As the modern web grows, more and more people access it on mobile or other small screen devices. We expect mobile sites to be full-featured, or perhaps even more useful than their desktop versions. We need mobile sites to work smoothly and easily, often while using only one hand. This is why a good mobile theme needs to be lightweight, since many mobile browsers are on metered connections. The fewer, or smaller, images you have, the better.
If you’re using WordPress to run your website, your options for a mobile-friendly theme are plentiful. While many themes are built to be responsive, many aren’t. Check that a theme is responsive before you invest a great deal of time and energy in it. This can save you future headaches.
How to test a theme
If you’re using Chrome, it’s easy to check and see how a site is going to look on a small screen.
1. Right click on the web page and choose Inspect.
2. In the next window, toggle the icon on the left into device mode.
3. Test the theme on different devices.
Within device mode, you’ll see the website in a small frame. At the top of the page, you’ll find a set of menus to change devices.
Check the theme you’re considering in as many widths as you’d like before taking the big step of putting it on your site.
5 mobile-friendly WordPress themes
Not sure where to start? Let’s take a look at some themes that perform well on both large and small screens. All screenshots are in horizontal iPad and vertical iPhone 6.
This theme from The Theme Foundry is incredibly flexible. It leverages the WordPress customizer to offer a wide range of design options — including layout, fonts, colors and image backgrounds. In addition, it has a baked-in page builder, making it easy to create dynamic and unusual layouts.
As a developer I’m usually wary of page builders, but pages built with the Make page builder continue to look good even when a different theme is installed.
Make also has a premium extension available that offers more page templates, including options for both Easy Digital Download and WooCommerce. Additionally, The Theme Foundry offers pre-made child themes for all of their themes, so using a child theme with Make is effortless.
Make is what I use for my own blog. It’s flexible enough to let me do whatever I want with the design, while at the same time letting me get a little crazy with the excellent code under the hood.
I spoke with someone at The Theme Foundry who told me that there are some major new things in store for Make in the near future. That’s exciting news coming from such a great shop.
Pros: Lots of options for design and layout, and rock solid code.
Cons: The number of options can be overwhelming for someone who wants a theme they can just drop in and be beautiful.
Sean Davis created this theme for Easy Digital Downloads, but even without EDD (it’s not required) Vendd is a super-smooth, quick loading theme. The only way to really slow it down is by adding heavy content like large images or multimedia.
Vendd also leverages the WordPress customizer for some light design options, but more importantly some excellent content options. Considering that Vendd is the premier theme for Easy Digital Downloads, support for it is top-notch.
Vendd is 100-percent free, but is currently available only from the Easy Digital Downloads site.
Pros: Very fast loading, excellent support from Easy Digital Downloads.
This theme comes from WordPress.org. I’ve included Twenty Sixteen because it’s a nice, quick-loading theme. If you’re targeting mobile users, it’s important to not send any more data than is necessary to run the site.
Twenty Sixteen leverages the customizer to allow for some color changes, a header image and a background image. There aren’t any layout customizations in the options, but if what you’re looking for is a simple grab-and-go theme, this one hits the sweet spot.
Because it’s released by the WordPress.org crew, Twenty Sixteen is built with solid code and will receive regular updates as new versions of WordPress are released.
Pros: Well written code, light footprint for speedy downloading, simple options for quick release.
Cons: Limited options for design and layout, so it could end up looking like many other blogs.
This theme is the creation of Justin Tadlock, built on his excellent Hybrid Core framework. While is has a pleasant, classy looking design, what sets it apart is the built-in support for nearly every feature in WordPress — custom designs for the multimedia player, post formats, galleries, you name it.
Justin has plans to make the theme capable of using templates to customize embedded content, which will allow for really unique sites.
Customizer support includes four different layout options and some color transforms, along with header and background image support. Fourteen child themes are also currently listed on the Stargazer website.
The Stargazer theme itself is 100-percent free, but access to the support forums and documentation require a membership to the Theme Hybrid club.
Pros: Excellent support for WordPress features, many child themes, regular updates.
Cons: If you don’t like paying you may not like the support model, but honestly it’s worth it.
This theme comes to us from the excellent developers at Astoundify. Similar to Vendd, Listify was created with a specific kind of content in mind, but it doesn’t require that you use it that way.
Listify was created to beautifully present directory lists:
- locations, such as for restaurants and golf courses.
- things for sale, such as cars and homes.
This theme includes support for ratings, location search and content submission by the public. Listify also comes with support for a number of payment gateways and WooCommerce add-ons so you can monetize your content.
Listify is the only premium-only theme in this roundup; you can purchase it directly from Astoundify or at ThemeForest.
Pros: Lots of built-in support for features related to listing. Also it’s simply an attractive theme when not running a directory site. Being premium, it comes with excellent support.
Cons: If you’re looking for free, this isn’t the theme for you.
Mobile theme wrap-up
The themes I’ve reviewed here are a great place to get started with your mobile site, but there are many more excellent responsive themes available for WordPress. The tools I suggested at the beginning of this article should allow you to check any theme for mobile responsiveness. Remember, having a mobile-friendly site can have a huge impact on your users — it could be the difference between a site visit (and subsequent purchase) and a bounce.
Do you have a favorite mobile theme? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!