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Creating Multiple Device Compatible Layouts in PSLab Android

The developer’s goal is that PSLab Android App as an app should run smoothly on all the variety of Android devices out in the market. There are two aspects of it – the app should be able to support maximum number of Android versions possible which is related to the core software part and the other being the app should be able to generate the same user experience on all sizes of screens. This post focuses on the later.

There are a whole range of android devices available in the market right from 4 inch mobile phones to 12 inch tablets and the range in the screen sizes is quite large. So, the challenge in front of app designers is to make the app compatible with the maximum  number of devices without doing any specific tweaks related to a particular resolution range. Android has its mechanism of scaling the app as per the screen size and it does a good job almost all the time, however, still there are cases where android fails to scale up or scale down the app leading to distorted layout of the app.

This blog discusses some of the tricks that needs to be kept in mind while designing layouts that work independent of screen sizes.

Avoid using absolute dimensions

It is one of the most common things to keep in mind before starting any UI design. Use of absolute dimensions like px, inch etc. must be avoided every time as they are fixed in size and don’t scale up or scale down while screen sizes are changed. Instead relative dimensions like dp should be used which depend on the resolution and scale up or scale down. ( It’s a fair assumption that bigger screens will have better resolution compared to the smaller ones although exceptions do exist) .

Ensure the use of correct layout/View group

Since, android provides a variety of layouts like Linearlayout, Constrainedlayout, Relativelayout, Tablelayout and view groups like ScrollView, RecyclerView, ListView etc. it is often confusing to know which layout/viewgroup should be used. The following list gives a rough idea of when to use a particular layout or view group.

  • Linearlayout – Mostly used for simple designs when the elements are stacked in ordered horizontal/vertical fashion and it needs explicit declaration of orientation.
  • Relativelayout – Mostly used when the elements need to defined relative to the parent or the neighbouring elements. Since, the elements are relative, there is no need to define the orientation.
  • Constraintlayout – It has all the features of Relativelayout and in addition a feature of adding constraints to the child elements or neighbouring elements.
  • Tablelayout – Tablelayout is helpful to when all the views/widgets are arranged in an ordered fashion.

All the above layouts can be used interchangeably most of the times, however, certain cases make some more favourable than others like when than views/ widgets are not present in an organised manner, it is better to stick to Linearlayout or Relativelayout.

  • ListView – Used when the views/ widgets in a screen are repeated, so using a listview ensures that the volume of the code is reduced and all the repetitive views are identical in nature.
  • RecyclerView – More of an improved version of ListView. It is recommended to use this view over ListView. Additionally this view group supports features like swipe to refresh.
  • ScrollView – Used when the UI screen cannot fit within the given screen space. ScrollView supports one direct child layout. So, to implement a scrollview, all the views must be under a particular layout and then masked by scrollview.

Choosing the correct layout or view group would help to create a better UI.

Use of layout_weight

Ensuring the layout width assigned in XML file covers the entire width on the screen. For ensuring this, one possible solution is to use layout_weight instead of layout_width.

Example –

<TextView
   android:id="@+id/tv_control_read9"
   android:layout_width="0dp"
   android:layout_weight="1"
   android:layout_height="30dp"
   android:layout_marginTop="10dp"
/>

 

In order to use layout_weight, layout_width must be set to 0 else it would interfere with the width and as layout_width is a compulsory parameter it cannot be omitted. Layout weight can be any number and the space is allocated to each view in proportion to the weights assigned. Since it does not involve numerical dimensions, the distribution would be uniform for all types of screens. The result is clearly evident here. The same UI in different screen sizes is displayed below.

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Fig: Screenshot taken on a 6” phone and on a 4” phone. Although the screen area of 4” phone is 44% that of the 6” phone, the UIs are identically the same.

Create different layout directories for different resolutions

  • Creating different layouts for different screen sizes ensures that the limitations of smaller screen sizes are taken care of and the advantages offered by bigger screen sizes are put to the best use.
  • The Android documentation here mentions the conventions to be followed while designing.
  • Although over the years, android has become better at auto-adjusting layouts for different screen sizes. However, if the no. of views and widgets are high, auto-adjusting does not work well as in case of PSLab and it is better to create different sets of layouts.
  • As evident from the picture of the 8” tablet, although the auto-adjusted layout is manageable, the layout looks stretched and does not utilize the entire screen space, so it a better UI can be made by creating a dedicated layout directory for bigger screens.

Additional resources