One of the reasons I chose to get an Android phone instead of one from any other platform was because of the ability to customize practically every aspect of the user interface. Whether you have a problem with the keyboard, need more functionality from the dialer or dislike the default SMS program, there’s an app to help you change and tweak these to your liking.
Similarly, if you’re looking to change the way your icons, widgets and shortcuts are presented, all at once, you can try an alternative launcher. Hi Launcher is one of the new kids on this block, with a functional screen layout, a boatload of options for customization and some clever new features to keep things interesting. Let’s take it for a spin and see if it can become the default launcher on your device.
Hi Launcher home screens with a couple of different themes
Hi Launcher is a feature-packed alternative launcher suited for those who like graphic-heavy themes. The app is free, requires Android 2.1 or newer to run, and weighs in at 4MB when installed. It also comes with its own store for themes, wallpapers and widgets. Plus, it supports gestures on the home screen for navigating between its zones and screens (which I’ll get into in just a bit).
I use a HTC Desire S which ships with HTC Sense, the brand’s own UI layer for Android. It’s not bad, but I quickly found myself wishing for more options to tune the way the home screen behaved. Hi Launcher on the other hand allows you to tweak just about everything. For starters, you can have up to nine home screens on which to organize your apps and widgets.
Customizing numerous screens and adding interface shortcuts to the dock
Next, you’ll notice that the default skin has a large clock widget at the top of the main home screen. This also displays the date, battery life and RAM, and even has a one-tap task killer. Below this is a toolbar with app categories such as Favorites, Games, System and so on – you can organize your apps right here and never need to delve into your app drawer again! The categories can also be renamed and removed as per your needs, and you can scroll through the categories with a swipe.
Below the icons is a customizable dock. There are five default shortcuts (which can’t be changed), to take you to the Shortcut screen, SMS messages, dialer, browser and Personalize panel. You can add apps, app action shortcuts (such as directly opening a Winamp playlist) and interface shortcuts (hide status bar, hide desktop, screen lock and flashlight) to either side of the dock, and scroll through these by swiping.
The Shortcut screen is divided into three sections; the first includes toggles for Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, screen orientation, ring mode, Bluetooth, GPS, brightness, mobile networks, screen lock and auto-sync; the second includes shortcuts to your favorite contacts; and the third is another set of app action shortcuts. There’s also a second screen here which shows you your running apps and allows you to kill them at once.
In addition to being able to rename app icons you can also change them by selecting from the icons bundled with themes, import icons from your phone’s memory, or use an icon mask to change the appearance (border, texture, and so on) of the icon. Apps can also be uninstalled with just a couple of taps. These options can be accessed by long-pressing on any icon.
Customizing icons with icon masks
There are plenty of themes available for Hi Launcher and each of them affect wallpapers, widgets, common app icons, and some even add icon masks. The app comes with its own store where you can download themes, wallpapers and widget skins – most of which are free. I personally found the themes to be a bit gimmicky, and heavy on colorful and detailed graphics. I couldn’t really find any minimalist themes, which are the kind I prefer because I use a lot of widgets.
Browsing, previewing and downloading new themes from the Hi Launcher store
In case the above features weren’t enough for you, Hi Launcher comes with a few extra tricks up its sleeve. The Shake It Up feature allows you to quickly start an app, close the current app or change your theme, just by shaking your phone. There’s an apps manager to see all your apps along with how often they’re used and how much space they’re taking up (and you can uninstall them from there too). You can also back up, restore and reset your settings whenever you want.
The Shortcut screen and App manager
One of the best things about Hi Launcher is its speed: this launcher is blazing fast, even with several apps running in the background. I didn’t experience any lag while scrolling through screens or even when returning from an app to the launcher. There are also several cool transition effects for the dock and icons, which add a touch of fun to the whole experience.
Is It for You?
Users generally switch out their launchers when their existing one is too slow or lacks features. Hi Launcher will appeal to both groups as it is lightning-fast and allows for fine-grained control over the home screen’s behavior. However, I’ve been using ADW Launcher Ex (which is about $3) for a few months and really enjoy the sleek themes available. It also matches Hi Launcher in terms of features and customization.
I also had a few small niggles with Hi Launcher – the contacts on the shortcut screen didn’t work, and the section of shortcuts below it seemed redundant. Other than this, it’s a fine choice for a launcher. I suppose the quality and variety of available themes for this will increase in the days to come, at which it’ll be a force to reckon with in the battle of the Android launchers. Plus, it’s free! So if you’re in the market for a new home screen experience, be sure to give Hi Launcher a try.