The Five Best Android Launchers [January 2021]

The next time you go shopping for a new phone, you might notice you only have two choices for your operating system: iOS and Android. While iOS has become the top choice for many users, Android holds the crown as the best way to make your new smartphone truly yours. Thanks to nearly limitless possibilities for phone customization—including different wallpapers, icon packs, color themes, alternate lock screens, and more—you make your phone look and feel exactly how you want it, just from the settings menu alone.

Of course, there’s no customization option more popular on Android than custom launchers. For anyone unfamiliar, the “launcher” on your phone is the part of Android you interact with every day, containing your home screens, app shortcuts, and widgets. While iOS keeps their launcher locked to a simple grid, Android allows you to install a completely new launcher from the Play Store, where you’ll find no shortage of free or cheap launchers to choose from.

It’s important to make an informed choice before installing a launcher on your phone or tablet, since there’s plenty of poorly optimized or aging launchers still available for Android. A bad launcher can slow down your device, making everything on your phone feel laggy and frustrating. So, in order to avoid a bad experience on your phone, we’ve tested as many Android launchers as we could find in order to find the best launchers for your phone. If you’re looking to truly customize your device and make it yours, these are the launchers you should download in January 2021.

Everyone else

Launchers come and go all the time, and unfortunately, we said goodbye to Evie Launcher in 2020. One of our favorite unique launchers, Evie was massively popular at its peak, with more than 5 million installs and a 4.6 rating on the Play Store. With Evie having been taken down from the Play Store, those looking for a launcher still in active development should take a long look at Niagara Launcher. Though it’s still in early access, Niagara Launcher has come a long way, with a unique look that combines simplicity and minimalist design to make it easier than ever to use your phone.

Niagara Launcher isn’t a Nova clone—the design uses a simple app list selected by scrolling through the alphabetical list along the edge of your home screen. Pinned apps for quick access to your messages, music, calendar, and email help make sure your essentials are front and center, without any of the bloat found in other launchers. You also don’t have to keep a music widget pinned on your home screen at all times, since media controls appear automatically on your home screen only when audio is playing. A clean, fast interface is combined with a robust theming engine that automatically pulls colors from your wallpaper to create a custom interface. All of this, plus the usual third-party launcher features we’ve come to expect, like hiding unwanted apps from view.

Despite being in early access, Niagara Launcher is stable enough to use day to day. If you’re looking for a launcher that completely reinvents how you use your phone, Niagara is a solid choice.

Smart Launcher has been around for years, and with the fifth edition of their application, they’ve redesigned their launcher once more to make it look modern and elegant. There’s a ton to love about Smart Launcher, and those who use it daily absolutely swear by it. It’s hard to choose exactly one marquee feature of this launcher; instead, it’s a ton of small changes that help to make your phone so much easier to use. From adaptive icons and an automatic ambient theme to Smart Launcher’s ultra immersive mode that hides the navigation bar within your launcher to add space to your home screen. As usual, you also get the typical customization options from Smart Launcher 5, with custom themes, icon packs, gesture support and hotkeys all configurable within the menu. Oh, and the cherry on top of this excellent launcher: the visual design is absolutely gorgeous.

Microsoft Launcher has changed a lot since its original launch several years ago. When Microsoft first began building this launcher, then called “Arrow,” it was built around preset customizable options that gave users several preset home screen options, with the ability to select displays for contacts, reminders, documents, and more. Since its relaunch as Microsoft Launcher in 2017, it now builds on the original ideas presented in Arrow Launcher and changes things up. With Microsoft’s new focus on developing mobile apps for both iOS and Android, it’s no wonder the company would want to shift their mobile strategy towards developing launchers with their own brand.

Though Microsoft Launcher includes Arrow leftovers like Bing integration and a center-display control panel accessed by swiping up, the entire app has been cleaned up, with a focus on a more-mainstream approach to designing home screens. You can customize your layout with icon packs, widgets, themes, and more, and everything syncs up nicely with your Microsoft account for personal, work, or student use. It’s nice to see Microsoft truly buying into the Android platform with this launcher, and with the relaunch of the app still underway (having only left beta two weeks prior, we’re excited to see how this launcher grows overtime.

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