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Best Android launchers: 13 to customize your smartphone and tablet

Update: Google Now added

Authored by: Kris Carlon — 1 month ago

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

Deal alert: Nova Launcher Prime, one of the best launchers on Android, packed with premium features, is on sale at just US$0.99 and 10 cents in Europe. It usually sells for about US$5, but with the release of version 4.2, the team decided to knock it down to next to nothing. Don't miss out: jump to Nova Launcher now.

Best search launcher: Google Now

An alternate name for the Google Now launcher could be 'search now'. That's because it makes searching faster. Instead of opening Chrome or another web browser for a query, Google Now gives you a search box at the top of your home screen. You can either type or use voice commands to get started

Besides getting faster searches from the Google Now launcher, you get a clean, uncluttered experience. The icons are spaced apart well, your apps can be sorted into logical categories and the home screen can be changed by pressing down on the ample blank space. 

If you swipe right from your home screen you can see Google Now cards. You can customize these cards to get movie times, sport scores, news or the weather. Enabling location services will make these cards even more effective, although you will lose some of your privacy. 

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Google Now lets you search at the top of your home screen. / © ANDROIDPIT
Google Now Launcher Install on Google Play

Best for Windows fans: Action Launcher 3

This theme has fully embraced Android Lollipop, and works brilliantly with devices that have received the coveted update. One of its best features is a bar, similar to the Windows Start Menu, that pops up on the left side of your screen, and lets you launch your favorite apps without having them cluttering up your home screen. You can completely customize your All Apps list, as well as tweak the layout, icons and colors to your heart's content.

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Action Launcher 3 takes a leaf out of the Windows Start Menu's book, and works brilliantly with Lollipop.  / © ANDROIDPIT
Action Launcher 3 Install on Google Play

Best for Firefox addicts: Firefox OS

Functioning as a developer preview of its operating system, you can now get Firefox OS on your Android device without even needing to flash it. The OS operates as a launcher. It adds large, simple icons, access to Firefox's Marketplace and some privacy features.

It might be that the icons are so large because it's designed for a device with a lower resolution screen than what we tested it on, and its a bit laggy at times, which is natural for a developer preview. But it's worth a spin if you're interested in seeing what Mozilla is cooking up.

You can download the OS developer preview here.

firefox os
Firefox OS is available as a launcher, so you can test out the company's forthcoming OS. / © Mozilla

Best for an intuitive device: C Launcher

C Launcher is a gorgeous and economic launcher that'll let you reach every distant corner of your phone in seconds. It tracks your phone use (all on-device) to provide contextual suggestions depending on which apps you use in certain locations. C Launcher also includes an in-built system cleaner, and thousands of themes to customize it, or you can create your own using C Launcher's simple step-by-step guide.

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C Launcher is a simple and speedy launcher with some nice extras, such as a system cleaner. / © ANDROIDPIT
C Launcher – Launch app Install on Google Play

Best for the bold: Buzz Launcher

Buzz Launcher offers some of the inventive themes we've seen on Android. Its community has come up with a whole range of professional-looking ideas to suit all tastes. Buzz is unbeatable if you want a bold new look on your Android without the effort of creating it yourself, but you will need to download the additional Buzz Widget app to get the most from it.  

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Just one of the themes you can get with Buzz Launcher. / © ANDROIDPIT
Buzz Launcher-Smart&Free Theme Install on Google Play

Best for the beginner: dodol Launcher

With over 10 million installs and support for thousands of free themes, dodol Launcher keeps it simple and does themes just right. It isn’t a complete reworking of the Android system, but it is a lightweight, effective launcher, and it won't destroy your battery life with crazy effects and animations. It's another less-is-more kind of launcher, and could be a great place to start if you're new to Android customization.

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This neon-colored theme for dodol Launcher is a minimalist delight. / © ANDROIDPIT

Best for running circles round your phone: Smart Launcher

Smart Launcher really turns things 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, so if you delete an icon, the app is deleted too. It's simple and unique and has a 4.6-star rating based on more than five million installs.

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Smart Launcher gives you rings of the most commonly used apps. / © ANDROIDPIT
Smart Launcher 3 Install on Google Play

Best for 3D: Next Launcher 

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 with anything else on this list. All the best features aren't free, as with most launchers, but the wow-factor of the Premium version is worth the cost. If you want a hi-tech, attention grabbing launcher on your phone, try the free version out and see if you can resist upgrading. 

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Next Launcher is known for its futuristic look and 3D effects. / © ANDROIDPIT
Next Launcher 3D Shell Lite Install on Google Play

Best for subtle sophistication: APUS Launcher

APUS is currently one of the most popular launchers on Android, largely thanks to its gorgeous Pinko theme. This launcher combines themes, custom icons, and some APUS own-brand features to make it one of the most comprehensive launchers to date. It's free, so you should definitely check this one out; APUS' animations are top-notch. 

