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The best launchers available: transform your Android

One of the most impressive ways to customize your smartphone is to install a launcher. Launchers allow you to take advantage of tons of custom Android themes and icons, as well as offering near complete control over how your phone performs when switching screens, launching apps and more. Here are the best launchers for your Android smartphone or tablet.

AndroidPIT best launchers
This is our list of the best launchers on Android. / © AndroidPIT 

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ZenUI

ZenUI is a launcher which bridges the gap between the bloatware-heavy, low-end launchers – brimming with ads and unwanted apps – and the more intricate, enthusiast launchers.

ZenUI not only has a pool of high-quality themes – and the expected dearth of shabby ones – to choose from, but it also includes advanced customization features for those who want to refine their Android experience.

Developed by Asus, this Launcher does feature some of the trappings of the more spam-y, bloatware-y launchers, such as the awkward search menu, accessed with an upward swipe, setup by default with trending search suggestions. But, like the three Zen-specific shortcuts, it adds to the home screen, this can easily be removed.

You can adjust the home screen grid size, transitional animations for moving between home screens (the ‘accordion’ one is particularly nice) – you can even theme the folders.

What’s more, ZenUI includes a security tool for apps, CM Applock for Asus (provided by Clean Master developer Cheetah Mobile) to prevent unwanted users from accessing certain content

The applock works similarly to a screen lock. However, this component can be used with an ‘intruder-selfie’ function which employs your phone's front-facing camera to snap a picture of a person trying to enter the app. This only works if the person has a failed attempt at opening the app first, before getting inside. It would be far more interesting if it just snapped users trying to access your apps. Still, it might be fun to show a few friends.

Finally, ZenUI supplies an ‘unread counts badge’ so you can see how many unread messages or notifications you have for each app: it’s considered a premium feature in some launchers. It’s functional, and support for this does extend to WhatsApp, which is probably where most people would want it.

It’s intuitive, customizable and has possibly the most impressive selection of icon packs and themes of any product on the list. This could be your best entry point into the world of launchers.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 22 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.3 and above
  • Version tested: 2.2.2.17_16051
ZenUI Launcher-Theme,Wallpaper Install on Google Play

Smart Launcher Pro 3

Smart Launcher Pro 3 has its own distinct flavor and is unlike any launcher on the list. It begins with a short setup procedure where you are asked for your preferred dialer app, music app, and photo app from those you have installed (if you have any installed).

Select them, hit start, and you’ll be dropped into a single home screen populated by six apps, some of which were determined in the previous steps. A swipe left brings up an organized app drawer (Smart Launcher organizes it automatically, you can't change the order) and swiping to the right brings up several screens designed for widgets.

That’s it. A single home screen with six apps. You can increase the number of these apps or remove existing ones, as well as customize what they do. But, crucially, you can’t add more home screens.

It’s a minimalist setup and an interesting design decision. One might ask why there is only one home screen for apps but three screens for widgets when they’re typically fewer in number?

This, I presume, is to force users to create a manageable single space. If you’re aiming for a less cluttered home screen, Smart Launcher Pro 3 necessitates it.

Smart Launcher Pro 3 implements a handful of functions to make single home screen usage easier. Chief among these is the extra function that each app button can make use of. You can use a single tap for one action or a double tap for another. This is a great way to save space on the home screen because each app button has the potential to open two apps.

How about making your dialer app open in one tap, and making contacts appear with a double tap? Or you might consider launching WhatsApp with one tap, and Facebook Messenger with a double? Maybe a single touch on the camera icon will launch your camera app, while tapping twice could start Instagram?

You don’t have to make use of this feature, but it works, and highlights what the developers have done to support the core goal of singular home screen use, rather than spamming the app with hundreds of incongruous features.

You can also customize how the app drawer looks in several interesting ways. It defaults to a flower-petal setup: six apps in a circle. But you can change it to a simple grid, like on a standard home screen, Honeycomb style, or – my favorite – Arch. This gathers apps in a non-linear format which climbs up the side of your display. It looks organic and very cool.

Smart Launcher Pro 3 supports free and premium themes that compliment its already sophisticated look. But I’d say its focus is more on usability than style. If you want to redefine the way you use your phone and optimize it for ease-of-use, give this one a try.

  • Price: $3.99
  • Size: Varies with device
  • Android requirement: Varies with device
  • Version tested: 3.16
Smart Launcher Pro 3 Install on Google Play

Arrow Launcher

This is a Microsoft product and it feels like a work in progress. But wait, before you run and hide, hear me out. Arrow is a very interesting launcher for several reasons. Firstly, it doesn't look like any other launcher and lacks bloatware apps and boosters, so it’s already noteworthy.

