If you are into Android theming, most probably you have changed your device’s default fonts at least once. Fonts represent a very important part of user interfaces and Android manufacturers usually ship their devices with some sort of support for changing typeface or font weight and size. Here’re a few tips to help you choose the best font for your Android device.
But what exactly are font and typeface?
Both terms trace their roots back to the days of letterpress typography. In letterpress typography, each character is represented on a metal block, which is rolled into ink and then pressed down onto a piece of paper. Putting several metal blocks together will form words and sentences. A group of metal blocks with characters designed with the same design principles forms a typeface. A font is a subset of a typeface which includes characters with the same weight and size. So, ‘Times New Roman’ is a typeface and ‘Times New Roman 10 pt. Bold’ is a font. However, as technology advanced and typography became computerized, these terms turned out less important. It is possible today for both terms to be used interchangeably, and that is completely fine as long as they are used outside of professional designer circles.
In the early days of computing, most commonly used typefaces were ‘Times New Roman’ and ‘Arial’. When World Wide Web started to grow, several new typefaces became available to cover the needs of web designers. Nowadays, there are thousands of different free typefaces to choose from. They are usually hosted on specialized websites like Google Fonts.
Serif vs Sans-Serif
Serif and Sans-Serif are typeface categories. A serif is a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a character. Serif typefaces can be dated back to the Latin Alphabet. An example of a Serif typeface is the following:
Sans-Serif typefaces do not feature a serif on characters (sans = without in French). Sans-Serif typefaces also have a great history. They were common in casual and non-monumental epigraphies from Ancient Greece. They are designed with simplicity and minimalism in mind. An example of a Sans-Serif typeface is the following:
While there are other typeface categories also available, we will not discuss about them in this article, because they are not generally designed with computer displays in mind.
Should I go with Sans-Serif or with Serif on Android?
There is a great debate about which typeface category is best for readability or legibility. Scientific research has failed to shed some light on this question. Many professionals argue that serifs help make similar characters (like the letter ‘I’ and letter ‘l’) more distinguishable. However, there are Sans-Serif typefaces available which deal well with this scenario. Nowadays, Serif typefaces are used on printed documents like newspapers and books, while Sans-Serif typefaces are used on computer user interfaces. This is because serifs typically require high display resolutions to render correctly. Serif typefaces are increasingly appearing on websites today, as higher screen resolutions allow that.
Google has chosen to use Sans-Serif typefaces on Android. Both ‘Droid Sans’ (before Android 4.x) and ‘Roboto’ are Sans-Serif typefaces. They, in fact, perfectly fit in Android’s user interface. Generally, Android devices with high display resolutions and high dpi would be able to render Serif fonts correctly. On devices with smaller screens and lower display resolutions, Serif letters might appear malformed. You can try some Serif typefaces from the list below and find out if your device can render them correctly.
Some of the Best Available Serif/Sans-Serif Typefaces
Following is a list of some typefaces that we consider the best in their category, based on criteria like design principles and looks. Under each typeface in the list, we provide an image showing the character series ‘O0xIll’ written in that particular typeface. That is the capital letter ‘O’, followed by number 0, letter ‘x’ and word ‘ill’ with a capital ‘i’. This tests how the typeface deals with some of the principal examples of similar-character situations.
This typeface was designed to be pleasant to read on screens. It features large x-height (the height of lower-case letter ‘x’, used as a measurement of typeface size) and slightly condensed letterforms (condensed typefaces feature smaller horizontal space between characters). Its sources are available on Github and it is designed by Sorkin Type, a type design foundry based in the USA. Google Fonts service reports that Merriweather appears in more than 2.5 million websites worldwide.
Bitter typeface features large x-height and thick letterforms, creating an intense color in long text areas. It was designed specifically for use on screens. Its creator is Huerta Tipográfica, a collaborative Argentinian type foundry with award-winning work.
Arvo is a slab serif typeface (a type of serif typeface characterized by thick, block-like serifs). It features geometric shapes and it is suitable for both screens and prints.
- Open Sans
Featured on more than 20 million devices, Open Sans has a neutral but friendly appearance and open curves. It was designed by Steve Matteson, a professional who has worked for Android, Xbox and other platforms. There is also a condensed version of Open Sans available.
- Exo 2
If you are looking for a technological and futuristic look, you should take a look at Exo 2. It features a fully geometric design and 9 different font weights. Exo 2 will look better at small text sizes and long texts.
Ubuntu typeface’s development was funded by Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution. It first became available in 2010 and ships with Ubuntu Linux since then. Ubuntu Typeface tries to provide high clarity on both desktop and mobile computing screens. There is also a condensed version available, with less space-occupying character forms. Ubuntu Typeface currently appears on more than 1.5 million websites. It is licensed under a custom Ubuntu Font license.
How to Change the Fonts of your Android
- If your device supports CyanogenMod’s CMTE engine or the Substratum Theme Engine, you can easily change fonts using TypeFace App. This App will make all fonts hosted on Google Web Fonts available for installing on your Android device.
- If your Android does not support the theme engines mentioned above but you have root access, you can use the iFont App, previously discussed on DroidViews here.
- Users of Samsung devices should take a look at this article.
- Huawei users should also read this.