The Best Android Launchers – October 2017
When it comes to choosing an operating system for your smartphone, you really only have two choices. Plenty of users, especially throughout North America, have adopted iOS for plenty of reasons. It’s relatively smooth and fast, and has been for quite sometime; the Apple App Store is virtually unparalleled when it comes to mobile gaming and utilities; and of course, the ease of access when it comes to using your device. Still, there are plenty of users who want something a little different from their devices, and that’s where Android comes in. Android smartphones let you completely customize your device with different wallpapers, icons, color themes and more. On some phones, you can even change the layout of your lock screen, or edit the general look and feel of your settings menu inside your device.
But of course, there’s no customization option more popular on Android than installing a custom launcher onto your device. For the unfamiliar, the “launcher” on your phone is actually where your device keeps your home screens, typically filled with app shortcuts, widgets, and so much more. Unlike on iOS, launchers are completely interchangeable on Android, with the option to set a single device There are dozens of great launchers available inside the Play Store, typically for free or available for just a couple bucks with tons of add-ons, gestures, and more. You can change out your icon packs on the device for brand new ones, add customizable widgets and gestures that make it easy to make your phone exactly how you want it. Some launchers completely change how your phone acts on the lock screen, making your phone feel fresh and new, while others are simply designed to make your Android device feel faster than it has before.
Of course, like any genre of apps on the Play Store, there are a ton of selections you can choose from, including a ton of applications that just don’t seem to work well. A bad launcher can slow down your device, making it impossible to run correctly on your phone, and overall just making things feel buggy and frustrating. You don’t want to make your phone or tablet feel slower than it actually is, so it’s a good idea to find the best launchers on the Play Store and to avoid ones that feature poor reviews. Whenever you’re talking about something as subject to personal preference as the home screen on your Android device, it’s important to remember that there will be a wide variety of opinions about what truly is the “best” launcher overall. What one user may find excellent, another user could consider abysmal, useless, or over-bloated.
So, in this article, we’re doing our best to outline as many Android launchers as we can, from simple utilities that make your phone a little easier to manage to powerful tools that help you sort through your piles of apps, documents, calendar appointments, and more. A launcher is an important part of your device, since they can help you in numerous ways to customize and optimize your daily phone usage. As such, it shouldn’t go unnoticed when you’re setting up your phone. In fact, if you’re looking to truly customize your device to make it yours, these are the apps you should look at installing on your device. These are our top picks for the best Android launchers in late 2017. Let’s dive in.
When we first published this guide to Android launchers back in May, Nova Launcher wasn’t one of our top picks on the list. Though it made the top ten, it was only briefly featured with a short guide on what, in our eyes, made the product special. Now, five months later, Nova has shot up to its rightful place on top of this list, ahead of its close competitor Action Launcher 3, thanks to its ease of use, ultimate customizability, and its fast update program when signed up for the app’s beta. Nova Launcher is one seriously powerful app, no matter whether you’re using the free version or the paid version, though we’ll be taking a look at the latter in this review. If you’re looking to get a stock Android experience on your device no matter the manufacturer, Nova Launcher is currently the app to download. Let’s take a look.
For the unfamiliar, Nova has been around since the days of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, originally developed as a launcher based on the general look of AOSP Android, the basic developer edition offered by Google for Nexus and other devices. Back in the Android 4.0 days, AOSP Android was Google’s pure vision for developers, without any added flair or features. Early Nexus devices shipped with AOSP running, though in later versions of Android, Google would begin to develop exclusive features and looks for their Nexus and Pixel devices, moving farther and farther away from pure Android and into a Google-ified version of Android that, while fast and fluid, has become something of a skin in and of itself. Still, many users see Google’s vision for Android as the version of Android you should use, and it’s no different with Nova. In fact, whether you fall into the camp of wanting a pure “AOSP” version of Android, or you’re more into what Google has done lately with the skin on their Pixel and Pixel 2 devices, Nova has something for you.
