Jan 30 AT 5:34 PM Brooks Barnard 49 Comments

5 custom launchers to make your Android device yours

Make your Android device yours

One of the things that I think makes Android a truly beautiful platform is customization. I’m not talking about custom ROMs or root mods. I’m talking about how no other major mobile platform out there lets you customize your device the way Android does. There may be some caveats, but you have the ability to make your Android device completely unique. My wife hates using my Nexus 5 because it’s so different than her Galaxy S4. Maybe that’s a bad thing, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I have my Nexus 5 set up exactly the way I want it and I love it. I think my home screen looks awesome, and not only is it super functional, it’s also fun to use. The beauty is that I can change it tomorrow if I get a new idea. My home screen isn’t going to look like everyone else’s iPhone (although I could make it look like iOS if I wanted) or Windows Phone; my device looks like no one else’s because it’s Android.

This is the first post of a recurring series about making your Android device yours. Today I’m going to cover custom launchers because I think it’s a fantastic place to start if you’re interested in customizing your device. My goal here is to offer customization ideas that will work for all Android devices, whether you’re still running Gingerbread or you’re on the latest version of Android, Kit Kat. You don’t need to be rooted. You don’t need to be running a custom ROM. All you need is a little bit of time and an itch to change things up a bit. If that sounds like you, read on Action Launcher my friend. We’re going to have fun diving into the world of customization and making your device truly unique.

If you’re not familiar with what a launcher is, you likely use one every time you turn on your phone. When you use your phone, you are interacting with your phone’s launcher. If you’re not using a custom one, you’re using the stock launcher. The launcher controls how the phone works when you interact with it, controls the homescreen layout and its transitions. Using a custom launcher enables you to modify home screen transition animations, tweak the look of app folders and change how your app dock is organized. There are many different ways you can customize your homescreen, and a great way to start is with the launcher.

Another good thing to know about using a custom launcher is that you can always go back to your stock launcher. If you don’t like what you’ve come up with, you can re-enable your default launcher by uninstalling the custom launcher or going into Settings > Apps, finding your custom launcher and clearing the default. Your stock launcher should return just as you left it.

There are tons of custom launchers out there. If you want to use one, look around and try to find one that you think will suit your desires best. Below I’ll list what I think are the most popular launchers for customizing your device. These aren’t necessarily the most unique options, but they are very popular. Just know that there are many others there that will allow you to do lots of different and crazy things to your device’s layout.

Nova and Apex Launcher

I’m not sure how much crap I’m going to get for lumping these two launchers together, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t a huge difference between them. They both offer a very stock Android look with a plethora of customization options. I’ve tried to snoop around and see which of the two the masses prefer and it really seems like a toss up. It comes down to personal preference and maybe even your device? I’ve read that some find one faster than the other. I use Nova because it was on sale once and that’s what I bought. If you’re trying to decide between the two, try out their free versions, which allow for a ton of customization without requiring you to spend a dime. If you end up wanting to try out premium features like gestures, buy the pro version of the app.



ADW and Go Launcher

Again, I may get blown up for lumping these two launchers together, but ADW and Go Launcher provide a very typical Android experience while departing from the stock Android look. These launchers have tons of skins that can be applied to make your device look like Windows Phone, iOS and everything in between. If someone already has come up with a look that you like, you can easily apply it to your own device. It just depends on the number of customizations used and how much work you want to put into your device. It’s yours. You get to choose.



OffCorner Nexus 5Action Launcher Pro

Action Launcher Pro is my launcher of choice lately. I reviewed it for DroidDog when it first came out, and its features are so useful to me that no other launcher has been able to compete. It’s a beautiful, Holo-styled launcher with a new take on getting around and organizing your home screen.

There are two main features worth noting when discussing Action Launcher Pro:

  • The app drawer is accessed by swiping from left to right, like you’re accessing a home screen to the left.  Scrolling through the app drawer that is now a list is super quick, and you can jump to a section using the letters on the right side.  This means that you no longer need to swipe through several pages of an app drawer just to find the YouTube app.
  • Covers:  In the screenshots shown here, all of the icons in my dock are covers, indicated by the small box in the bottom-right corner of the icon.  Covers are basically fancy folders, except that when you press on the cover, it launches the app that you’ve clicked.  To access the folder, you can either double-tap on the cover icon or swipe up, giving you access to the folder.  I like to use the cover like the developer, Chris Lacy, by putting quick dial widgets in my phone cover.

