(Credit: leungchopan/Shutterstock)

A few years ago, Google began implementing and promoting a common look-and-feel for Android apps that it called Material Design. This aesthetic standard was minimalistic, but each app had a splash of color coding: For example, Docs was blue, Sheets was green and Gmail was red.

Now Google is forging ahead with Material Design 2, which take away almost all color from the company's apps, and the results for the new Android version of the Gmail mobile app (download for iOS or Android) may be an acquired taste.

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Without the red banner going across the top of Gmail's interface, the screen is now fully stark white, with black text. The usual subsections (Updates, Promotions, Spam) no longer have their own color coding either; the Updates section used to have a yellow-gold banner, and Promotions used to use a shade of green.

Those subsection colors are gone now as well, so the at-a-glance visual indicator of what section you're in is only the words "Updates" or "Promotions" appearing at the top.

Like Chrome, the Gmail app lacks a dark mode to alleviate the potential eye strain of a nearly all-white interface (though Google is working on dark modes for its web browser). Both iOS and Android lack built-in dark modes for the operating system as a whole. Some Android phones will let you apply a dark theme, but that doesn't customarily extend to your apps.

So that means that users will need to manually adjust their phone's brightness setting every time they want to use the new Gmail app, if they find the interface too bright.

Alternatively, you can open a mobile web browser that applies a dark mode to web pages as well as its own interface, then load the web app version of Gmail.

Dark-mode mobile browsers to the rescue

Luckily for us, we don't have to experiment with some potentially janky or sketchy mobile apps. For example, Samsung makes its own darkness-aware mobile browser for Android, based on Chrome, and it's compatible with a wide variety of non-Samsung phones and tablets.

To enable the dark mode in the Samsung Internet Browser beta (this mode will be coming to the regular version of the app soon), just tap the hamburger menu in the lower right, then tap the Dark Mode button located on the second row.

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Note that this menu also has a button to adjust text size, if you don't like how the mobile web version of Gmail scales on your device's screen. As you adjust the size slider left and right, the changes will take effect immediately, so you won't have to bounce back and forth between the setting and the interface.

If you prefer Firefox over Chrome (it's gotten much better over the last year or so), the mobile version of Mozilla's web browser can use some of the add-ons meant for the desktop version, and some dark mode toggles are counted among this group.

From left to right: The new Gmail app, Samsung's beta browser, and Firefox with an inverted dark mode add-on. (Credit: Screenshots: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

In some cases, Firefox may be a better solution than Samsung's current implementation, because many of the former's add-ons allow you to make fine adjustments to maximize legibility, such as Dark Background and Light Text. With Samsung's browser, the feature is just on or off.

In the mobile version of Firefox, the settings for the above add-on will be accessible by tapping the "A" icon to the right of the address bar.

Takeaways

  • The Gmail mobile app has been updated to the company's Material Design 2 look, which removes almost all color and replaces it with a stark white background.
  • If the app causes eye strain, you may want to consider loading the mobile website version of Gmail in a mobile web browser that has a dark mode.
  • Recommended options include the Samsung Internet Browser and Mozilla Firefox (after you've added a dark mode add-on to the latter).

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.