Android – Dilemma: when to use Fragments vs Activities:

androidandroid-activityandroid-fragmentsarchitecture

I know that Activities are designed to represent a single screen of my application, while Fragments are designed to be reusable UI layouts with logic embedded inside of them.

Until not long ago, I developed an application as it said that they should be developed.
I created an Activity to represent a screen of my application and used Fragments for ViewPager or Google Maps. I rarely created a ListFragment or other UI that can be reused several times.

Recently I stumbled on a project that contains only 2 Activities one is a SettingsActivity and other one is the MainActivity. The layout of the MainActivity is populated with many hidden full screen UI fragments and only one is shown. In the Activity logic there are many FragmentTransitions between the different screens of the application.

What I like about this approach is that because the application uses an ActionBar, it stays intact and does not move with the screen switching animation, which is what happens with Activity switching. This give a more fluent feel to those screen transitions.

So I guess what I'm asking is to share your current development manner regarding this topic, I know it might look like an opinion based question at first look but I look at it as an Android design and architecture question… Not really an opinion based one.

UPDATE (01.05.2014): Following this presentation by Eric Burke from Square, (which I have to say is a great presentation with a lot of useful tools for android developers. And I am not related in any way to Square)

http://www.infoq.com/presentations/Android-Design/

From my personal experience over the past few months, I found that the best way to construct my applications is to create groups of fragments that come to represent a flow in the application and present all those fragments in one Activity. So basically you will have the same number of Activities in your application as the number of flows.
That way the action bar stays intact on all the flow's screens, but is being recreated on changing a flow which makes a lot of sense. As Eric Burke states and as I have come to realize as well, the philosophy of using as few Activities as possible is not applicable for all situations because it creates a mess in what he calls the "God" activity.

Best Solution

Experts will tell you: "When I see the UI, I will know whether to use an Activity or a Fragment". In the beginning this will not have any sense, but in time, you will actually be able to tell if you need Fragment or not.

There is a good practice I found very helpful for me. It occurred to me while I was trying to explain something to my daughter.

Namely, imagine a box which represents a screen. Can you load another screen in this box? If you use a new box, will you have to copy multiple items from the 1st box? If the answer is Yes, then you should use Fragments, because the root Activity can hold all duplicated elements to save you time in creating them, and you can simply replace parts of the box.

But don't forget that you always need a box container (Activity) or your parts will be dispersed. So one box with parts inside.

Take care not to misuse the box. Android UX experts advise (you can find them on YouTube) when we should explicitly load another Activity, instead to use a Fragment (like when we deal with the Navigation Drawer which has categories). Once you feel comfortable with Fragments, you can watch all their videos. Even more they are mandatory material.

Can you right now look at your UI and figure out if you need an Activity or a Fragment? Did you get a new perspective? I think you did.