Building Android preference screen

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 library, only to face a lot more issues.

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 ''

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:keyattribute for each preference. More information: How to build the XML

        android:title="Category 1">          
            android:title="Switch Preference"
            android:summary="Switch Summary"
            android:defaultValue="true" />
            android:title="EditText Preference"
            android:summary="EditText Summary"
            android:dialogMessage="Dialog Message"
            android:defaultValue="Default value" /> 
            android:title="CheckBox Preference"
            android:summary="CheckBox Summary"

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.

public class SettingsFragment extends PreferenceFragmentCompat {
    public void onCreatePreferences(Bundle bundle, String s) {
        // Load the Preferences from the XML file

We can add this SettingsFragment (, 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 CheckBoxand 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 ''

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">

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.