All mobile users know that with the “stock” feel of any operating system you don’t have many customization options and you have to be content only with basic home screens arrangements and original app drawers. In the aid of so many frustrated people, developers have created third-party options known as launchers.
Android launchers represent complex applications capable of customizing phones like no others. It is probably the most powerful feature that somebody can have on Android. Basically, a launcher can change the look and functionality of the home screen and app drawer, allowing owners to install themes and change icons to their liking.
Customize your Android with these awesome launchers
Besides all of these, some of the best Android launchers enable the possibility of adding other docks at the bottom, to change the number of home screens, to sort apps and scroll in different ways through the drawer and so on. Another strong motive of applying a third-party launcher is to get away from company-specific titles, which replace the basic, clean look of Android with plenty useless stuff. In this category we dare to remember Sense UI from HTC, Blur from Motorola and TouchWiz from Samsung.
What about the costs? It can be tough for old phones to work with some launchers, because the application can absorb many resources making the phone sluggish. After trying more than a dozen, we can safely say it all depends on the phone capabilities and the launcher you will use. That’s why we compelled today a comprehensive but short list of those we deemed the best.
Nova is one of the most popular launchers on Android 4.0 and above. Practically it’s a home screen replacement, highly customizable and performance driven app, which has great rating on Google Play Store and was also chosen as the most used on our Facebook poll. Unfortunately, it’s not available for Gingerbread.
Nova Launcher can single-handedly customize Android devices very easy, letting the user to change almost everything on his phone, starting with the casual home screen and app drawer to adding different animations and transitions. To make the entire experience even better you can select the animation options and scrolling speed from the Nova Settings menu.
It is very simple to customize the app drawer and you have a bunch of different options with which you can play. Nova is able to change drawer style (vertical continuous scrolling or horizontal pages), scrolling effects and create groups of icons.
Nova Launcher’s main features:
- Custom Grid
- Infinite Scroll
- Scroll Effects
- Folder Icons
- Gestures (only for the paid version)
- Drawer Groups (only for the paid version)
- Icon Swipes (only for the paid version)
Another interesting detail is the Icon Swipes feature. To explain this, let’s say that you have two different messaging applications that you usually use: the default Messaging app and WhatsApp. It would be more efficiently to have a single icon for the two of them, but how?
With Nova, you can easily toggle between the two apps because every dock icon can have dual actions. Just enter per-icon swipe gestures and choose the default program that will be activated when you tap the icon and the second program that will be open only when you will swipe over the icon. In addition, developers are looking forward to hearing suggestions for other features on their official site.
Now, one of the most voted requests is the implementation of a new home screen for every particular action you do (such as connecting your earphones to the phone or connecting to a certain Wi-Fi). The application is available for free but also comes with a version. The last one, Nova Launcher Prime, costs $4 and unlocks a wide range of extra features that make the whole experience more interesting.
Holo Launcher is a home screen replacement for Android devices with a decent amount of features that is very fast and simple to use. Available even for Froyo and Gingerbread users, the main advantage of this launcher is the ability of bringing the Ice Cream Sandwich interface on older phones. As for features, here’s what you may expect of it:
- Full ICS Style: Icons, Folders, Outlines, Drawer Tabs
- Custom Drawer and Desktop (up to 9 desktop pages)
- Infinite Scrolling
- Backup and Restore settings
- Gestures: Swipe up/down on the desktop (more gestures are available for the paid version)
- Widgets overlapping (only for the paid version)
- Multiple configurable drawer tabs (paid version)
Even though Holo is not the most customizable launcher, it has its advantages too. Its various options and settings allow you to change the number of home screens (up to 9), the general look, transitions, the size of the widgets and so forth. Furthermore, it will change the look of the plain Google search widget into a transparent model, usually found on higher-end devices.
Generally, Holo is a quick and easy to set launcher. After the installation, two new icons will appear on the home screen, the settings of the launcher and the Holo locker. Unfortunately, the locker and the notifier are not built-in the launcher and it’s necessary to download and install them separately. Even though they are not included, they work really well after installation.
The launcher uses around 20 MB of RAM so the whole experience runs pretty smooth and without bugs or other problems. Unfortunately, from latest updates a lot of users are complaining that the launcher is laggy on their devices, but I think this problem depends from device to device.
The paid version, Holo Launcher Plus, costs $3.89 and unfortunately it has very little exclusive features.
Apex Launcher is a super-customizable launcher and home replacement for Android 4.0 and above. If you are searching for an application that is not only able to adjust the look and the feel of your device, but you want more, like tweaking your phone to almost imaginable, this is the perfect launcher for you. The main features of the software are:
- Customizable home screens, app and folder icons
- Infinite and elastic scrolling
- Many transitions effects
- Multiple drawer styles
- Dock swipe gestures and two finger gesture (only for the paid version)
- Widgets in dock (1×1 dimension and it is available only for the paid version)
- Option to merge folder contents (paid version)
In terms of performance, Apex shines. The application has the best mix of features, stability and speed and does everything you can imagine. The installation is very simple and changing settings is too, but if you really want to tweak it to your personal taste, you will have to get more under the hood.
