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The Best Android Launchers – October 2017

Posted by William Sattelberg on October 26, 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.

Everyone else

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.

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