One of the best features of Android is that you don’t have to stare at the same old icons on your home screen day after day. You can completely change the design and appearance of the key user interface elements.
That’s because Android supports custom launchers. This is essentially what controls the home screen on your device. It dictates the layout, style, and can control a lot of other features, depending upon how aggressive the developer wants the launcher to be.
Some launchers will try to learn your preferences and offer apps based on particular settings. Others will allow you a ton of different capabilities to help you bend your phone completely to your will.
If you’re new to the world of launchers, here’s a quick rundown of the best of the crop, along with a few tips for why you may want to experiment with your phone in this manner.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Once you download your choice, hit the home button. Your smartphone or tablet should then ask what you want to set as the launcher. Pick your choice and then away you go.
Android lets you pick which launcher you want to use
If you want to change it this up later, go to Settings > Default applications > Home. Then you can select a different launcher.
GOOGLE NOW LAUNCHER
If you’re looking for the most Google-y option, this is it. The Google Now Launcher gives you the closest thing you’ll get to the feel and functionality of a Nexus device.
First, you get the always-listening “OK Google” feature. Sure, you can do the typical Google searches, where you ask for the capital of a country or want to find out the score to the latest NFL game. But there are a ton of other actions that you can perform with voice commands, such as asking Google to turn off Bluetooth, dim the screen, or dictate a text message.
The Google Now Launcher is a great tool, especially if you use a lot of Google services.
While these are all available from the Google app, using Google’s launcher ensures that you can yell at your phone just about anytime to make it perform according to your wishes.
Finally, the Google Now Launcher, especially paired up with the Google app, is a key weapon for Google against fragmentation. Google pushes out updates directly through this app. So while your carrier may have you stuck on Android 5.0.1, at least whenever Google wants to tweak something with its own launcher you’ll get the update right away. It did this recently with the app drawer - it now scrolls vertically instead of dividing the apps into pages.
As we’ve discussed here before, Microsoft has gone buck wild when it comes to making Android apps. It’s an even bigger deal than you might have imagined - there’s a group within the company called Microsoft Garage, whose very job is to crank out cool and sometimes experimental mobile apps.
One tool to recently come from this crew is the Arrow Launcher. It seeks to bring one drop of minimalism with a steady pour of machine learning to your home screen.
The Arrow Launcher brings a unique look and feel to your Android device
That’s because Arrow Launcher tries to predict what applications you need based on your usage patterns and other factors, like the time of day and location. The more you use the launcher, the better it will get at offering you the right apps when you need them.
But it also brings some general utility, like the ability to swipe up from the bottom to get a list of common functions like Wi-Fi, airplane mode, and bluetooth.
Arrow Launcher is a pretty innovative take on a smartphone screen, and ironically something that Microsoft can only do on Android - both iOS and Windows Phone are more restricted.
>True Android diehards often swear by Nova Launcher. That’s because it shares much of the same DNA as Android: customization.
You can tweak Nova Launcher to your heart’s delight: the number of icons on the screen, their size, launch specific actions by a particular gestures, and many more. You can also add a Google search bar and even flip on the always-listening “OK Google” voice commands. If you try out Nova launcher, spend some time just checking out the various options and settings. Pretty soon you may find yourself seeking out specific actions for your phone you never knew you wanted.
Nova Launcher is a delight for anyone that wants to endlessly tweak how their phone or tablet performs.
If you want this level of customization over your phone, it’s absolutely the best option. Plus the overall interface matches up with Google’s Material Design aesthetic, so you can have a device that has the look of stock Android but way more customization.
Any of these options are typically better than the launcher that comes from Samsung or most other Android manufacturers. If you’re new to this concept, grab one from our list to get familiar with how to start tweaking your phone this way. Otherwise, feel free to explore the Play Store for other ways to make your device work the way you want it to.