Building an Android Settings Screen (Part 1)

How to Create and Fix the Overview Screen

Fixing and Extending the android.support.v7.preference Library

Some days ago, I started building a Setting Screen for my Android app. Everything was fine, until I opened it on an older Android version. The overview screen had no material design, a thing I would have accepted, if there weren’t those completely destroyed dialogs: Android’s internal preferences are using Android’s internal app.AlertDialogs. Those dialogs in combination with the AppCompat Dialog Theme, which I had applied to them, resulted in a dialog with two frames on older devices (One system default dialog and a material frame around it).
So I decided to switch to the android.support.v7.preference library, only to face a lot more issues.

This tutorial series should help you, to fix the numerous design issues in the v7.preference library and to build custom preferences.


Including the Library

In order to use the new preferences, we need to import a library. To do so, we add this line to our gradle dependencies (You should change the version number to the latest).

compile 'com.android.support:preference-v7:23.4.0'

Building The Preference Screen

Creating the Preferences

At first, we need to create our preference structure: We create a new XML Android resource file as xml/app_preferences.xml. Now we can add our preference structure to this file. Make sure to add a unique android:key attribute for each preference. More information: How to build the XML

<android.support.v7.preference.PreferenceScreen
xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android">

<android.support.v7.preference.PreferenceCategory
android:title="Category 1">

<android.support.v7.preference.SwitchPreferenceCompat
android:key="key1"
android:title="Switch Preference"
android:summary="Switch Summary"
android:defaultValue="true" />

<android.support.v7.preference.EditTextPreference
android:key="key2"
android:title="EditText Preference"
android:summary="EditText Summary"
android:dialogMessage="Dialog Message"
android:defaultValue="Default value" />
        <android.support.v7.preference.CheckBoxPreference
android:key="key3"
android:title="CheckBox Preference"
android:summary="CheckBox Summary"
android:defaultValue="true"/>
    </android.support.v7.preference.PreferenceCategory>

</android.support.v7.preference.PreferenceScreen>

The v7.preference library provides some preferences we can use: CheckBoxPreference, SwitchPreferenceCompat, EditTextPreference and a ListPreference (and a basic Preference). If we need more than these predefined preferences, we have to build them on our own.

Creating the Preference Fragment

Now we need to create our Preference Fragment, where we can show the preferences from our XML file. We do this by creating a new class, called SettingsFragment, which extends PreferenceFragmentCompat. Since the onCreatePreferences is declared as abstract in the source code of the library, we are forced to include our own implementation to tell the fragment to load our just created app_preferences.xml.

import android.support.v7.preference.PreferenceFragmentCompat;
public class SettingsFragment extends PreferenceFragmentCompat {
    @Override
public void onCreatePreferences(Bundle bundle, String s) {
// Load the Preferences from the XML file
addPreferencesFromResource(R.xml.app_preferences);
}
}

We can add this SettingsFragment (v4.app.Fragment), like any other Fragment (e.g. with a FragmentTransaction) to an Activity.

Applying the Preference Theme

Finally we need to specify a preferenceTheme in our Activity’s theme. If we don’t do so, the App will crash with an IllegalStateException.
The v7.preference library provides only one Theme: PreferenceThemeOverlay (You may have a look at its source code). We add this with the following line in our Activity’s theme:

<item name="preferenceTheme">@style/PreferenceThemeOverlay</item>

After we have done this, our result should now look like this.
(The Activity’s parent theme is Theme.AppCompat and the background is set with android:windowBackground)

Settings Screen with PreferenceThemeOverlay

As you can see, it has an oversized font and a horizontal line below the category title. This is definitely not material design.

It more looks like a mixture of material design for the CheckBox and Switch widgets on the right and an old design for everything else.

This leads us to the next point: Applying the material theme to our settings.

Applying the Material Design Theme

Since there is no material theme in our current preference library, we need to import the v14.preference library. It is strange that Google splitted up these two libraries, because the v14 version is obviously only an addition to the v7.preference library. However, this means for us, that we have to add one more line to our gradle dependencies (You should change the version number to the latest).

compile 'com.android.support:preference-v14:23.4.0'

Now we have access to two more themes: PreferenceThemeOverlay.v14 and PreferenceThemeOverlay.v14.Material (You may have a look at their source code). To use the material theme, we simply change the preferenceTheme in our Activity’s theme.

<item name="preferenceTheme">
@style/PreferenceThemeOverlay.v14.Material
</item>

A side effect of including the v14.preference library is that we can use a new preference called MultiSelectListPreference (it requires the v7.preference library to work).

Settings Screen with PreferenceThemeOverlay.v14.Material

Our result should look like this. And this time it is full material design.

The font is not oversized anymore and also the horizontal line below the category title has disappeared.

We can change the color of the CheckBox, the Switch and the PreferenceCategory title by changing the colorAccent in our Activity’s theme.


This was only the first step to create a material design Settings Screen. As soon as you open the Alert Dialog of the EditText preference, you will find more design issues. The next parts of this tutorial will include how to solve the design issues and how to build custom preferences.


The second Part of this tutorial series is available below.


You can have a look at the project files on GitHub.

Thanks for reading and happy coding 💻.