Smartphones start to blend together after a while, but luckily, if you’ve got Android phone, there’s a lot of opportunity for customization. We’ve put together a list of ways to customize your Android experience, including our 10 favorite launchers, apps for changing your lockscreen, widgets, and custom ROMs
At the core of Android’s user experience is the launcher. The launcher is basically what unifies your Android experience with your app menu, widget options, and of course the home screen. There are a number of launchers out there that offer unique ways to customize your visual experience with unique features, color options, and even entirely new ways to get content to your home screen.
Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher is finally available, and it offers a simple and beautiful way to customize your Android experience. The launcher has three home pages: a People page with contacts, an Apps page with frequent and new apps, and a Notes page with all your reminders. Arrow will also change your wallpaper automatically, if you want.
The Nova Launcher offers a very clean experience similar to the standard launcher found on bare-bones Android devices, but with way more customization. It can also be fine tuned to modify even minor aspects of the launcher to give it whatever style you desire. It does cost $5 for the prime version, though.
The Go Launcher is another extremely popular, highly customizable launcher that lets you revamp almost every aspect of the home screen. Go Launcher offers not only a bare-bones Android-style launcher, but also an extremely popular theme system that users can download new themes from. There are hundreds of these themes available on the Play Store, and they come in all sorts of styles.
Laucher8 is good if you’re a fan of the vertical style and block-based nature of Windows 10. It gives the look of the tile-based Windows Modern UI, but without losing all the functionality of Android. They can be customized by the standard Windows Modern UI color pallet, or you can add your own custom colors into the mix.
Themer offers different Android launcher experiences that are unique to each theme within the app. Like Go Launcher, there are plenty of themes to choose from, and these themes can vary greatly in shape and size. Themer is still early in beta, but there’s plenty to choose from.
Action Launcher, now in its third iteration, is an ideal option for those familiar with Android 5.0 Lollipop—though it works with older versions of the OS as well. The standard dock and app drawer are replaced by a slide-in drawer, plus shutters and covers provide a new, quicker way to launch your favorite tools.
Aviate Launcher is a great launcher from Yahoo, believe it or not. It’s all about context-driven services and reorganizes your home screen automatically over the course of the day to preempt your needs and put your most used apps at different times and in different locations right at your fingertips when you need them.
Apex Launcher is for control freaks that love tweaks and customizations. Mess with the size of just about everything and the gesture commands to get your ideal experience. A power user’s dream, Apex isn’t just easy to modify, it runs extremely smooth as well.
EverythingMe Launcher is, as the name suggests, all about you. It puts your most used contacts at the top so you can always reach your friends and family, predicts your needs based on context, and automatically organizes your apps into categories to save you time. It also gives new app suggestions so you can discover some hidden gems.
C Launcher is all about speed and optimization. It does everything it can to reduce battery drain on your device, monitoring performance and keeping everything streamlined. A built-in clean up feature eliminates clutter and unnecessary files that build up over time and start to lag the device, and an app installer makes deleting apps you long stopped using a breeze.
When you turn on your phone, the first thing you see is your lockscreen. A quick and easy way to freshen up your smartphone is to change the lockscreen, which can be done without even removing your favorite launcher, such as HTC Sense or TouchWiz. These are a few of the many lockscreen apps out there.
AcDisplay is a simple lockscreen cover that helps you whip through notifications faster. Since it’s so minimalistic, it consumes less battery, but you can activate it using your device’s sensors, which is cool. That way you don’t have to press the power button to wake your phone all the time.
If you’re interested in “smart” lockscreens, you have to try Cover. While most offer you quick shortcuts to your favorite apps, Cover is smart, and will adjust its suggested apps based on the ones you use most. Cover also customizes the apps based on locale – work, home, or car – giving you easy access to the apps you need most when you want them.
If you want a lockscreen that’s all about style, then give Sparky a try. Sparky offers a number of free and paid lockscreens that are all unique in their own respects. All Sparky lockscreens are high-resolution, gorgeous images that merge the design of the screen with access to your favorite apps. For example, a donut will be sliced up into the different apps you may want, such as messaging and mail. There are two Sparky lockscreens available for free, with many more available if you buy the paid version for $3.
Widgets and live wallpapers are a quick and easy way to give new life to an old home screen. As developers continue revamping their widget collections, the ability to customize and get high-quality widgets and wallpapers is easier than ever. There are tons of these simple apps to add to your home screen, but we picked out some of the ones that we think are great.
While there are tons of individual widgets out there, an easy way to get interesting, high-quality widgets without searching all day is to choose a widget package such as HD Widgets or Beautiful Widgets. Both offer pretty similar options, such as a new home screen clock with weather, toggles for Wi-Fi, brightness, and your hotspot, and all sorts of ways to look at your updates at a glance. What’s great about the latest version of these apps is how customizable these widgets have become, as well as how gorgeous they look even on larger screens such as a phablet or tablet. HD Widgets offers a very “fancy” style, while Beautiful Widgets is a bit more minimalist in style.
There are thousands of live wallpapers out there, ranging from fake fish tanks to even live weather radars. One particular live wallpaper that we think looks sleek is the FlightTrack live wallpaper. It’s an all-in-one flight application that lets you monitor flights, airports, and whatever information you may be interested in finding. The app also includes a live wallpaper that shows all flights from an airport on the screen in a cool tracking style. You can also set the wallpaper to track your own flights around the world. Getting FlightTrack means both a great live wallpaper, and a very versatile, fully-featured app to go with it.
Try a ROM with an entirely new flavor
If you’re seriously in need of a change in scenery, the ultimate way to freshen up your phone is to flash a brand new ROM. The ROM is a sort of “Operating System” update for Android that customizes the apps, the launcher, the lock screen, and even special mods to give the smartphone an especially unique flavor.
Note: Installing a ROM requires you to root your phone, wipe it, and install a custom recovery. If you have no idea how to do this or what these words mean, we recommend you do some reading on XDA-Developers first, or ask a friend who knows more about smartphones. Remember that installing a ROM is different for each smartphone and that we are not responsible if you accidentally brick your phone while trying to install a ROM!
If you’re a minimalist but like cool features, then be sure to give CyanogenMod a try if it’s available for your smartphone. CyanogenMod is a truly bare-bones (but in a good way) ROM for Android devices that offers a very clean and easy to use interface that focuses on speed, but also includes some unique features exclusive to CyanogenMod users, such as special customization options and backup support. There’s also a ton of support in the CyanogenMod community for those interested in running the ROM.
If your smartphone doesn’t support CyanogenMod, or you’re looking for something else, just visit your smartphone’s section on XDA-Developers to see what folks are working on with your device. They’ll offer details on what exactly is “cooked” into the ROM and what features, themes, and styles it offers. Almost every major Android device is featured on XDA-Developers, and as long as it’s been rooted, it will have custom ROMs for you to try.
Or make yourself a truly custom experience
These are just a few of the ways you can freshen up your smartphone, whether you want to completely revamp it or just give it a little something new. If none of these mods are of interest to you, there are still other ways to freshen up your home screen. The Play Store is full of mods catering to all kinds of devices, and a search for your phone’s name should come up with a few hits. You can also keep an eye out for development sites like XDA, which offer custom mods that don’t require installing a ROM, making the process much more painless. If there’s a way you want to customize your Android experience, there very likely is a way to do it.
Do you know of a cool wallpaper, widget, or launcher? Let us know in the comments!