Previously only available for Nexus and GPE handsets, Google Now Launcher is now available for all Android handsets running Android 4.1 and higher. The application is now available for free inside the Google Play store.
The idea behind Google Now Launcher is to give Android users outside of Google’s Nexus and GPE edition programs a taste of stock Android – i.e. Android as it looks without one of LG, Sony, HTC or Huawei’s custom skins on top of it.
Stock Android is Android as Google intended, free from tweaks and bloatware. Now you’re not going to get a pure ASOP build by downloading Google Now Launcher, but you do get the look and feel of an ASOP handset. To remove bloatware, however, you’ll have to root your Android phone.
The Google Now Launcher also adds in the swipe-left-to-reveal Google Now panel, previously only available on the Google Nexus 5. In here you’ll find Google’s Now cards, which detail things like routes home, football scores, the temperature and other things likes stocks and news stories.
We just tested out Google Now Launcher on a Sony Xperia Z1 and it looked great. There wasn’t any performance uplift, however, and the handset still felt a bit sluggish navigating around the UX despite the stripped down nature of Now Launcher versus Sony’s custom UX.