Best Android launchers
Spend more than three minutes with any Android fanboy, and you'll quickly learn that the real beauty of Google's operating system lies in the potential to customise it.
Any problem can be solved by downloading enough apps. Nowhere is that more true than for Android's homescreen – so we've rounded up the best alternative Android launchers for your modding pleasure.
On an Android phone, the launcher is the app responsible for the home screen, the app 'grid', and launching the aforementioned apps. Phones generally come with either the stock Google launcher, or more commonly, a launcher whacked on top by a hardware manufacturer like Samsung.
But, if you don't get on with your phone's default launcher, installing a new one just takes a quick visit to the Google Play Store.
1. Nova Launcher
Nova and Apex (below) are the two standout Android launchers – both strike an excellent balance between having enough features to customise things, without bogging you down with unfeasibly long options lists and 17 levels of sub-menu hell.
Nova's arguably the better of the two, with a few more options available in the free version (there is also a Prime version), and slightly better performance – but really, we're splitting tiny Android hairs trying to find a difference between the two.
2. Google Now Launcher
Google's very own stock Android launcher strips thing down to the basics, but just because it's the Android standard, doesn't mean it's boring. For your money (well, actually, it's free), you get easy access to Google Now, button-free voice controls, and enough transparent window-bars to make you think you're back in Windows Vista.
It's compatible straight out of the box with all Nexus and Google Play Edition devices, and two minutes with a computer will get it running on all Android 4.x handsets. Just be careful what you say around it – the Big G's always listening, probably.
3. Yahoo Aviate Launcher
Yahoo snapped up Aviate in the early stages of its development, and it's turned into one of the best contextually-aware launchers available. Aviate collects apps together based on different activities, and will then suggest items that you're likely to use.
By telling Aviate your home and work location it'll know which apps to offer when you're in those locations. Heading to the office? The moment you leave the house, Aviate will offer navigation apps and anything else you regularly use on your journey, such as Spotify. Another example: at night, Aviate will give you shortcuts to set an alarm, see the next day's weather forecast, or put your phone into 'do not disturb' mode. It's not the most customisable launcher out there, but Aviate is a smart, simple and effective personal assistant.
4. Nokia Z Launcher
Nokia's own Z Launcher is another one that helps you get to your most used-apps and sites more quickly. By learning your habits and taking into account your location and the time of day, the Z Launcher will surface what it believes to be the most appropriate items. Plus, the more you use it, the better it gets, as the app learns more about your habits over time.
Another neat trick lets you get to an app faster by simply drawing the first letter of its name in order to produce a narrow list of results. And the more often you use a certain app, the Z Launcher will remember. It also has a pleasingly simple, unobtrusive interface, with apps arranged in a neat line.
5. Buzz Launcher
Buzz Launcher packs the standard set of customisation options, but with a killer advantage: a user-created library of thousands of themes and widgets you can browse, download and tinker with. Whereas other launchers feel like masterpieces of efficiency – trying to find you the app you want, with minimum hassle – Buzz is all about the aesthetics.
There are certainly more powerful launchers out there, but if you're all about matching the colour of your shoelaces to your cravat (and don't have an iPhone), then this is probably the launcher for you.
Apex Launcher, just like Nova, blends smooth performance and ease-of-use with a good level of customisation to create a genuinely appealing alternative to most standard Android launchers.
Standout features on Apex include a superb tablet mode (finally allowing Nexus 7 owners to rotate the home screen); and the Pro version has the fantastic Apex Notifier service, which pushes notifications to a widget on your home screen. (Although, Notifier requires running an extra app in the background, which is a small drain on battery life.) Once again, the Pro version does cost money, so it's worth downloading the free version first.
7. Action Launcher Pro
Action Launcher has some nifty, unique features – stuff like a quick-access set of shortcuts (all customisable, of course), special gestures for launching apps from within folders, and a cool one-touch method of creating widgets from apps.
Sadly, you have to pay the requisite couple of quid for the premium version if you want to get your hands on the goodies.
8. ADW Launcher
ADW's probably the ultimate modder's launcher – anything you want to tweak is tweakable, from the particular shade of Gmail red, to the precise gesture needed to open an app.
Sadly, it all comes at a price – ADW is complicated to use and sluggish compared to other offerings. More worryingly, development has ground to a halt, with no new releases to support versions of Android after 4.1.
9. Next Launcher
Some will consider Next Launcher jaw-droppingly cool – a 3D launcher that's completely different to the standard grid-with-some-widgets-whacked-on-top. Of course, it's insanely impractical and a complete battery hog, but it might just impress a girl at the bar on Friday night.
However, it costs more than a Blu-ray, which is money that could be better spent buying drinks at the aforementioned bar instead.
Zeam is at the other end of the spectrum to the rest of these launchers – all the developers seem to care about is speed. It's the stripped-out racing version, ditching pretty much all the customisation options or swanky floating menus of the other versions, in favour of a minimalist code-base.
The upside of course is super-smooth performance, even on the oldest, crummiest phones around. If you're looking for a speed boost for a handset running Gingerbread (that's Android 2.x to you and us), Zeam fits the bill pretty well, and it's also free.
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