But also unlike many other launchers, its focus is not on fancy looks and dazzling transitions; Arrow Launcher appears to be aimed at business-type users. This is evident from the use of its relatively plain wallpaper and home screen headings like People (a contacts list) and Reminders.

I currently make use of several Android apps for notes and planning: Reminders is an entire home screen dedicated to this. It's perfect for the type of user it targets and this page also integrates with to-do list app Wunderlist. It's a good idea, but it would great if it supported other apps like Evernote or Google Keep (though admittedly I don’t even know how this would work).

Another of Arrow’s strengths is its Recent menu. I don’t use the native Android recent apps menu because I think it's clumsy – I have dozens of thumbnails of every previously used app, so finding what I want can be difficult.

Arrow Launcher, by contrast, displays recent items not by app but by content. It begins with recent pictures and then is followed by other content, such as downloads, videos or recently contacted people. It might not be there with a single button press like Google's recent apps and it's function isn't exactly the same, but it’s nonetheless intuitive and useful.

Arrow is a light and simple launcher compared to most others but because of this it does have fewer customization options: you can't change app icon sizes and font styles here (though you can use custom icons).

Regardless, it's still one of the best launchers in my recent tests. It’s a dry Microsoft product that lacks some versatility, but it's nonetheless fresh, unique and something which I'm sure could serve a certain type of user better than its stock launcher.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 9.1 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.0.3 and above
  • Version tested: 1.4.0.23967
Arrow Launcher Install on Google Play

Nova Launcher Prime

We have written extensively about Nova Launcher Prime, with a whole bunch of tips and tricks. Many say this app is the reason to buy an Android phone rather than an iPhone and it's easy to understand why.

Nova doesn’t look like much when you first open it. You won’t see 3D floating clocks or animated weather apps like in some launchers: it includes just three folders labeled Google, Create and Play, a Google Search Bar and a Gmail widget on the left home screen.

But open up the settings menu and you'll find a trove of options for customizing a whole range of features: from app margins and sizes, to font colors and appearance, to your app drawer layout and animation effects, to screen gestures, to dock settings to unread badges; the list goes on.

Essentially, as far as customizing Android without Root goes, Nova Launcher offers about as many options as you’re likely to find.

This launcher is filled with small but impressive details like the possibility to add a colored dock bar to the background of the bottom shortcuts area (where you normally find your Camera, Dialer and Contacts apps). It’s purely an aesthetic option, but the fact that you have options like this makes Nova so interesting.

You can also alter the number of app icons which appear in the dock, from one to seven – a feature you won’t find in most other launchers which optimizes the space at the bottom screen. Like Apex Launcher, it even lets you increase the number of these dock pages (in this case up to five).

The overall performance is buttery smooth and Nova supports a slew of gestures. I can’t help but find it incredibly cool when I use the clockwise two finger gesture to open my banking app – as if cracking open a safe. It’s the potential that Nova Launcher offers a smartphone that makes it so worthwhile. 

TeslaCoil recently updated their app, so the Nova Launcher Version 5.0 is now live. The new version is equipped with a ton of functions, some of which are very similar to Google Pixel. This version introduces a Pixel-style search bar, Android 7.1 shortcuts, a "swipe to open drawer" command, and much more.

  • Price: $0.99 (currently on sale, and a free version also available)
  • Size: 4.5 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.0 and above
  • Version tested: D
Nova Launcher Prime Install on Google Play

Apex Launcher

Apex Launcher is a feature-packed launcher with free and premium versions, but even the non-paid version offers a huge amount of customization and doesn't contain ads or bloatware apps.

Apex Launcher is in many ways very similar to Nova, offering a wealth of options for the app drawer, dock bar, folders and home screen and it even includes a backup option for transferring the same settings to other devices.

So it's dense, but unlike Nova it also supports a huge selection of themes. These custom-made icon packs and wallpapers can be very impressive and show off what's great about Apex.

You can also customize the home button to house more than one action. One press will bring you to your home screen, as usual, but a second press could be used for any number of shortcuts, like opening another app, taking you to your notifications, or launching the Apex Settings menu.

One of the coolest features of Apex is that you can make use of several dock bars. This is traditionally comprised of four to five fixed buttons, but, like home screens, Apex Launcher allows you to make use of a few of these. This means that you can optimize toolbars for certain tasks. You might want to have a toolbar for calendars and diary info or a toolbar just for media viewing. Perhaps you could set one up with shortcuts to your favorite websites?

This is a strong alternative to Nova Launcher and definitely its closest competitor, there really isn't all that much daylight between the two; if you glance at their settings menus they almost identical.

But Apex hasn’t been updated in more than a year now: it’s not really optimized for the latest Android versions. It’s light on transition effects and lacks a transition effects animation preview, which would be nice. It's also light on gestures, though more of these can be added to if you purchase the pro version.

