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How to install a custom launcher on your Android phone

Launchers, in case you haven't yet come across them, jump into action whenever you tap the Home button — they control the home screens, the app drawer, the notifications tray and various other key parts of the Android interface that lies underneath the apps you install on top. Here's how to install alternative Android launchers.

The default launcher in stock Android Lollipop is the Google Now launcher (with Google Now one swipe to the left); but Android 5.0 adds full support for alternative launchers, so you can easily install new ones and switch between them with a couple of taps.

Installing a launcher

Installing a launcher isn't much more complicated than installing any other app, though choosing one can be tricky for the beginner. Nova, Apex and Themer are some of the most well-known, and we recently covered 10 of our favorites to save you the trouble of having to test them all out.

androidpit apex launcher
Apex is one of the best-known launchers. / © AndroidPIT

Each one has its own pros and cons, and the one that suits your needs best will depend on how much time and effort you want to spend customizing your handset. Most are free, or at least have a free version, so you can see which one is most suitable for the way you use your phone.

Install your launcher of choice from the Google Play Store and it should ask you for permission to replace the default launcher the first time you run it. Here we're going to look at installing and configuring the free version of Apex Launcher, but other launcher apps work along similar lines.

Managing your launchers

Open up the Settings app, tap Home and you can set which of your installed launcher apps is the default one (the one that's activated when you tap the Home button). Launchers can be uninstalled completely using the trash icons to the right. With the default set, you can configure the launcher.

androidpit apex settings
Apex Launcher settings. / © AndroidPIT

Many launchers have a variety of free and paid-for themes that you can find through the Google Play Store or through the app itself. Take the Shadow Theme for example, which makes your icons pop out and is compatible with a variety of different launchers, including Nova and Apex.

Follow the Apex Settings shortcut on the home screen and you can configure all kinds of settings: The size of the home screen grid, a separate background for the dock, the way the device responds to gestures, how folders are displayed on screen, even the speed at which menus scroll by.

Each launcher app has its own set of themes and settings so you may need to experiment with a few until you find one that suits — these utilities are so versatile that exploring all of the available options can't be done in a rush. The reward for your time and effort is pixel-by-pixel control over Android.

androidpit shadow theme
The Shadow Theme on Apex Launcher. / © AndroidPIT

And don't be afraid of experimenting either — with one tap on the relevant trash can in the Home section of Settings you can undo all of your changes and get back to the default look, just as you left it (though your wallpaper may have been altered along the way, depending on the theme).


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  • Reg Joo Jun 29, 2015 Link to comment

    Every time I get a new phone, I root it, install my launcher of choice, for that particular phone, then take the launcher ,that came with the phone, and pull it off the phone, and save it to my pc.

    • Teresa D. Jun 29, 2015 Link to comment

      Maybe you ca n give me some tips then or answer some of my questions?? Sorry to be so random. Ive hit a wall of sorts, and have been researching, but can't seem to find exactly what I need. If so, please email me at if not, sorry to have bothered you!!

  • Tried Nova on an S4 with 5.0.1 and seemed laggy opening apps. Surprised me and switched back to TouchWiz even though really liked some of the Nova customization options.

  • Dwarfer66 Jun 29, 2015 Link to comment

    I have been using GO Launcher for about 18 months now.

  • My neighbor/friend "freaks out" every time I show him when I theme, customize, personalize, install a custom ROM, and do whatever the heck I want on my G2 and G3. He's stuck on 🍎. He doesn't understand that he has freedom, options and choices. Poor fellow!

  • Themer is dead. No love for Action Launcher or Z Launcher, which are some of the best out there.

    • Angus P. Jun 28, 2015 Link to comment

      One of the most stable launchers is Nova. And an alternative for effects and customizing is Next 3D.

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