's not like theming a phone was something any normal person could easily accomplish on Oreo either though.
  • OEMs are doing it. There's no reason why Google can't put it in the stock code.
  • This does not make sense. What wears out AMOLED screens is LED degradation due to current density and the heat generated. As soon as you start to dim the individual LEDs, they last longer. It isn't necessary to turn them off completely.
    As for dark themes being better for our eyes - that's rubbish. They might be if our species was nocturnal. But it isn't. We're adapted to daylight. The brightest screens are much dimmer than the daylight sky and are not nearly bright enough to cause eye damage. On the other hand, our vision is adapted to see small things against a mostly light background - which is why we prefer black text on white when we can get it.
  • Always nice to hear from someone who neither read the article or knows what they're talking about. She never claimed a black theme would make the panel last longer, she said it would make the BATTERY last longer. Now you're wrong about human eyesight. It's incredibly unhealthy to stare at bright surfaces. This is why we invented hats and sunglasses, and why skiers will go "snowblind" if they don't utilise said invention. The reason for black text on a white background is nothing more than simple tradition. It originates from the simple fact that white (ish) paper and black (ish) ink were and are infinitely cheaper and easier to make than black paper and white ink. And most of the time we're not even talking about black on white, but light grey on white. Low contrast is bad for your eyes regardless. Do ten minutes of research into eye strain and you'll find that, in the majority of instances, you're objectively wrong.
  • This is where I step in and remind everyone that Windows phones had a dedicated Dark Theme years ago. Of course, no one cares as only five people still use Windows phones, but still. I miss it.
  • Windows phone had a lot of useful features. And not a lot of apps that could take advantage of them.
  • I like 1+6 dark theme
  • If only ACs mobile app dark mode weren't so bad. It's hard to destinguish between read and unread articles.
  • Thank goodness for Samsung "bloat" (themes). No problem getting a black theme on these phones.
  • Was just about to mention Windows Phone dark theme. 8 months ago I was still using a Lumia,using a Nokia 6.1 now .Miss the dark theme. If we could set it for different times, then I'd like that.
  • I disagree. Can't stand dark themes. Light is better than darkness, ask Skywalker :p
  • I have nothing else to add except another AMEN substratum is my friend, but I'd ditch it in a heartbeat for a true system-wide dark theme
  • Windows phone had it right: you could pick light or dark theme. Google's lack of a dark theme is profound incompetence in user experience.
  • Yes, yes, YES!!!! Material Design turned every Android device into a flashlight. A dark theme should be the default. Let the Apple fans ruin their eyes.
  • Thanks for writing this. Anyone who has worked in a dark environment or the midnight shift understands the benefits of dark themes. Android and all its apps should at least have the option.
  • I prefer white interface, it’s less boring imo. Dark theme should definitely be an option though when there is a lack of light in your surroundings. « Dark themes let users browse and binge all night long » That’s not a very healthy habit :)
  • Depends on the app for me. Some apps look great with a dark theme, others just look murky. But, it's good to have a choice.