I've said this for years: Every time I have any support interaction with Google Play Music, I conclude the conversation asking about the return of that glorious dark theme. Dark themes in apps can be awesome, but dark themes for your home screen can be pure perfection. If you're using an AMOLED phone, dark themes can be energy-efficient as well as gorgeous — but only in very specific circumstances.
Here's what they are and how to make your own.
AMOLED and power-saving
If you have an LCD or IPS (which is a type of LCD) screen on your phone, you can skip down to the next section: black or not, your pixels and screen are on and using energy, period. Any dark theme you use will be for pure aesthetics or for time efficiency, which we'll get to in a bit.
But if you have an AMOLED screen, then yes, a dark theme can save you a bit of battery. This is because your screen lights up individual pixels rather than lighting up the whole screen with a backlight. BUT, if that color is one digit off from hex black #000000, the pixel is still technically on and being used. This is why when dealing with dark themes, details are important.
You want to know another detail that's important? Most of you aren't on your home screen enough for it to really matter. See, the home screen is like a landing page, or the desktop on your computer. How often do you just sit there looking at the wallpaper and the app icons?
Ever see your launcher show up in your battery stats? Not really, right? Well, that's because it's not using enough of your battery for it to be worth listing outside apps like GSam, where it uses around .2% of the battery, depending of course on your launcher.
Your screen, on the other hand, can account for over 50% of the battery use on your phone, and while I agree lighting up fewer pixels can save you a few drops of power, your goal should be to have as little of the screen lit up as short a time as possible, because nothing will save your battery more than getting the screen shut back off sooner.
Now, some dark theme guides tell you to have as little as humanly possible on your home screen so that there's as few pixels being lit up as possible. Not only does this make your home screen sparse, it honestly makes it kind of wasteful. Instead of aiming to eliminate as much as possible from your screen, the idea should be to consolidate what's there so that you can find the apps you're looking for quickly and then turn the screen back off.
To this end, if there are several apps you use on a regular basis, instead of digging in the app drawer every time you need them, consider stashing them on the home screen or in a home screen folder. Or using gesture shortcuts in launchers like Nova Launcher to access them, so that you can still have a shortcut on the screen without lighting up the pixels an icon would use.
Many guides also eschew widgets, saying that they waste battery and are unnecessary. If a widget can keep you from going into an app to do something simple like see your next calendar appointment or change tracks on a song, then a widget can save you time, energy, and can absolutely be worth it. It's all about making sure it's a widget you actually use, and getting a minimalist widget if available.
If you AMOLED users want to get the most energy-efficient wallpaper, here's a rectangle of pure darkness.
For those of us who still want some personality in our dark wallpapers, check out these. Now, AMOLED-users need hex black wallpapers for their dark theme to actually be energy efficient, so if you choose a wallpaper that isn't, you'll need to make it #000000. If you can't tell, open the wallpaper in Google Photos and see if there's a change between the wallpaper's black and the hex black of the viewer.
Making a dark wallpaper hex black
- Download your desired wallpaper.
- Download Snapseed photo editor.
- Open your downloaded wallpaper.
- Edit the image (tap the pencil icon in the bottom right corner).
Tap Tune image.
- Swipe up on the image to change from Brightness to Shadows tuning.
- Look at the graph on the bottom of the editor, just above the bottom control bar. You should see a spike near but not quite to the left edge.
Swipe to the left on the image to dark the image and pull that spike towards the left edge.
- When the spike gets to the left edge stop swiping.
- Tap the checkmark to finish editing.
- Tap Save to save your new hex-dark wallpaper.
Note: If your image is just back/white or black/white with a small accent color, you can hit Contrast and boost your whites and your darks at the same time by increasing the contrast of the image.
Once you have the image edited, you can set it on most launchers by long-pressing a blank space on your home screen and selecting Wallpapers.
The icons we use here should be easy to recognize and light up as few pixels as possible (if on AMOLED). To that end, I recommend Lines (Free, $1.99, whose icons have a beautiful wireframe look to them and fit well with most minimalistic themes and wallpapers. If Lines is a little too hard to read for your eyes, try Whicons (Free).
Another important setting to consider alongside your icons is the labels below them. The apps on your home screen should be apps you already recognize, so why light up pixels for app names you already know? Labels are already turned off on the dock for most launchers, and you can turn them off for the Nova Launcher home screen in Nova Settings > Desktop > Icon layout. In Action Launcher, app labels can be turned off in Action 3 Settings > Desktop > Text labels.
Is it worth it?
If you're a heavy user and are looking to get every iota of use out of your AMOLED phone that you can before you reach for your handy dandy power pack? Yeah, a smartly laid out hex black theme can probably get you a few extra minutes.
If you're not that big a home screen user anyway? If you're not on AMOLED? Then it could be a bit faster for you, but it's not gonna magically boost your battery. It'll look cool, though, and that's enough for this darkness-loving girl.