Android Launchers & Home Replacement Apps – Part I
Android’s greatest defining feature and strength is the ability to customize. What, you ask? Well, almost everything. Being Open Source, almost every part of the OS can be customized by developers and their apps. Back in 2010, I did a post on Android launchers & home replacement apps when the functionality of Android’s stock home screen and launcher was highly lacking. Fast forward 2 years later and little has improved. It’s the same old launcher with a few additional UI/UX changes like on-screen buttons.There’s no surprise, then, that replacement android launchers exist for almost every part of Android’s stock functionality. In turn, to complete the circle of life, newer versions of Android incorporate the functionality of replacement apps. It’s the ecosystem of replacement apps, in fact, that helps drive Android’s amazingly(or disgustingly) fast iteration.
Once again, we review the need for Android Launchers & Home replacement apps. We’re going to be looking at the following launchers in no particular order – ADWLauncher EX, GO Launcher EX, Regina 3D, Nemus, MXHome, Balancer, Claystone, QQ, 360, Zeam and Launcher Pro.
Since there are quite a few replacements, we’ll be splitting this post into 2 parts. Let us now dive head first into the world of Android Launchers & Home replacement apps and I strongly suggest you have your android smartphone ready with you to install and try out these launchers as we review them.
1. Launcher Pro
I’ll begin once again with my personal favourite Launcher Pro by Federico Carnales. With over 25K downloads, this is probably one of the most widely downloaded and used android launchers! I’ll stand by my 2 year old assessment that this app is very slick and smooth with absolutely no lags or delays. Apart from the previously listed features there have been quite the improvements.
- Home screen looping with your choice of transition effects and support for upto 7 screens with the option of setting your choice of home screen.
- Up to 3 docks(that’s a total of 15 apps being available on three separate screens) available at the bottom of the home screen with loop scrolling if you so choose.The dock supports missed call, unread SMS and unread Gmail notifications.
- You can set the app to auto-rotate or not and bind your home key to a specific function or action.
- The app drawer gives you the ability to hide apps you don’t need to see and has an experimental but beautiful 3D drawer!
- A few updates back, support for icon packs was enabled by Federico.
- There are some advanced settings related to memory and scrolling, but these features are best left to the geeky developer folks!
There is a paid version of Launcher Pro called Launcher Pro Plus that has beautiful widgets that make the app worth the money. The app has a very nice transparent look and excellent functionality. The plus version has a Gmail, Facebook and twitter widget on-screen allowing for easy access.
Kudos to the GO Dev Team, developers of the GO Launcher EX app among many others. GO Launcher EX is the team’s launcher, and can be downloaded and installed from Google Play for free! The launcher is also the core app for many of the GO Dev Team’s other software offerings, which come in the form of GO Launcher-specific widgets and plug-ins. For example, GO Locker adds a custom lock screen system to your phone while GO Notification adds an iOS-like badge notification to the icons of supported apps.
GO Launcher EX has tons of themes and awesome widgets to play around. GO Widgets are widgets that work only in GO Launcher, and they’re generally speaking more capable than standalone widgets, either technically or just qualitatively. It combines simplicity with flamboyance rather well. Information access is one use of widgets, not having to launch apps to do something is another. The only problem with this app is with all widgets running, this can be quite a drain, both battery and memory wise.
Widgets are nice, but the true beauty of GO Launcher EX is all the settings you can tweak. Listing everything that GO Launcher EX lets you tweak would take forever, but you can basically tweak anything you can imagine. From the number of icons to how the dock looks, icon labels, gesture control, screen transition effects, icon sizes, and so on. The app drawer can also be customized, including adding folders to it to organize it as much as the home screen. The GO Store widget lets you easily browse through available themes and widgets made exclusively for GO Launcher EX.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, this has almost as many if not more downloads than Launcher Pro. This is definitely an app for those who seek beauty and deep functionality!
When I first got my hands on the MXHome Launcher, i was all like wow, this quite possibly has the potential to redefine conventional Android home screens with it’s nifty 3D graphics and the best app drawers I’ve seen to date. Developed by NeoMTel, this new launcher has an original layout, a slick interface, more than a few unique features and more than enough potential to give some of the highest rated launchers a run for their money. MXHome is meant for devices operating Android 2.1 or above and is supported for screens with WVGA and FWVGA resolutions.
When you first begin using this launcher, you get this screen with a clock and a few options all of which can be user defined. The clock here reacts to the inbuilt G-Sensor as it gracefully ticks away the time and you can access your dialer, texts, and even toggle certain most used settings right from this screen. The little MX button on the dock at the bottom of this screen, brings down this screen and opens up a regular home-screen view.
The launcher’s app drawer is one of its highlights. It sports two types of views; the List view and the Icon view. Simply tap the button on the bottom-right corner to toggle the views. you can sort you applications by category, alphabetically and date wise. If you tap the headers of the various categories, that category will fold up to allow you a neat and minimalistic look at your app drawer by ridding it of the items which you don’t wish to see.
When we first used Regina 3D Launcher it was like visusal gastronomy! This launcher shows unbelievable potential with its opulent 3D interface and an assortment of new, handy features that takes home screen customization to a new level. Available for free on Google play, Regina 3D Launcher, along with all its component apps, is absolutely free.
Though it goes unnoticed at first glance, the overall render quality in Regina Launcher has been kept low, probably on purpose, for better performance. A closer look at the text and icons reveals jagged edges and dithered gradients.
Despite this, the interface looks quite amazing and is, in itself, quite a lot of fun to play with. Swipe across the screen to switch between multiple home-screens and the slower you swipe, the more “3D” the inter-screen transitions become. Swiping across the screen slow enough, and the launcher will rearrange all your home-screens in a 3D home screen browser.
Each home-screen or “workspace” can have a different wallpaper and a title. Swipe the work space to edit its properties and hold down anywhere on the screen to bring up the Add/Edit menu. You’ll find the mentioned options in the Edit tab.
The launcher comes loaded with support for five Regina widgets, some of which need to be installed separately from the Market. Hold down anywhere on the screen to add widgets, shortcuts or folders. You can directly navigate to Settings > Regina Settings > Version x.x.xx (Check For Update) for all available Regina widgets and updates.
A feature that we found particularly interesting was the Secret Workspace, a tap-sequence password for which can be set from the launcher’s settings menu. Secret Workspace is basically a second, hidden layer of multiple home screens that can be employed to house shortcuts or widgets for, ummm, personal stuff! The password is a sequence of taps, each at one of the four corners of the screen.
A very promising Launcher with more goodness to come with new updates. Keep an eye on this one folks!
Stay tuned for Part II of the review on Android Launchers and Home Replacement apps!