Guest post by Saif Khan.
Back when we were doing our Android One review, our editor at Pricebaba, Aditya Shenoy rightly puts: “Stock Android is like a piece of bread and the manufacturers apply various toppings on top of it.” It is very obvious that you will eventually want to break out of the stock look and have your own set of customizations. The first logical thing you can look for is to change your launcher. When you look for the keyword “launcher” in the Google Play Store, you will find dozens of odd launchers. Google recently stepped into the launcher game with its own Google Now Launcher which gives the stock Android interface to about any phone running Android KitKat. But it won’t allow you to do any cosmetic changes except changing your wallpaper! So what if you want to have full control like changing icons, or having some handy gesture control? You can install Nova Launcher.
Nova Launcher has been around for a long time now. It has been my favorite launcher for the nifty feature set it gave me. Who wouldn’t want a fully customizable launcher with the ability to also trigger the “Ok, Google” voice assistant? The developer is also on the verge of pushing huge material design updates.
Lets deep dive into having a perfect user experience you have been looking for. Most of the features will be blocked because they require you to purchase the premium version of Nova. We strongly recommend you to purchase this launcher for Rs.200 (or $4), trust us — it is definitely worth every single penny.
You’re greeted with a basic, stock interface when you launch Nova for the first time. You would also want to use Nova as the default launcher app going to Settings -> Home and selecting Nova Launcher. If you had app shortcuts and widgets on your home screen on your previous launcher that you want Nova to copy for you in the exact layout, you can chose the option of Restore from Previous Launcher. But I would prefer to start afresh.
We will be navigating to Nova Settings a lot and the easiest way to reach is by swiping up on the app launcher icon or by long pressing at a blank space in home screen and pressing the icon shaped like a spanner. We will go step by step in explaining each setting present to cater a better experience to you.
- You can make the Google search bar an optional affair. There is a setting to toggle Persistent Search Bar’s look; Nova allows you to resize the Google bar into something as small as a tiny button. You could have it turned off, as you also have a hotword detection for “Ok, Google” command and you can always trigger Google Now search by a press-and-swipe-up from the home button. But if you are a heavily relying on Google searches every now and then, it makes sense to keep it turned on. (I’d prefer the Ice Cream Sandwich look over flat Lollipop look for minimal look)
- If you want to have many icons on the home screen, it will make sense to have smaller icons. You can adjust the height and width margins with 5 rows and 6 columns, small height margin coupled with the removed persistent Google bar, you now have an extra 6th grid for icons. If you’re the opposite, i.e. if you prefer less icons on the home screen, then select None for both Height and Width Margins and set Desktop Grid with 5 rows with 5 columns.
- You can have as many as 9 home screens using the Nova Launcher. If you choose to have less number of screens, the wallpaper scrolling animation and transition animation tends to be very aggressive. So we suggest you have at least 3 screens. Speaking of which, you can change the style of indicators for showing which screen you are on.
- The free version of Nova has only 3 transition animations when moving across homescreens. But once you purchase the Prime version, you are introduced to about 12 effects that will definitely raise some eyebrows. We like the Zoom Fade effect because the style is less aggressive and a smooth feel (you can play with the effect by swiping your fingers left and right on the demo box). There are even eye catching effects like Throw, Flip Vertical and Revolving Door but those were too jazzy for our taste.
- Wallpaper scroll should be Off if you have a few homescreens. Set to Reverse or Force if you have more than 5. Have Infinite Scroll enabled as it will let you navigate more quickly; basically it loops all your screens, so you’ll reach the first screen after you swipe further on the last one.
- There are about 100 icon packs available on the Play Store; more than adequate to get a unique look for your smartphone. Moonshine Icons are very elegant looking icons which have a Lollipop feel with flat design. But we will leave the icon decision up to you. We recommend Moonshine not just for its quality and for the fact that it’s free. We loved the wallpaper pack it comes with and a wide number of apps that get treated with their own custom Moonshine icon. If you set a darker wallpaper, also try and change your font to Light.
- Nova comes with a fantastic folder appearance that you can select. There are options to select folder preview styles, folder icon background, etc. We loved the fact that you can also change the background color from White to whatever you like! Be careful in selecting the level of transparency as things may look messy at high transparency. There is also an Auto Rotate feature that is missed on many Android Launchers. It lets you operate the entire launcher in landscape or portrait depending on the orientation.
- Docks are something which can help you quickly give you access to a set of apps. You can choose as many as 5 set of apps. Once you set this, all you need to do is slide on the dock and drag and drop the icons on it. We had set an array of social apps on one strip.
- Next, we move to customizing the Application Drawer. The app drawer on stock Android Lollipop tends to get boring with no customization. With Nova Launcher, you have an option to bring back the black background menu drawer if you don’t like the White background that Lollipop introduced. Select your own color with some transparency or to have a transparent drawer to make your wallpaper stand out everywhere. You have the same Grid Size selector like you did with the home screen icons. If you have many apps installed, go for a small size. Same Scroll Effects are available for the drawer that were present for desktop transitions. The In and Out effect looks very appealing. You also have an option to have the same Google Now Launcher’s circle transition when you tap on the app drawer which looks even cooler with a custom color. But beware, applying too many animations for everything will tend to make your phone is slow. You can set the transition speed to slow or fast depending on your phone’s performance – Set to fast transitions if your phone feels slow, relaxed if you your phone can run them smoothly.
- We set the app drawer tab style to Small Tabs from the default Color Blocks, which can accommodate more app icons. Most people don’t add widgets on a daily basis, so it makes sense to push those options away. We enabled Infinite Scrolling like we did for the desktop so that we don’t have to swipe left and right to find an app. The problem you will face with this is that the widgets will keep appearing in the app grid. But to counter that, we made use of Drawer Groups.
- Drawer Groups are highly optional but if it will definitely help you arrange your app grid in a better way. It can make the widgets tab go away by selecting the pencil marker and delete option. We set our most used apps to appear first and also organized other apps to appear in neatly organized lists instead. We could also set folders for the same purpose but we liked drawer grid better.
By the way, if you liked how I’ve customized my phone, you can download this look and import it on Nova Settings- Dropbox link.
Now that you start to get the new visual overhaul you’ve been looking for, its time to make full use of the gesture functionalities. Nova allows you to set anything – app, shortcut or activity with its set of gestures. I had set the following:
- Pinch In: Camera
- Pinch Out: Gallery (QuickPic)
- Swipe Up: Settings
- Swipe Down: Expand Notifications
- Double Tap: Recent Apps
- Two Fingers Swipe Up: Telegram/Whatsapp
- Two Fingers Swipe Down: Trello Card Add Activity (Since we use Trello a lot)
- Two Fingers Counter Clockwise: Brightness (Activities>SystemUi>Brightness)
- Two Fingers Clockwise: App of choice
With all of this set, you can backup your configuration file to your device, which can later use to import all of this settings to another Nova Launcher running device. Coupled with some good clock widgets, calendar widgets, etc, you are good to rock a fully customized phone which is designed by you for your convenience.