Let’s start by talking about the customizability options added into the app, perhaps the most important aspect of any launcher. As we said up top, we’re looking at the Nova Prime version of this launcher, which unlocks every single option inside the settings menu. That menu is clean and well organized, offering easy-to-browse menus and options that make it a cinch to select options for your device. Your desktop, app drawer, and dock all have their own options and settings, as do folders for fully customizing how your grouped apps look on your device. Perhaps the most important of those three, the desktop, allow you to change the grid size of your device, customize the icon size and label appearance, and control the scroll effect within your device. Some of these settings are legacy options with flashy graphics and effects that clash with modern Android. For example, though scroll effect is set to “Simple” by default, flashier options like “Cube” or “Accordion” still exist inside the menu. It’s nice that Nova doesn’t remove features from past versions of the app, though it can make the whole thing feel a little dated overall. That said, Nova has plenty of options that make it great for users looking to use as much of their screen real estate as possible. For example, the option to change the padding options for both the width and height of the launcher is incredibly powerful, and allows you to pull off some pretty neat tweaks on your phone.
Of course, beyond the desktop changes, there’s plenty of other options to control and change as well. You can implement icon packs through the look and feel option, and even change the size of the icons while you’re at it. You can add additional pages to your dock, sliding through one-by-one to select your favorite apps at any given time. Small, minute details like the homescreen page indicator or the bar that flips between the screens on your device make it easy to identify one page from another. And that’s not even diving into the discussion of gesture support on the device, which isn’t just powerful—it’s brilliant. Being able to double-tap on the home screen to launch Google or swipe down to open a shortcut is brilliant, and it’s a feature that doesn’t seem necessary until you have it. Other notable features include a customizable night more that creates a dark theme for when the sun has set, the ability to integrate shortcuts and long-presses on your home screen, and notification badges for displaying what apps do and don’t have unread messages. You can even long-press on those apps to display the notification, like on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
There are two things that make Nova more powerful than similar launchers out there. The first is the speed of the platform. Nova is, by far, one of the speediest launchers on the market today. With options for increased animation times and even the option to completely disable animations on certain application usages, Nova feel faster than anything else you can run on your device. Swiping between homescreens, launching apps, swiping up and down on your notification drawer—it all feels faster when you’re using Nova than any other launcher on the market today. But it’s the second reason that we’ve pushed Nova to the top of our launcher list. Unlike nearly every single other launcher on this list not developed by Google, Nova’s developer has found a way to recreate the experience of having Google Now to the left of your home screen with a swipe. Since being first implemented by Nova, a few other apps—most notably Action Launcher—have added the same functionality to their applications, though we have to give Nova proper compliments for being the first app launcher to create that experience for everyone, with or without root.
The unfortunate part about discussing something like Nova Launcher is that, with so many features and abilities at your disposal, we’ve barely even scratched the surface when it comes to what you can do on your device with Nova and Nova Prime. Customizable animation displays, the ability to overlap widgets and app icons, reshapable widgets that allow you display content in a specific way, displaying the Google search bar in your dock for easy access on large displays—the list of options for Nova go on and on and on. For a free launcher, with the option $5 Prime unlocker that removes ads inside the settings menu and grants you access to dozens of customization options, Nova is a must-have for any Android user looking to totally control the way their device looks and feels on a regular basis. For only $4.99, you gain access to the most powerful app launcher on the market today, complete with free patches and updates and no additional in-app purchases whatsoever. Design may be subjective, but when it comes to the best launcher on the market, the choice is obvious: Nova Launcher is the best Android launcher available today.
If Nova is our top pick for the best Android launcher available today, Action Launcher (previously known as Action Launcher 3) is a close second in terms of features, usability, and customization options overall on the platform. Both Nova and Action are incredibly powerful and feature-filled applications, with their fair share of fans on both sides, quick to disagree with each other about which platform is better for overall usability. While we personally feel like Nova has the upper edge at the moment, there’s no dispute that Action is an incredible launcher in its own right. We’ve even held it up before as the top pick for launchers in 2017, and while we’ve placed it back at the runner-up level for the time being, that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best launchers on Android today. With enough additional features and functions to make you lose track of what’s contained in the app, there’s plenty inside of Action Launcher to love. Let’s take a look.
In terms of Action Launcher’s own history, it’s incredibly similar to that of Nova. Started way back in the Ice Cream Sandwich days, Action was created for many of the same reasons as something like Nova, in order to make an AOSP-based launcher for devices that were heavily skinned. Unlike Nova, however, Action quickly deterred from that path. While the device certainly still feels like Google-based Android in many ways, there’s also a distinct feeling of Action’s own design built into the launcher. There are a distinct amount of differences between something like Nova, which aims to replicate the feel of stock or Google-ified Android to a t, and something like Action, which takes those ideas and attempts to make them better.