I love Action Launcher Pro because it’s got a super clean look, it gives me fast access to any app, it’s being actively developed and it’s always getting new features.


This is just a brief list of popular custom launchers. As I’ve already stated, there are many others that are probably great as well. If I’ve left out a killer launcher that you feel is worth mentioning, please comment below and let us know what you’re using and why you think it’s awesome. You can also use the HTML <img> tag and show us your own homescreen. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget let us know what topic you’d like to see covered in an upcoming edition of “Make your Android device yours.”

Brooks is an engineer living in the Bay Area recently dislocated from the Great Northwest. He's an Android enthusiast who decided to start doing something (productive?) with his countless hours Android modding and theming. He has a hot wife, is a father of three, an avid F1 fan, and enjoys watching sports when he can. His current devices include the Nexus 6 and 7 (2103) both running stock roms and may or may not be rooted. You can follow Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_Barnard.

    Most Tweeted This Week

  • Vance

    Okay it’s not a launcher, just a widget, but I love Circle Launcher for quick and stylish app access and management. Because I use so many different apps daily for work and play, I find that having “launch folders” (for lack of a better term) on my home screen both quick and clean. I like how the apps burst up into a circle, centered on the screen even though I keep all 4 launchers on the bottom row (check open on center in the settings). You can customize the label like you would on any folder, but there are so many other endless possibilities for designing and defining your little app launchers. My circle launchers along with my favorite widgets and one of the themes from the new HTC M8 evleaks shared, and my HTC One is looking pretty fine!

    • NellieAWoodland

      like Lillian answered I’m surprised that some one able to make $8081 in one month on the computer . visit homepage >>> ­.F­­I­Z­Z­J­O­B­.â„­­ï¼¯­ï¼­

  • Tommy

    Before I was ducked into the world of flashing, I had go launcher. If you don’t know how to root, or you just not into that. I highly recommend it. There are so many options, downloadable add ons for free in the play store, themes you can download, you can essentially change ANYTHING you can think of on your phone. From the lock screen, to transition animations, to GO SMS, a highly customizable texting replacement. It really is rediculous, and you will find new things for it every day.

  • Braulio Mecchi

    Great, love Action Launcher features.

    Maybe Aviate deserves a mention. It also has a alphabetical ordered app list, but – my favorite – you can group apps by the activities you do in you day, like: work, home, night, going somewhere, sports or any thing you do, once you can create custom groups and yes you can put same app on more then one activity.

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      It’s been a little while since I’ve played with Aviate, but I put Aviate in another category compared to these launchers in the post. I think Aviate is cool and has great features, but it doesn’t (or didn’t the last time I used it) offer the same level of customization as these do.

  • Angel Cervantes

    Nice article, I’m considering trying Action Launcher, just a question, those soft-buttons are modded right, they didin’t come with the launcher?
    If so, could you please tell me the name of the mod or ROM?


    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      The nav button ls are modified with SoftKeyZ root. You do need to be rooted to mod the nav buttons I think.

  • John

    Nova Beta rules…navigation & notification bars are transparent and the customization like swiping is tuff to beat. Throw in Zooper stuff & Circle launcher and your good.

  • Joel

    What icon pack do you have on your phone?

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      On the Nexus 5 I have an icon pack called OffCorner. It’s currently in a paid beta. Search for the Google+ community to check it out.

  • Fabio

    I use 2tao launcher, Really new experience.

  • Fabio

    I use 2tap launcher, Really new experience.

  • Gary

    Themer by MyColorScreen

  • JD

    cant believe no one mentioned buzz launcher. More customizable than most others

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      Good call on Buzz Launcher. Thanks for bringing it up. I’ve heard of it but for some reason never tried it. Will have to soon.

      This is one reason I’m super excited about having a reoccurring series like this. I want to share awesome stuff with the AAM community and I want you friends sharing your awesome stuff! Lets all help each other have killer homescreens.

    • jen

      Amen to buzz, I installed it and its way better than all the others by far, love the varieties of homepacks it offers, and very customizable! Surprised it wasn’t mentioned either!

  • N K sharma

    My fav. Launcher are buzz launcher and tthemed.
    These 2 Are best for customize .

  • Sejin

    what widgets are those in the action launcher screenshot?

  • namesib

    TSF Shell

  • Mike

    …should’ve dont 10 or so. Buzz Launcher and ones like it are way more intriguing.