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The APUS Launcher is feature-packed and tightly designed: its Pinko theme (above) is one of the most popular. / © ANDROIDPIT
APUS Launcher - Fast & Smart Install on Google Play

Best for economy: Hola Launcher

Hola Launcher has made a name for itself, largely thanks to how economical it is. The initial download comes in at just over 1 MB, and with that comes a reorganized interface, new app icons and some gorgeous themes. But it's not just its file size that is slim, Hola is also hard to beat on its use of processing power – it requires less RAM than even some of the quickest Android Launchers. 

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Some of the Hola Launcher themes are minimalist delights. / © ANDROIDPIT
Hola Launcher - Simple, Fast Install on Google Play

Best for customization: Apex Launcher

Apex Launcher is one of the most popular custom launchers available right now, with more than million downloads from the Play Store and an average rating of 4.3 stars. 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 the already-formidable free launcher.

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This is my current Apex Launcher setup – exactly how I like it. / © ANDROIDPIT
Apex Launcher Install on Google Play

Best for the everyman: Nova Launcher

Right now, Nova Launcher Prime is on a pretty crazy sale in the Google Play Store. You can get all the premium features for just US$0.99 in the US and 10 cents in Europe. Check out the Nova Prime Launcher page on the Google Play Store.

The undisputed king of alternate Android launchers, Nova Launcher, holds a spot on nearly everyone's smartphone. With over five million Play Store downloads, its fans can't be wrong. It offers an accessible and functional entry point into the world of launchers. A new feature called 'icon normalization' has become a fan-favorite, and uses surprisingly complex algorithms to make sure all your icons cover a consistent area of the screen. What this means is that rather than simply fitting the icons within equally sized frames, they are scaled to cover the same area, regardless of shape, making them far more appealing to look at.

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Nova Launcher has a vast array of options, it's easy to see why it's so popular. / © ANDROIDPIT
Nova Launcher Install on Google Play

Best for style and simplicity: GO Launcher EX

GO Launcher EX has had more than one hundred million installations, and has a 4.5-star rating, making it the unparalleled Android launcher extraordinaire. GO is as polished a free launcher as you can find, and features some excellent animations and 3D effects. The downside of GO Launcher is that there is a lot of cross-promotion,which can get a little annoying.

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GO Launcher: one of the best on Android. / © ANDROIDPIT
GO Launcher-Theme,Wallpaper Install on Google Play

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.

Kris is a former AndroidPIT Editor who came to the team via a lengthy period spent traveling and relying on technology to keep him in touch with the outside world. He can usually be found juggling three phones at once and poring over G+ posts, Reddit and RSS feeds.

168 comments

Write new comment:
  • Google Now

    I will stick to this as it's simple does the job and doesn't come with bloat

    Apex Launcher

    I have been recommended this launcher as it does come with a customization to create a nice Tron legacy effect

    Another well-written article :)

  • I say the default is the best plus you have many wallpapers to choose from. Plus, you don't have all the extra crap added and nags about installing games or other apps like all the launchers have. I tried many of them mentioned here and even though they look very nice but the nagging to install stuff is annoying as having banners added to them. Until there is there is a complete launcher that does not have all that nagging and without ads or banners, then I am staying away from them but if someone here knows of one that is like that I am looking for without the extra crap then email me at utahman1971@gmail.com.

  • I think GO LAUNCHER is Best . GO LAUNCHER, GO SMS, GO KEYBOARD all should be there in all android mobiles as default inbuilt apps.

  • I have been using Aviate Launcher for about a year now, and it's the best I ever had. Absolutely easy to personalize .

  • Wendy L 1 month ago Link to comment

    I used to love C Launcher, until I could no longer get into the theme shop. I lost all of the themes I made. Several people have this problem and they don't seem to care. Their customer service doesn't reply to emails or Facebook posts.

  • Why is TSF Launcher not included in this list probably the best and most customizable 3D launcher available in playstore

  • I WILL TRY THESE ALL

  • If you like Google Now, you need to try L launcher if you have lollipop, and KK launcher if you're on kitkat. They have everything GN has, with much more customization. I LOVE the Google Now cards, but I don't like the search bar at the top of my home screen. L launcher has that.

  • In my personal opinion Nova is the better app but a lot of these apps are great apps I just like Nova best !

  • Adam 1 month ago Link to comment

    Nova launcher is not on sale. $4.99.

  • Nova launcher still remains the best due to the features it contains

  • Read a comparison of Apex vs Nova Launcher to find the best launcher.
    blogging-guide.com/apex-launcher-vs-nova-launcher-review

  • I am happy using GO Launcher for the past 3 years on my S4 now S6 Edge.

    • Hunter 1 month ago Link to comment

      in Go launcher why cant i see the notification popout over icons about incoming messeges and missed call?

  • Zeek Z. 1 month ago Link to comment

    TSF Launcher 3D Shell is the best. I'm not joking, the Widgets are incredible.

  • lightning launcher anyone?

  • Well, i am pretty excited for the Parrot BETA: h t t p s : / / w w w . y o u t u b e . c o m / w a t c h ? v = s f R 3 z p q - w i M

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