So, as we did with Nova, let’s look at some of the options for customization inside of Action Launcher. Admittedly, Action has changed a lot since we first took a look at the launcher back in May, with the entire application now featuring a new icon and an entirely different look. Older versions of Action Launcher 3 still appeared left in the Android Lollipop or Marshmallow days, while this newer version of Action, first launched this summer, feels like a modern redesign. Based on the then-beta versions of Android Oreo (and now based on the official version we’ve seen on the Pixel and specifically the Pixel 2), classic Action features have been remixed and changed to match a more-modern Oreo aesthetic offered by Google, and the launcher looks and feels great for that very reason.
In many ways, Action has made their main goal to collect and emulate all of the general features from the Pixel Launcher, and in many ways, they’ve done an excellent job. While Nova allows you the option to make your device feel like the Pixel, Action pushes you heavily in that direction from when you first launch the app on your phone. With a handy tutorial that pushes you to enable all sorts of settings and options to make your device feel like the Pixel, it’s clear what Action’s intent is. Whether you’re looking to use modern app pages by swiping up from the dock, using the brand-new notification quick-glance feature on your desktop, or using the Google Pill and weather widgets from the original Pixel launcher, it’s easy to replicate that feel on your device.
But what about older features, from Action Launcher 3? They’re still there, though they’re occasionally disabled by default. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth turning on though, and the two features we want to highlight—Shutters and Quickcuts—are still worthy of being enabled on on your device. First, Shutters is Action Launcher’s way of combining your apps and widgets into an easy-to-use, unified interface. By using Shutters, you can cease your reliance on widgets cluttering your home screen while still being able to see information from the widget of your choice. Any application that has a companion widget, including your web browser for bookmarks or your music player for player controls. When you enable Shutters, you’ll see a small icon with the appearance of blinds on your apps’ icons. You can swipe vertically on the app icon to bring up the widget, and then swipe again to close the widget back down. What makes this so great is that it helps you not have to choose between space on your homescreen and utility when using your device—all of your widgets are just a swipe away.
The second feature worth highlighting works like a sister function to Shutters, known as Quickcuts within the settings for Action Launcher. Quickcuts is a take on the dedicated launcher app shortcuts launched by Google with Android 7.1 Nougat on their 2016 Pixel devices, adding the ability to long-press on any icon on your homescreen in order to launch a collection of quick actions and settings. You can long-press on your contacts app to launch a list of dedicated contacts right from your home screen, shuffle your library within Google Play Music, and even open the compost display inside of Twitter. Over the past year, these shortcuts have become more extensively used, as developers continued to add the functionality to their applications. And with the newer version of Action Launcher, you’ll now be able to access the brand new Oreo layout for Quickcuts that also displays notifications right within the app, just as we saw on Nova launcher.
Outside of the Pixel-based features and the Shutters and Quickcuts options, the rest of Action Launcher’s current lineup of options is the same that we’ve seen from other launchers. You can customize the aesthetics of your collection of home screens in whatever way you want, switching between icon options, folders, themes, and even fonts, though we will say that the overall customization is a bit lesser than what we saw on Nova. For example, you can’t change small details like the padding along the vertical and horizontal sides of your device, which stop you from being able to input some of the options we saw on Nova Launcher. Still, Action Launcher does have far more customizable aspects than what we originally saw with most default launchers, so you should find Action to more than meet the necessary level of customization on your homescreen.
Despite only emphasizing those two software tweaks inside of Action Launcher, it’s worth noting that there’s a whole lot more to Action than what we can cover here. We haven’t mentioned the Covers system for folders, the Quicktheme option that makes customization near-automatic inside your device, or the customizable Quickbar that enhances the Google search bar with shortcuts and app icons built right inside the device. Even Google Now integration has come to the app, the same as with Nova previously. The launcher is incredibly powerful, and with recent changes to their pricing structure for Action’s fully-fledged ecosystem, it’s even easier to recommend. With Action relaunched without a number, there’s no more fear of users purchasing Action Launcher 3 only for a fully-paid AL 4 to come out after, so it’s easy to recommend to any users looking for a spin on Google’s take on Android. The only thing stopping us from fully recommending Action Launcher over Nova is the speed and the increased customization options within Nova. Still, Action Launcher is more or less tied for our top spot with Nova at the moment, and despite this reviewer’s personal preference towards Nova, we fully recommend using Action Launcher on your device. For only $4.99, it’ll make your device far more enjoyable than the stock launcher.