  • Jeremy

    I really enjoy Next Launcher. There is nothing out there that even looks close to as cool as Next’s 3D mode.

    • Sanka

      Currently my favorite as well. :-)

  • Adnan Kamal

    Why this article is repeated like every month & the same launchers are mentioned. All other websites relating to Android have already covered this topic everyone of them mentioned the same things. But Android has thousands of unique launchers, launcher 8, SF launcher, etc. But only these are mentioned in the websites.

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      I realize that these launchers have been around for a while, but my intention with this post was to provide a good foundation for a reoccurring series about Android theming. These launchers along with many of the other launchers readers have brought up in comments are where we start theming. Keep an eye out for future posts about icon packs, widgets, wallpapers. We’ll try and find some fun stuff to share.

      • Debbie

        I discovered Drippler yesterday, which lead me to this forum. For me, none of this is repeat info. Thanks for keeping these posts available to newbies.

  • Amit motwani

    i think the best customized launchera are themer beta which is for 4.1+ & Buzz launcher for 4.0+ the great one customization & designs with icons :)

  • jerrbomb
  • jerrbomb

    I’m rocking a nova Launcher with Lumos in tow by Kevdev and widget locker as well..

  • Kuku

    hey where can i finde the wallpapir on the nexus 7? :)

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      Minimal Wallpapers app

  • Kenny

    Not sure if this is a launcher but “Cover” is pretty sweet

  • R3y

    I cringe every time someone implies that iOS can’t be personalized/modify/whatever as if Jailbreaking doesn’t exist at all

    • AdamTech

      Here we are talking about customising without voiding warranty.

  • Dave

    For one of the best custom launchers you should also checkout Themer http://themerapp.com/

  • AdamTech

    Strange that you left out a whole category of launchers. The ones that make old phones really fast again like FTL launcher etc.

  • ceppm

    Themer! For those without any sense of design, it gives you a fully customised look every time you change to a new theme, developed by a proper designer. It takes second to change themes and some of them are very original.

    Every time I try to design my own screens always end up with the same boring look. Themer does a wonderful job at customise your phone.

  • mattcoz

    I’ve been sticking with the stock launcher since I got the Nexus 5, I love the Google Now integration.

  • shaan haider

    hi.. i use APEX and find it the best as it has all those options that are not available in NOVA. i have various ideas but i cant find appropriate wallpapers. plz anyone help me where can i find wallpapers like that one in the TAD pic one with a drawn rocket. i dont know whats this category is called. i only like these kind of wallpapers but not able to find them please help anyone.

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      The spaceship wallpaper is from an app called minimal wallpapers. Stay tuned for future posts with this series and we’ll give you some good apps for walls.

  • Thriller87

    I have Themer and Nova Prime just now getting into customizing will look into some of the others also.

  • OffCornerDev

    Hello everyone,
    thank you for mentioning my icon pack, I really appreciate it!
    For common questions and answers, check out a site I made about OffCorner here: http://bit.ly/1a8pvYf

    • http://www.androidandme.com Brooks Barnard

      Thanks for commenting! Love your icon pack. Keep up the great work!

  • jamal adam

    I’ve been using Action Launcher pro for a couple of months now with either stark or nox icon pack. It’s the best launcher for me and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.

  • donger

    Cool launchers.

  • Christy

    I really have been enjoying this series because I LOVE to do customizations on my phone. I have installed, uninstalled and tried afew different launchers, free vversions only so far, but I think my favorites are apex and buzz launcher. Apex because its the first one I used and it was fairly easy, buzz launcher because you can do anything, but is a little more tricky. I will be checking out some of theoother launchers mentioned in above comments, but I’m really interested in finding icon customizers and widget customizers that aren’t so bland, maybe I just haven’t found “the one” but I will try them all. Next on my customization launcher is themer, just read about it and installed and now its time to play. Thank you for your article series!

  • Garry

    I love Smart Launcher Pro. Simple and elegant.

  • Jay Brown

    I recently discovered Smart Launcher Pro. am using it and an Ubuntu themed skin for my Note 3. Looks much better than TouchwizUI in my opinion. i used Go Launcher back on my S2 and S3, and it was good for those phones but always felt slightly rough on the edges, with a few crashes here and there. Having no problems with Smart Launcher though. Nice and tidy app drawer, clean home screen with widget pages, and nice and fast.

  • Mosharaf

    Ar koto manuser Moro dheho dekte hobe amader ….. ?