This may swing it for you, but if you're tied between these two launchers, try the free versions of both out first before you decide if you want to spend any cash.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 4.7 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.0.3 and above
  • Version tested: 3.1.0
Apex Launcher Install on Google Play

Hexy Launcher: all your favorite apps on one screen

Developed by the creators of Swiftkey, this alternative app launcher claims to be rather simple but still efficient and revolutionary. In addition to the Swiftkey keyboard that allows you to type by sliding between characters, Hexy Launcher can also place all your apps on a single screen. A must for those in a hurry!

How is this possible? How do I find it? To be honest, it’s easy: it’s a map, like Google Maps. The apps are grouped together by genre, color coordinated and centered around traditional functions such as Calls, Messages, etc.

Unfortunately, Hexy Launcher doesn’t have settings or themes. As for the app’s origin, it originates from an event that was organized by the Swiftkey editor himself. To come back to the subject, it’s possible to add any widgets you want, as well as being able to resize them and position them wherever you want.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 4.5 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.0 and above
  • Version tested: 0.11
Hexy Launcher Install on Google Play

APUS: fluid and energy saving

APUS is an alternative Android app launcher that removes the app drawer and transfers them all to your desktop, just like MIUI and iOS. If you want to switch to it we advise you to download APUS Notifier, as this will extend the functionality of this launcher to another level. With this popular plug in you’ll benefit from the popular “number of notifications on the apps”, SMS/MMS, emails and other popular services. Finally, it’s interesting to note that it doesn't consume as much power as Google Now. Result: better battery life.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 4 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.0.3 and above
  • Version tested: 1.9.9
APUS Launcher - Themes, Boost Install on Google Play

Buzz Launcher: specific, innovative and a community!  

Aiming for a community vibe, Buzz Launcher is what you could call a “participatory” alternative application launcher. Within this community users can create and share themes thanks to the dedicated portal. Take a look, as it's definitely worth the detour. It is truly unlike ANY of the others.

AndroidPIT Buzz Launcher
All of these themes were developed by members of the Buzz Launcher community. / © AndroidPIT
  • Price: free
  • Size: 9.9 MC
  • Android requirement: 4.0.3 and above
  • Version tested: 1.8.0.08
Buzz Launcher-Smart&Free Theme Install on Google Play

Go Launcher EX: another traditional launcher to try out

Another traditional launcher, Go Launcher EX can dresses up your smartphone with their many free themes. It’s now possible to use gestures like pinching the welcome screen, to change contextual menus that are displayed by holding your finger on the screen and to modify widgets. The only disadvantage of the Go Launcher is the “freemium” installation of applications after the first use.

go launcher 5 teaser
Here’s a preview of the Go Launcher EX interface on Android. / © GO Launcher
  • Price: free, but will include some in-app payments
  • Size: 9.11 MB
  • Android requirement: 2.3 and above
  • Version tested: 2.04
GO Launcher-Theme,Wallpaper Install on Google Play

Action Launcher 3: a scroll menu instead of an app drawer

Action Launcher allows you to access applications from a scroll menu, which you can access by sliding from left to right on the welcome screen. Another interesting feature: you can group applications in the folders by assigning a cover app, so when you click on the folder, said application is launched. When holding your finger on the folder, you can open all the apps in that folder. The application is only a few months old, but it has already caught the attention of many users.

  • Price: free
  • Size: 6.9 MB
  • Android requirement: 4.1 and above
  • Version tested: 3.6.8 
Action Launcher 3 Install on Google Play

Next Launcher: everything in 3D

Next Launcher 3D is well known for its 3D abilities. It’s quite difficult to explain what Next actually does, so it would be better for you to watch the video below. 

Next allows you to navigate in 3D to access your Android’s functions, it is customizable and has many themes. The widgets and applications that come with Next Launcher are along the same lines and ensure a coherent design for your system. Try it! You’ll either love it or hate it! The trial version allows you to use the app for a limited period of time, so if enjoy using the app you should consider getting the final version.

  • Price: free (but some in-app products may need to be purchased)
  • Size: 20 MB
  • Android requirement: 3.0 and above
  • Version tested: 3.7.3.1 
Next Launcher 3D Shell Install on Google Play

Catapult: CyanogenMod’s open source

If you’re interested in a free alternative to Google Now Launcher, I suggest you consider Catapult. To tell the truth, it more or less a renamed version of Trebuchet. Yes, the popular application launcher introduced with CyanogenMod (the open source version) and CyanogenOS (the commercial version). With Catapult, you’ll see that the left-hand side drawer like Google Now isn’t present. On the contrary, it provides many other customization features that should satisfy even the most demanding users.