If customization isn’t quite your style, using Google’s own launchers on your device can be a no-brainer. We’ve removed our original recommendation for users to use the Google Now launcher offered in the Play Store, because it’s been two straight years since that launcher was updated with bug fixes or new features. Instead, we’ve decided to instead list the launcher from Google’s own Pixel 2 devices. This was a tough choice, primarily because installing the Pixel launcher on the device of your choice isn’t the easiest operation for newcomers to Android. Still, with the launch of the Pixel 2, the APK file for the corresponding launcher is now available to be used with any device running Android 5.0 or higher. When you install the Pixel 2 Launcher on your device, you’ll gain access to the Google search bar in your dock, the “At a Glance” widget, along with access to Google Now. Pretty much everything offered by the Pixel 2 Launcher can be emulated with Nova or Action Launcher, but hey, a free download is a free download. Grab the APK from APKMirror above, make sure “Install from Unknown Sources” is enabled on your device, and use the APK to install. It’s that easy.
Moving away from launchers made to look and feel like stock Google Android, we have ZenUI, a launcher built by Asus for their phones and tablets. ZenUI isn’t quite as fully-features as some of the other platforms on this list, including Nova and Action, but that doesn’t make it a poor launcher by any means. In fact, some of the enhancements added to ZenUI are fairly interesting. A swipe up brings you to the apps settings display, with a friendly interface that makes it easy to customize and change the look of your device. There’s full support for themes, icon packs, and font customization, making it easy to make the launcher feel like your own device. ZenUI also brings some additional handy features to the table, including our favorite pick of the bunch, Smart Group. That feature allows your apps to be automatically sorted into folders based on their similarity with other software, each with their own individual settings. The Quick Find option is also useful—a quick swipe down brings down a Google search bar, your most-used apps, and a list of current trending searches. But by far, the most useful addition is AppLock, which allows you to set passwords on any app of your choice. ZenUI is free to download, simple to use, and one of our very favorite alternate, non-Google-based launchers on the Play Store today. While it may not be as innovative or feature-packed as Action Launcher 3, its user-friendly design and its lightweight processing power makes it an easy recommendation.
Smart Launcher 3 is designed to give quick access to your favorite apps while using as little of your device’s resources as possible. While this launcher may offer many of the same features as other launcher applications, its main focus is in its rather unique approach to the home screen. Instead of providing users with multiple pages of content to swipe through, Smart Launcher 3 provides users with a single home screen panel, along with a number of shortcuts arranged in a hexagon shape. Swiping from the side of the device’s screen will bring up a list of your other applications, all sorted into categories based on their function. Some may like how these apps are sorted, though we can certainly see the argument for not dividing up applications in a way that makes it difficult to find the app you’re browsing for quickly. As far as customization goes, all your basic options are present here, but using them isn’t as user-friendly as we’ve seen in apps like Nova and especially Action. A $4.49 purchase upgrades your app to the full unlocked version, a price that’s a bit hard to justify when comparing the features of the free and paid launchers. Ultimately, Smart Launcher 3 provides a one-of-a-kind take on the home screen, with ideas we haven’t quite seen from other platforms. If the layout offered by Smart Launcher appeals to you, it’s a great selection, but for some, it might be a bit too different.
Apex Launcher has been around for years, first launched around the same time as Nova and Action in the Android 4.x days, and that experience shows. As a launcher, Apex offers some of the most customization options you can find in any launcher, including function other apps don’t even tough on. Any third-party launcher can support themes or update your icons, but Apex allows you to do some truly creative changes. Want to change your device’s vertical margin along the home screen? How about editing transition effects, the transparency of your app drawer, padding sizes, and multiple gestures for controlling your shortcuts? Apex can do all of that and so much more. The only drawback of all these options is the learning curve once you boot up the app for the first time. But for those who demand the most meticulous control of their home screens, we haven’t found much better out there than Apex. As a bonus: Apex launcher was updated for the first time in nearly two years in May of 2017, follow silence from the developers, with a ton of new features and even new design options to check out. If you’ve been on the fence about Apex for a while, there hasn’t been a better time to jump on the app than right now.
