After Android introduced the action bar after 3.x, I found that its native API hides all icons if the menu item is shown in overflow (three dots (ellipsis) on a MENU-button-lacking device, or after pressing the Menu button if that device has Menu button).

Although we could force it to display icons using reflection API like this post on StackOverflow, and applications built-in to Samsung devices, like SNote/SPlanner, also have overflow menu items with icons. Obviously this is not the built-in behavior of the original overflow menu item of the Android platform.

So I'm wondering why Android thinks overflow menu items should not have icons along with them? Is there a UI design reason that having icons in overflow menus is a bad idea?

In other words, what I would like to know is what's the philosophy behind this design of not showing icons in overflow menu, and if it's a bad idea if I force it to display an icon? Because what I find is only the description of this behavior, but without any reasonable UI/UX explanations.


2 Answers 2


The reason probably is that the items in the Overflow menu are supposed to be less-used items and we show full text there instead of a bunch of icons. See link. When an item is frequently used(even in other apps), users are used to what the icon will do, but the overflow menu probably contain menu-items specific to your app, and your perception of an icon to describe the action might not be similar to that of the user's. See this link as well.

On the other-hand the action items on the Action bar displays frequently used or important actions related to the app(and see there are no text by default)

You can ofcourse show the icon also by setting android:showAsAction="always" in the menu xml.


because it is banned by the google for v3.0+

Say Goodbye to the Menu Button

Before Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), all Android-powered devices included a dedicated Menu button. As a developer, you could use the Menu button to display whatever options were relevant to the user, often using the activity’s built-in options menu. Honeycomb removed the reliance on physical buttons, and introduced the ActionBar class as the standard solution to make actions from the user options immediately visible and quick to invoke

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