We get asked to recommend the best Android launcher all the time and we're constantly on the lookout for new ones with which to spice up our smartphones. An alternative launcher provides tons more customization options for your home screens, app drawer, icons, fonts, folders and widgets, as well as near complete control over how your phone performs when switching screens, launching apps and so on. Here are favorite Android launchers to tweak your smartphone or tablet.
Apex Launcher: for customization freaks!
Apex Launcher is one of the most popular custom launchers available right now, with over a million installs in the Play Store and an average rating of 4.5 stars. Like most launchers on our list it offers near-endless customization options, complete home screen and app drawer control, gesture settings, and tons of icons, themes, launch animations and transition effects. There's also a paid version which adds even more features to an already formidable free launcher.
- Apex vs. Nova: two of the best Android Launchers compared
Buzz Launcher: don't like your launcher, borrow someone else's
Buzz Launcher is a little bit of an anomaly on the launcher stage, with such a unique look it's hard to forget. Buzz has left a mark on over a million Play Store user's minds, earning it a rating of 4.4 stars for good reason. What sets Buzz apart is that it allows you to install custom home screens and themes shared by other Buzz users. So you don't have to laboriously come up with your own idea, you can simply borrow someone else's. Buzz is unbeatable if you want a radical new look on your Android without investing any effort in creating it yourself.
Action Launcher: to keep your Android tidy with awesome organization
Action Launcher is a relative newcomer that has captured quite a lot of attention in a very short time. The launcher already has in excess of one hundred thousand installs on the Play Store, with a very impressive review rating of 4.5 stars. It offers the possibility of a simple one-screen launcher with swipe out app drawer and customizable widget drawer on the right (you can add as many screens as you want of course). There's also some nifty folder actions for icons, like Shutters – customizable widget banks – and Covers, which let you group similar apps inside folders, but still open the Cover icon app with a single tap.
Nova Launcher: the every man's launcher (it's got it all)
Quite possibly the undisputed king of alternative Android launchers, Nova Launcher holds a spot on basically everyone's smartphone. With over five million Play Store installs, the fans can't be wrong, with Nova scoring an impressive 4.7 star user rating. Nova is quite similar to Apex and offers much the same functionality, but Nova is pretty much the go-to launcher for anyone not terribly familiar with launchers. You really can't go wrong with this one.
- SOLO Launcher review: A good alternative to Apex, Nova & Co.
Next Launcher: the wicked 3D launcher for a wow effect
Next Launcher is quite possibly the coolest 3D launcher available. It's hard to put into words just how radically different this launcher is compared to anything else on this list. All the best features aren't free, as with most launchers, but what the Premium version lacks in free-ness it makes up for in wow-ness. If you want a hi-tech, attention grabbing launcher on your phone, try the free version out and try to resist upgrading. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so the following video is basically a thesis on Next Launcher.
ADW Launcher: all you'd want from a complex launcher
Over five million installs with a 4.4 star rating in the Play Store. Covering Android versions from 1.6 right up to 4.1, ADW launcher covers everything you could want from a free launcher: customizations, themes, widgets, skins, icon packs and gesture settings.
GO Launcher EX: style and simplicity
GO Launcher EX has over one hundred million installs and a 4.5 star rating, making it the unparalelled Android launcher extraordinaire. GO is basically as polished a free launcher as you can find, but there's a lot of cross promotion that can get a little annoying.
Smart Launcher: catered to your needs and habits
Smart Launcher takes things and turns them inside out. Instead of neat rows and boxes, Smart Launcher gives you rings of the most commonly used apps and vertical cascades of categorized apps. It's linked with the app manager too, so if you delete an icon, the app is deleted too. Simple and unique with a 4.6 star rating based on over five million installs.
Yandex Launcher: for the tidy types who like an uncluttered Android
Yandex Launcher goes a step beyond the usual launcher and switches up your dialer and contacts as well. Yet another million happy customers have voted it in at 4.4 stars and some of the AndroidPIT team swear by it. It’s clean and neat with a little pizzazz thrown in for good measure.
EverythingMe Home Launcher: learns from you
This one's still in beta phase so you'll have to forgive the occasional bug, but still, over a million satisfied users have ranked it at 4.5 stars anyway. EverythingMe's special take is that it adapts what's on your phone to whatever you're interested in at that moment. So every search you make will bring a complete makeover of your phone along with it.
Zeam: for the minimalist types with little storage space
Zeam is an Android favorite among many users, especially for those who are a big fan of minimalism and small app sizes (this one is only 388k). Zeam Launcher provides a clear overview thanks to the intuitive folder layouts and apps grid with vertical scroll. You can also add shortcuts to the grid and manage wallpapers.
Aviate: for those who want a lot of choice
Aviate Launcher, in comparison to Zeam, is a lot more complex: it categorises your apps depending on the time of the day, displaying the apps that it assumes you will need at that specific moment. For example, when you wake up, you’ll be greeted by the weather and schedule apps. On the road to work, it will show you Maps to get you traffic and direction info. I think you get the gist. The launcher heavily alters the look of your home screen by basically auto-adapting it to your lifestyle.
Themer: theme-crazy users who want to stand out
You can tell by the name that this launcher focuses in on various themes like futuristic, minimal, beautiful etc. All the icons, widgets and wallpapers will transform to go with the style you have chosen, giving your user interface a unified look. Themer Launcher also comes with a smart categories function that auto-categorizes your apps, while the Zooper widget pro feature will show you all themes at once.
Cover: a cool way to keep your apps organized and easy to reach
Cover, till in the beta phase, is like the Glovebox launcher we recently discovered, but better. It also learns from your smartphone habits and makes it easier to get ahold of the apps you need, when you need them. The difference compared to Themer and Aviate is that it presents apps down the right or left side of your screen over the top of the app you are using at the moment as well as on your lock screen. Also, Cover allows you to set up various ringer volumes and wallpapers depending on the time of day.
Scroll Launcher: for beginners with older phones
The Scroll Launcher doesn’t offer the same huge amount of features as other launchers, which has its pros and cons. On the plus side, this makes the launcher suitable for devices that have less power than the latest flagships. It’s aimed primarily at smartphones that run Android 4.0 or higher, therefore smartphone users who don’t buy a new phone every year also have a chance to change up the look and functionality of their device. The app isn’t too complex and won’t use your device’s resources, that being said, it can already do a lot. When launching the launcher, the top of your display shows the time and weather and underneath there’s room for shortcuts. The app drawer is placed directly on the home screen.
SideControl: easy organization and gesture controls
This launcher follows the same trend as the sidebar launcher, but has managed to take it a step further. Side Control has integrated an additional gesture control. The launcher can be used from anywhere on your Android device, whether apps, shortcuts, contacts, bookmarks and more. Rather than functioning as a simple sidebar, the application allows the user to define up to eight gestures by creating your own touch area combinations on the display. You can create up to four favorite lists for app categorization.
Lightning Launcher: for more experienced Android users
Some users might already be familiar with Lightning Launcher. The main perk is this: this launcher comes with no frills, so no 3D animations for screen changing or storage consuming widgets. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of settings that you can adapt to your needs. You can also generate as many home screens as you like by simply swiping up, down, right and left. In the free mode, you are able to rotate, move or zoom all the items freely. However, the launcher is recommended for the more experienced Android enthusiasts due to its complexity and the design freedom.
Are you rocking a custom launcher we missed? What features are you looking for most in an alternative launcher?