Evie has the benefit of being one of the smoothest launchers we’ve tested for this article, and it’s makes a big difference in the day to day operation of your device. First released just last year, Evie is one of the newer launchers on our list, and it shows. With a modern interface clearly inspired by the likes of the Pixel Launcher, a custom app drawer that allows for both icon and list views for easy app selection, a built-in search function that allows users to look for content both on the web and on their devices, and the ability to customize everything inside of Evie for the ultimate personalized launcher, it’s clear through our use of Evie that a lot of thought has gone into how this app works and feels on a day-to-day basis. We’re also big fans of just how clean everything looks. While the launcher may note directly hold to the Material design guidelines listed out by Google for how to develop an Android interface, neither does Google’s own Pixel launcher at this point. Evie does a great job striking a good balance between feeling like Android and feeling like its own thing. We promised back in May that we’d revisit Evie to see if the app has grown and continued to be updated, and it has—therefore, we’ve bumped it up the list of our favorite launchers.
Hola Launcher is a solid launcher app that comes incredibly close to being something great. It’s quick, fluid, and has a number of features for navigating around the settings, options, and apps loaded onto your phone. Unfortunately, a few small problems keep Hola from being great. The customization options here are lacking at best, and it’s missing several different settings considered standard on other platforms that simply aren’t here. The built-in weather app is convenient but not necessarily impressive—you’d be better off installing something along the likes of Weather Timeline or Today Weather—and using the launcher in day-to-day usage doesn’t quite feel as intuitive as it could with some additional work. And that avoids pointing out the most obvious strike against the app: the ads built into the app that are included with the free base version that can cause some serious problems when using your device. Still, Hola Launcher feels like something that would be great in 2013, but four years later, Android has truly matured to a point where certain types of tweaks and customizations just aren’t necessary anymore. That said, there is a really good app here, underneath some obvious flaws.
Microsoft Launcher, formerly known as Arrow Launcher, has changed a lot since we first listed it on this Best-of. Originally, what was then-called “Arrow Launcher” 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. The new Microsoft Launcher 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.
In October of 2017, it finally happened: Microsoft announced Windows Phone, the operating system originally released to position Microsoft as a competitor to Google and Apple in the battle for mobile supremacy, was dead. Joe Belfiore, a vice president of Microsoft, said in a statement that, though the platform would continue to receive bug fixes and security updates, new features and hardware weren’t in the pipeline for release. This admission came months after most had assumed the platform was dead. Hell, in May, Microsoft and Samsung partnered to release a Microsoft version of the Galaxy S8, sold in Microsoft Stores around the country. If you’re still reeling from the death of your favorite operating system, the good news is that Launcher8 still exists. Designed to emulate the look of Windows Phone, Launcher8 features the tile-based home screen you’ve been missing on your Android device. There are several different customization options available for users, along with options for lock screen replacements and other add-ons. For some, this will be a great transition from Windows Phone to Android, but if you’re a die-hard Microsoft fan, you’re better off just downloading their own launcher listed above.
Our final selection, Atom Launcher happens to be yet another good launcher that has the potential to be great in the future. Designed to be entirely minimalistic and feature a black-and-white theme that looks especially good on AMOLED displays, Atom includes pretty much everything you could hope for in a launcher: a unique design, shortcuts to quick actions and other settings, and full customization of your home screen. Above all, our main complaint with the app comes from the lack of feeling like it offers anything new. Outside of the visual language of the app, everything here has be done on other platforms, including apps like Nova and Action that allow users to easily create a similar-looking theme to what’s been created here. Though the app is fairly light and efficient when it comes to actually using the application, Atom simply doesn’t stand apart from the pack enough to gain a fully-fledge recommendation like some of the other apps on this list. Still, it’s creeps up right at the end thanks to strong performance and some solid Google Play reviews, not to mention a fairly-affordable upgrade to the full version of the app being available for just $1.99. Definitely check this one out, but remember that it doesn’t quite meet the highs of Nova, Action, or even Evie Launcher.