The T-Mobile G1 with Google is well designed out of the box. Customization is easy: Backgrounds are simple to change, icons can be placed in folders to reduce clutter, and pictures can easily be placed on the desktop. In addition, a clock or Google search box is easy to put just about anywhere on the three default desktops. The press and hold gesture, often called a long press, is simple to master. The default icons are attractive and the icon and folder motif is familiar to anyone who has used a computer with a graphical user interface.
All in all, the included desktop is very nice. However, after a time, many people feel the need to personalize the G1. After all, isn’t that half the fun of owning a smart phone? There are currently three production ready alternative desktops available with a fourth waiting in the wings. Each desktop has its strengths, and it is almost impossible to recommend one over another. In fact, it is a lot of fun to buy all three and switch between them every now and again.
The three production ready desktop replacements are, in no particular order: Open Home, dxTop, aHome. The fourth that shows incredible potential for complete customization is Sweeter Home.
Open Home is a very robust desktop replacement based on Cupcake, thus offers Cupcake features like a soft keyboard and live folders. It offers seven desktops in all, supports a wide range of custom themes and is, at the moment, the only desktop replacement to offer custom icon packs. One of the advantages of Open Home is that all the icon packs and themes are free.
Open Home is being developed by a group of Java developers known as Better Android. When asked why aftermarket desktop replacements are necessary, Robert from Better Home replied:
“I wouldn’t call it an ‘aftermarket’ desktop. Android has all the foundations to allow 3rd parties Home replacement app. It also gives examples of how to make a home replacement app in its SDK. Therefore home replacement apps are encouraged by Google.
We all want our phones to look cool. The default Android theme is fine but it gets to be really boring after you use it for a few months. Therefore we want to make it skinnable so users can choose the look that they want.”
Open Home is an enhanced version of original Home app. In addition to the features of the original Home app, it supports the following features:
- Live Folder support
- Soft keyboard
- Skin pack and icon pack support
- Auto rotate
- Workspace gesture (swipe up or down to get back to main screen)
- and many other tweaks and options to allow users to get the most out of the G1.
Looking to the future, Open Home is planning on supporting its own and native Android widgets. They are not planning on supporting third party widgets for security reasons.
dxTop is a desktop replacement written and supported by John Van Etten, a.k.a., Master Baron. Mr. Van Etten has over 20 years experience in software development, and was drawn to the G1’s nature as an Open Source platform with the Java stack. When asked what was unique about dxTop, he replied:
“With the second tab at the bottom, it offers very quick navigation to the apps you use most. The basis for dxTop is quick navigation.”
As to why users would want or need a replacement for the native G1 Home app, he said:
“People like options, they want their customized phones. Everyone has their need, many use their phone as quick reference. They need to get to information fast.”
dxTop offers four desktops. It is unique in the way the screens are navigated. In all of the other apps, the desktops are placed horizontally. A user swipes from left to right or from right to left to move to the desktop to left or right of the one currently displayed. dxTop’s desktops are placed in a square pattern, with two on the top and two on the bottom. This facilitates navigation between the four desktops. With the second tab for accessing the most recently used apps, dxTop offers very fast navigation.
Another feature of dxTop is its support for several memory and battery management widgets. These widgets offer clear graphs and clear numerical displays to help you manage your battery life and memory. Another very cool widget supported by dxTop is aniCalendar from aniFree.
dxTop supports open standards for themes and widgets. At the moment, it supports native Android, dxTop specific, and aniFree widgets.
aHome , from mAPPn, Inc., offers a number of unique features. Of all of the desktop replacements, aHome is the only one to offer unlimited desktops. If you run out of space, simply long click an icon and drag it to the side of the screen. A new desktop will be created. It offers a number of interesting ways to know which desktop is show, including numbers, number of dots, and even Chinese numbers.
aHome offers an application bar across the bottom of the screen. Your four most used apps can be placed in this bar and accessed from all desktops. The application dock is accessed by pressing the magnifying glass on the left of the screen. The widget dock, accessed by pressing the widget icon on the right of the screen, is an interesting feature that allows you to access installed widgets quickly and easily.
The themes for aHome are excellent. Although there are some free themes, most are not. There are also a few widgets available, with the only free one being a battery meter. aHome also supports aniCalendar from aniFree. One interesting and unique widget is the QuickTweet widget for Twitter users. QuickTweet allows you to send a tweet from any desktop using either the full keyboard or a soft keyboard.
A very interesting up-and-coming desktop replacement is Sweeter Home. Sweeter Home is being developed by Kioma Valenzuela Aldecoa of Sweeterhome.com. The goal of this desktop replacement is to put the information contained in your G1 on the desktop as a widget. Sweeter Home offers an incredible level of customization, but is still only available as a preview app. When asked why another desktop replacement was needed, the developer replied:
“When people looked at the home screen on the G1, it looked like a little minicomputer. I wanted to make something that added utility to the actual phone, more like traditional PDA functions.”
Even as a preview release, the potential for Sweeter Home is apparent. All of the data in the phone can be placed on the screen in various sizes and shapes. The home screen can show a list of the day’s appointments, missed calls, or a list of text messages. Each widget-like object can be a custom color. The text size and color can also be adjusted, along with the size and shape of each object. Sweeter Home allows you to show things like:
- Missed calls
- Upcoming calendar events
- Recent text messages
- Trays for commonly used applications
Sweeter Home also allows for deep customization and theme management. It supports up to five desktops. An advanced theme and layout editor allows an for an unprecedented level of customization. Layouts can be different for both portrait and landscape modes and the custom layouts can be stored on your SD card.
Sweeter Home is planning on supporting Open Source widgets and themes, and has posted a theme to the Market. At this point, Sweeter Home users can create themes by customizing the appearance of the home screen and its objects and save those themes to the SD card.
In closing, each one of these desktop replacements is unique. Which one is best depends on your needs as a user. If flexibility and total number of screens is a high priority, aHome is a good solid desktop replacement. If you are looking for simplicity with quick access to recently used apps, dxTop may be the one for you. If you are looking for a large number of free themes and some really beautiful widget designs, Open Home provides a very solid and well designed platform. For the moment, Sweeter Home is one to watch for the future, but could provide some of the most exciting and advanced features in the desktop replacement arena. If you have the time and inclination to customize every aspect of your desktop, Sweeter Home is truly your paradise.