When users upgrade to the pro and paid version to get those nice features presented above, the greatest is the one that offers theme support from almost all the other major launchers. So, it allows the user to choose from a big library with hundreds of free or paid themes from different developers, such as Go EX, ADW and others.
The biggest disappointment of Apex is that it is only available for Ice Cream Sandwich users and above. Unfortunately, users that are still running on older Androids and cannot get a new phone with ICS are deprived of the chance.
Apex Launcher is one of the most utilized applications of its type and comes at Google Play Store in two versions: free and paid. The amazing fact of the free one is that it has so many available features that you may think it is a paid one. Anyway, if you want the Pro version, you need to know that costs $3.99.
Go Launcher Ex
Go Launcher Ex is made by the GO Dev Team which has lots and lots of different applications for Android. It’s one of the pioneers of home screen replacements that are still on the market. Theoretically, Go Launcher can customize and personalize your phone using hundreds of free or paid themes available on the Google Play Store. Besides themes, the launcher comes with a tons of great features, but we will remind only the most important:
- Install and use various GO widgets (weather, switcher, calendar)
- Many available transitions
- Amazing custom gestures
- More than 5000 themes
- A special application for management
- Change size of the icons
- Edit the background
Now, on the market are two types of launchers: those that are trying to provide a default look (which imitate the interface of ICS or Windows Mobile) and those that are more traditional and give the user total control. Go Launcher Ex is in the second category because it provides tools and settings to tweak anything you can imagine.
Basically, it can change anything from the number of icons, icon labels, gestures, transition effects to icon size and much more. The app drawer is very customizable and you can even create folders to organize it as much as a home screen.
Besides the large number of themes, the program is capable of combining icons from one theme to another which is really great because it lets you apply extreme customization to your phone. Also, it has the ability to rename an icon to nothing, to create transparent or invisible icons and to add a direct contact on the home screen, allowing people to call other with only one tap.
All in all, Go Launcher Ex is maybe the best free launcher you can find on Google Play. It might not have so many transitions, effects or animations, but it is more functionality than others and it is available even for the Froyo users.
Everything.me is the most dynamic Android launcher available on the market. At the moment, the launcher is still in an early beta phase but it can be downloaded and tried those that have an Android 4.0 or above device and are located in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.
Practically, it is an intelligent launcher that will change the background of your device depending on what are you searching or doing. Everything.me seems to be alive by dynamically changing settings to improve experience. The entire process is quite simple: just type or say what are you searching for and the launcher will reveal relevant apps. Moreover, it will automatically populate these applications with your search, so if you click on the browser it will show results directly.
A regular phone is somewhat limited to a range of installed applications and other stuff like that, but through Everything.me the phone starts to react dynamically. When you search something and the launcher creates that group of relevant apps we were talking above, it will also show titles that are not currently installed on the handset. The best part is that all of these results may be accessed and used without having to download the package – in a matter similar to Firefox OS.
Smart Folders is another interesting feature, which acts like an auto sorting machine. By selecting a category, such as gaming or social, all relevant applications will be automatically shown, whether they are installed or not. This way, users have the possibility of exploring and breaking their current limitations.
Everything.me is also available in the new Firefox operating system. Thanks to the partnership between the two companies, the application is integrated in the new OS. To activate it, just swipe to the left from Firefox’s home screen and you will enter in a world of HTML 5 mobile applications.
An interesting option but one not used so much is Launcher 7, a stylish imitation of the sleek Windows Mobile interface that works on Android. Users reported the launcher to be extremely user friendly and fast on use. The biggest advantage besides other Windows launchers is that it supports Android widgets. To add one, only press the menu button from the home screen and choose “Add widget” option. After that, just choose the preferred one and specify its settings.
This launcher is easy to configure if you want to keep it simple, but if you want to feel the best Windows Phone experience it will be exhausting to configure. Unfortunately, another big miss is the absence of folder options. A lot of users are complaining about the lack of possibility to create new folders and maybe, in future, this problem will be resolved.
In brief, if you are searching for a simple and attractive launcher you can give it a try. It is available in the Google Play Store as a free version with ads on the application list and as a paid version without ads for $1.99.
Another application that drawn our attention, but this time in the bad way, is the newly announced Facebook Home. It is important to know that the new Facebook Home is a launcher available only for certain devices (Samsung Galaxy SIV, HTC One X). It has three main components: home/lock screen replacement, an app-launcher screen and “Chat Heads”.
Through the home and lock screen replacement Facebook will show images and status updates posted by your friends and with only one tap comments can be added. The app launcher substitutes Android’s grid with a smaller and less attractive one, while “Chat Heads” is a new notification system.
Although Facebook Home seems to only count for social fanatics, unfortunately it lacks proper quality and build. A lot of users are experiencing severe lag, black screens and other problems. Moreover, most haven’t even bothered to install the launcher and even though it was heavily marketed by Facebook and Google, it’s still a rarity amongst Androids. You can change that if you wish, by downloading the app.