5 launcher apps to give your Android phone a fresh new look

There are many faces of Android: There’s the stock version offered by Google that’s stylized in Google’s own vision, and there’s the version that your manufacturer would rather have you use. When it comes to interfaces we wish we could change, the latter version is usually the one causing headaches.

It’a a matter of taste, but the interface that your Android phone comes saddled with may not always be the most appealing, and that’s why there are myriad launcher apps available in the Google Play store. These apps customize the way the interface looks and operates, and even streamline animations as you pan between screens.

How to enable a launcher

Once you install an application launcher, you’ll have to remember to make it the default home screen. When you go to your home screen, Android will prompt you about which launcher you wish to use, so be sure to select the new launcher you’ve installed and tap Always, unless you want to be prompted every time you go to the home screen. If you get sick of your new interface, you can always reset your defaults in the settings menu.

Nova Launcher

Nova Launcher is a longtime favorite of Android users, and for good reason: It’s extremely customizable and it doesn’t veer too far from the Android experience you’ve grown accustomed to.

Nova Launcher can move the status bar and the dock, and whittle your Android interface down to absolute simplicity.

Its settings menu may appear overwhelming at first, but once you spend some time perusing your options, you’ll discover that you can do things like set the style of the Google search bar, set the space between margins, and enlarge or shrink all system icons. You can even set how you want folders to look and whether you want to switch to Google’s stock icons or stay with the ones your phone maker has provided you with. For many of the options, you can choose which version of Android to emulate, which can come in very handy if you have an older phone that won’t get updated to the latest version of Android anytime soon.

Don’t be overwhelmed by these settings. They’re there to help you.

You’ll have to upgrade to the $4 Nova Launcher Prime if you want to unlock a few other of its customizable features, including dock swipes, gestures, and the ability to hide apps that you hardly use. Nova Launcher works only on Android 4.0 and later.

Smart Launcher

Smart Launcher adds a bit more flair to your interface—and a sidebar.

Smart Launcher starts off by asking you to select your app preferences, like which browser you prefer and what music app you usually listen to, and then it pops up an entirely new home screen with a menu bar on the left-hand side.

Smart Launcher will make your icons look mismatched if you have an icon pack installed.

It isn’t the most appealing interface, nor is it very intuitive. I didn’t like the way it organized my apps at first, and if you’re using a manufacturer-provided overlay, like Samsung’s TouchWiz UI or LG’s Optimus UI, the interface will look crowded. Smart Launcher’s sidebar looks a bit nicer on a tablet interface.

Smart Launcher is nicer looking on a tablet.

The app also offers gesture support, downloadable theme packs, and various customization options for the interface, including the ability to install plug-ins, though the only available plug-ins I could find were in the Google Play store. You can also install custom icon packs, though they can look mismatched among the non-stock apps also hanging out on the Home screen. If you decide that you want to stick with Smart Launcher, you can shell out $4 for the Pro version to get a secondary panel for widgets, more transitions, more colors to personalize the home screen, and multi-touch gestures.

Go Launcher EX

Theme junkies, Go Launcher EX features thousands of themes for personalizing your interface, though it requires a bit of tweaking before you can get it to function to your liking. You’ll also have to individually delete a few pages of trial apps and widgets that it bundles with the download, but from there it’s an easy process: Go into the settings, select Themes, and choose something from Go Launcher’s vast library.

It’s gaudy. It’s busy. It’s chock-full of “try me now!” buttons.

This app also features a number of downloadable plug-ins, like a custom-lock-screen app, a file manager, and its own official UI 3.0 theme. Also included are options to enhance things like the flipping speed and transition effects,enable infinite scrolling, and fit icons to the screen. Sometimes it felt like Go Launcher packed in too much choice, however, so you’ll need some time to peruse the various options. Bear in mind that the app also features one of the largest user communities, many of whom are constantly submitting new wallpapers and themes.

So many themes, so little time.

Go Launcher EX is ad-supported, but you can unlock the app, as well as a number of extra features, with an in-app purchase of $6.

Apex Launcher

Like Nova Launcher, Apex Launcher is a fairly straightforward application, and it offers plenty of options for altering the overall look of your Android interface without detracting from the experience you’re used to. There are also themes available, should you choose to go that route, or you can leave your interface as is and instead alter things such as the transitional effects between screens or the size of your app icons. With Apex Launcher, you can also hide the icons of apps you never use and resize widgets that are not normally resizable.

Apex Launcher can give you a nice, pristine-looking interface.

If you upgrade to the $4 Apex Launcher Pro, you can unlock the ability to add tabs and folders to your application drawer, change dock swipe options, and enable the ability to allow widgets to overlap, among other thingss.

ADW.Launcher

ADW.Launcher starts you off with a setup screen that walks you through the process of configuring the Action Bar, the App Drawer, the home page, and transitions.

ADW.Launcher makes subtle tweaks, like moving the button for the App Drawer to the right in the dock.

Like the others launchers listed here, ADW offers a surfeit of display options. If you had themes installed previously, ADW will recognize those and point them out for you. A nice option embedded in the Advanced settings called ‘Keep in Memory’ helps prevent the app from going wild with your device’s memory usage. And you can select whether or not you want widgets to overlap. ADW.Launcher will work with your aging Android handset, up to Android 1.6 Donut.

You can set up the transition effects between screens (left) in ADW.Launcher’s settings menu (right).

After you’re done, be sure to share your interface creations online at My Color Screen and on the official subReddit for Android themes. You can also use those sites as resources for ways to make your Android device your own by customizing the interface.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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