Catapult IF
Simple and without blunders, here’s the Catapult interface with Android. / © Google Play

To get to the heart of the subject, Catapult doesn’t aim to revolutionize your user experience, but it does wants to improve it. At first glance, you could think that this application launcher is an exact replica of the Google Now Launcher, but that’s not the case. Once you have explored the app a little, hold your finger on an empty space on the home screen. Catapult will then reveal its personalization center on different pages that represent home screens. If you look down, you’ll find three sections: screen background, widgets and settings. By tapping the three options and sliding your finger upwards, you'll be able to access the app launcher’s hidden treasure of options. I’ll let you try it yourself. It’s always good to leave a little mystery, right?

  • Price: free, and source code is available (details)
  • Size: 4.73 MB
  • Android requirement: 5.0 and above
  • Version tested: 12.1-150804
Catapult Install on Google Play

​Don’t forget that you can also install Google Now Launcher, the launcher that made its appearance with the release of the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat.

Are you rocking a custom launcher that we've missed? What do you think is the best Android launcher? Let us know in the comments.

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  • The paradigm of having "pages" filled with shortcuts to launch apps and access information is useless to me.

    I use Aviate. The great launcher nobody recommends.

  • I've recently fallen in love with ADW Launcher 2, its an amazing little launcher and deserving of all praise it receives.

  • On Android launcher apps subject there are many articles around. Some of them give big list of apps with small description about it. Some of those articles have a short list and detailed description about it. I would recon that this article has bit of both above and that is why I will consider is the best one I have read on this issue till date.

    You have covered major apps for Android Launcher apps and yet you have given detailed information about all the apps you have referred. Kudos to your efforts!

  • I've been using GoLauncher EX now 4 a few years and still like it. On my Galaxy S4 after a while and a new version of this launcher I could increase the number of homescreens from default max. 9 to 14
    homescreens. Now that I'm using a Galaxy S7 the number of homescreens is reduced again to max. 9. But the same version of GoLauncher still allows me to use 14 homescreens on my Galaxy S4. How come ? Since the Nova Launcher on the Galaxy S7 still can use over 9 homescreens ?

  • One word - LIGHTNING

  • Pixel launcher can also be tried

  • I think you should consider AP15 launcher as well. It's the simplest and cool looking launcher.

  • Atom Launcher is the One i use,and its not a battery draining Launcher,an its so easy to customize,use Nova on my Samsung Tablet

  • Nova all the way

  • I just got my Zmax Pro on Dec 15, and had the free version of Nova installed by the 19th -- I am so pleased that I happened on what may be the very best Launcher out there, right off the bat. I used the free version for a couple weeks, and for simply customizing the look and feel of your phone's screens and behavior, it's hard to beat. Then I found TeslaUnread, and suddenly had a reason to look into Nova Prime... and was delighted and shocked and pleased beyond words to find it's only 99 cents. I don't do much with the gestures, I'm still a newb to smartphones, but being able to see an unread count on my gmail is terrific. It doesn't seem to work too well for missed calls, though, or maybe I'm not testing it right or something.

    But Nova itself is just downright amazing, the degree of control it gives you over the whole interface. I used to do web design, so I'm really picky about color, and Nova satisfies that degree of pickiness admirably, and even offers transparencies, and being able to adjust the size of the icons themselves, and import alternative icons from literally any source, even make them yourself and upload them! It's perfect.

  • Indeed Nova was updated in December. Nova might not look like much but add KLWP to it and you can change your device's theme into anything. There's excellent designers out there and you can create your own as well nothing stops you.

  • gotjosh 1 month ago Link to comment

    Nova Launcher was last updated: December 23, 2016

  • If the main problem is to modify the fonts maybe you can think about root. After rooting you can use apps like IFont or Fontfix to make font modifications

  • Any help w be appreciated!! Looking for a launchers that lets you change font sizes I am visually impaired and had to get a replacement for my note 4 and all Verizon had was the galaxy note 5 and the font sizes are so small that I can't see anything on it!! I am so Frustrated I could throw it against the wall! My daughter and son in law just upgraded to the Galaxy S7 Edge and the font sizes are huge and I'm stuck with the Note 5 I can't see for another year! Please Help! Thanks

  • Does any of the above launchers let you increase font size? I had to get a replacement phone for my galaxy note 4 through Verizon and all my daughter could get me to replace my note 4 was the Note 5 and the font sizes are so small I can't see anything on it. I am visually impaired and you can't get apps through the Play store anymore I am so Frustrated I could throw it against a wall. Any help would be appreciated!!

  • I use the paid vesion of Nova on my phone and tablet. You can spend weeks tweeking options because there a so many. It makes my phone look bad ass and I want to show it off to everyone. The best part is Novas options change the functions of icons, app docks, widgets, and gestures so your phone is really yours.
    No one can just pick my phone up and operate it. Nova is so powerful that nothing looks or works like my stock android phone.

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