One of the most impressive ways to customize your smartphone is to install a launcher. Launchers provide tons of options, themes and icons for your handset, as well as offering near complete control over how your phone performs when switching screens, launching apps and more. Here are the best Android launchers for your smartphone or tablet.
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Best search launcher: Google Now
The Google Now launcher could be translated to 'search now'. That's because it makes it easier to search from your device. Instead of opening Chrome or another web browser, Google Now gives you a search box at the top of your home screen. You can either type or use voice commands to get started on easier searches.
Besides getting faster searches from the Google Now launcher, you get a clean, uncluttered experience. The icons are spaced apart well, your apps can be sorted into logical categories and the home screen can be changed by pressing on the ample blank space.
If you swipe right from your home screen you can see Google Now cards. These give you information you need. You can customize these cards to get exactly what you want. These cards could include movie times, sport scores, news or the weather. Enabling location services will make these cards more effective, although it will take away some of your privacy.
This theme has fully embraced Android Lollipop, and works brilliantly with devices that have received the coveted update. One of its best features is a bar, similar to the Windows Start Menu, that pops up on the left side of your screen, and lets you launch your favorite apps without having them cluttering up your home screen. You can completely customize your All Apps list, as well as tweak the layout, icons and colors to your heart's content.
Functioning as a developer preview of its operating system, you can now get Firefox OS on your Android device without even needing to flash it. The OS operates as a launcher. It adds large, simple icons, access to Firefox's Marketplace and some privacy features.
It might be that the icons are so large because it's designed for a device with a lower resolution screen than what we tested it on, and its a bit laggy at times, which is natural for a developer preview. But it's worth a spin if you're interested in seeing what Mozilla is cooking up.
C Launcher is a gorgeous and economic launcher that'll let you reach every distant corner of your phone in seconds. It tracks your phone use (all on-device) to provide contextual suggestions depending on which apps you use in certain locations. C Launcher also includes an in-built system cleaner, and thousands of themes to customize it, or you can create your own using C Launcher's simple step-by-step guide.
Buzz Launcher offers some of the inventive themes we've seen on Android. Its community has come up with a whole range of professional-looking ideas to suit all tastes. Buzz is unbeatable if you want a bold new look on your Android without the effort of creating it yourself, but you will need to download the additional Buzz Widget app to get the most from it.
With over 10 million installs and support for thousands of free themes, dodol Launcher keeps it simple and does themes just right. It isn’t a complete reworking of the Android system, but it is a lightweight, effective launcher, and it won't destroy your battery life with crazy effects and animations. It's another less-is-more kind of launcher, and could be a great place to start if you're new to Android customization.
Best for running circles round your phone: Smart Launcher
Smart Launcher really turns things inside out. Instead of neat rows and boxes, Smart Launcher gives you rings of the most commonly used apps and vertical cascades of categorized apps. It's linked with the app manager, so if you delete an icon, the app is deleted too. It's simple and unique and has a 4.6-star rating based on more than five million installs.
Next Launcher is quite possibly the coolest 3D launcher available. It's hard to put into words just how radically different this launcher is compared with anything else on this list. All the best features aren't free, as with most launchers, but the wow-factor of the Premium version is worth the cost. If you want a hi-tech, attention grabbing launcher on your phone, try the free version out and see if you can resist upgrading.
APUS is currently one of the most popular launchers on Android, largely thanks to its gorgeous Pinko theme. This launcher combines themes, custom icons, and some APUS own-brand features to make it one of the most comprehensive launchers to date. It's free, so you should definitely check this one out; APUS' animations are top-notch.
Hola Launcher has made a name for itself, largely thanks to how economical it is. The initial download comes in at just over 1 MB, and with that comes a reorganized interface, new app icons and some gorgeous themes. But it's not just its file size that is slim, Hola is also hard to beat on its use of processing power – it requires less RAM than even some of the quickest Android Launchers.
Apex Launcher is one of the most popular custom launchers available right now, with more than million downloads from the Play Store and an average rating of 4.3 stars. It offers near-endless customization options, complete home screen and app drawer control, gesture settings, and tons of icons, themes, launch animations and transition effects. There's also a paid version, which adds even more features to the already-formidable free launcher.
The undisputed king of alternate Android launchers, Nova Launcher, holds a spot on nearly everyone's smartphone. With over five million Play Store downloads, its fans can't be wrong. It offers an accessible and functional entry point into the world of launchers. A new feature called 'icon normalization' has become a fan-favorite, and uses surprisingly complex algorithms to make sure all your icons cover a consistent area of the screen. What this means is that rather than simply fitting the icons within equally sized frames, they are scaled to cover the same area, regardless of shape, making them far more appealing to look at.
GO Launcher EX has had more than one hundred million installations, and has a 4.5-star rating, making it the unparalleled Android launcher extraordinaire. GO is as polished a free launcher as you can find, and features some excellent animations and 3D effects. The downside of GO Launcher is that there is a lot of cross-promotion,which can get a little annoying.