These days when you step out to buy an Android-based smartphone or tablet, the built–in or stock ‘Home/Desktop/Menu’ environment is usually the first thing you’d want to customize to your preference. It just makes things convenient for usage with easy access shortcuts and widgets that keep you updated with all the latest data you need. UI’s like TouchWiz and Sense UI are stock interfaces designed to enhance your Android experience and while the handsets come with interfaces that might be top notch, in some cases, they might not be to everyone’s liking.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some stock UIs or third party options available for download are heavily loaded with useless widgets and additional settings just make the phone look good instead of allowing it to perform at optimum speed.
There are several home replacement applications in the market, most of them are free while some are paid versions that also give out free Lite versions for trial or come minus a few features. These replacements give you the option to change the whole look and feel of your smartphone with drawer animations, themes, live widgets, and a lot more. Here are some free launchers we thought you ought to consider. See which one meets your needs best and stick with it or just replace it with another when you’re bored.
91 Panda Home 2
This home replacement app is very customizable with support for up to 11 multi-screens, six dock bars and five drawer styles. App icon hiding, widget management (which needs to be downloaded) sounds for dockbar, app drawer, menus, applications, themes, etc. can be further customized. Themes are also available for enhancing the look and feel of the interface. A possibly nice-to-have feature included is the ‘Dynamic Theme’, which allows you to randomly change themes on-the-fly by simply shaking the phone. Overall, a pleasant home replacement application which is easy-to-use and has a simple operation with minimal and easy to follow settings.
Cute and very customizable
One of the most renowned and highly customizable home launchers, ADW is quite similar and comes pretty close to Launcher Pro, which is widely used by custom ROM developers and modders. The application is pretty small and offers plenty of settings and tweaks up its sleeve. Hiding icon labels, auto-stretching of icons, wallpaper scrolling hack, desktop speed and desktop overshooting are some of its screen preferences. Drawer settings can be switched only between horizontal and vertical in the free version while the paid version offers Vertical 4D scrolling too. Separate catalogs for applications can be applied using which, you can name each catalog and set applications according to their category for easy listing and searching of applications.
Well laid out and easy to use
Drawer icons can be animated with effects such as zoom or fade. Trash can positions can also be set to the top or sides unlike other launchers, which have them at the bottom. Screen gestures makes operating the device even more convenient—swipe up or down gestures can be customized to start frequently used applications. Finally, the settings and desktop configurations of this home application can be backed up on the SD card and restored for easy retrieval of previously stored settings even on other phones. Plenty of free and paid themes are also available which can change the skins and icon to make your desktop look extraordinary. Overall, an efficient home replacement app with loads of features and settings to play with.
Crazy Home Lite
Crazy Home features three separate desktops and five screens for each desktop—a total of 15 screens to play around with. These screens can be easily switched from one to another by simply swiping up and down. Each desktop can be skinned with individual themes, which also supports third party themes from ADW, aHome and a few more. Icons can be customized, app icons can be hidden, app titles can be changed, individual desktops can have separate wallpapers, notification bar can be hidden to make the screen look more spacious, widgets can be resized, if they are too small (Paid version only), and a lot more customization settings are available. An additional option to show the screen previews, the Crazy menu, notifications or apps list can be configured by simply triple tapping the screen. The desktop looks pretty good with rich icons for standard system applications and a simple dock bar. Settings can be backed-up and restored too.
Go Launcher EX
Go Launcher Ex is an extended version of Go Launcher. It uniquely features up to 30 desktop screens for those who preferably need a lot of desktop space for hosting their applications and widgets. Widgets are resizable with just a long click. Three additional free downloadable widgets can be added, which are track manager, contacts and message widgets. The interface is similar to other launchers, but the app drawer consists of three sections, namely, all apps, recently used apps and presently running apps which is quite beneficial to gain quick access to frequently used applications and to kill running tasks quickly. The dock bar is a scrollable one and can be completely customized by adding application icons as shortcuts for quick launching of apps.
Very customizable with a colorful flavor
Some of these customization features include wallpaper scrolling, continuous screen scrolling, transition effects for desktop screens, fling speed and elasticity, apps and icon label hiding, dock settings, gesture configuration, theme preferences and a few more. Backup and restore options are also available. The launcher performs pretty smoothly, but will completely depend on the processor’s speed, memory capacity and customization presets.
HeLauncher is also a super simple home replacement, which has absolutely no customization settings whatsoever. The application consists of just a dock bar, an app drawer and five desktop screens. Neither can you add anything to the dock bar nor can you increase or decrease the desktop screens. The great feature it sports is the swipe up/down feature to hide or show the notification bar to make your desktop screen look bigger and better. The only customization option is the change of the look of the dock bar. This home replacement application stands out from the rest of the crowd by removing all customization options and making the home launcher completely simple and straightforward. HeLauncher is a great home replacement for those who like a simple interface with absolutely no fuss.
Simple and effective
HelixLauncher is a fast and easy to configure home replacement launcher. The application features up to five desktop screens and a removable dock bar. The launcher also supports hiding of application icons and the notification bar. Additional features unique from other launchers include enabling double tapping on the screen to show screen previews and the possibility to disable long press on-screen to stop loading the option for wallpapers, shortcuts and other features. The app drawer does not feature a horizontal scroll, but only a vertical scroll and also does not feature any sort of animations. There are no backup and restore options too for the desktop or launcher settings. A useless feature included here is to show the FPS (frames per second) of the launcher, which is shown on the top left corner of the desktop. This continuously highlights the fps (speed) of the desktop while in use. Apart from these settings, Helix might seem to be non-customizable, but is certainly a faster and smoother launcher.
If you like the look and feel of a Windows 7 phone on an Android-based handset, Launcher7 is the one for you. The launcher is styled similar to the Windows 7 style launcher, which allows you to add tiles and place them wherever you want on the screen. The tiles are in two sizes, half and full sized. The whole launcher simulates in a 3-dimensional fashion and the size of the tiles is pretty large, which can be beneficial for those who use handsets with smaller screen-sizes.
Go Windows Phone 7 on Android
The top right corner of the screen has an arrow icon which when clicked pulls up the app drawer to list the applications on the phone. The settings for the launcher are pretty straight-forward. You can lock the tiles layout, change the background colors, add wallpapers, adjust animation options for home, scrolling and orientation of tiles, Windows-styled notification bar and finally choose to backup or restore your settings for later use. The launcher is pretty smooth with no hiccups whatsoever. We also found the CPU utilization to be an average of 14 percent. Overall, you would definitely have a very good experience using this home launcher.
Android Seven (Lite)
Android Seven is a home launcher which is completely skinned to simulate or replicate the user interface of a Windows 7 PC. The launcher’s dock bar represents the taskbar of Windows 7 with the start icon as the app drawer and other shortcuts that can be placed on it as quick launch icons. The right of the taskbar shows the date, time, volume, battery and network similar to what the original Windows 7 for PC does. The desktop has the standard wallpaper and icons which represent shortcuts like Windows 7. These shortcuts are ‘Computer’ which shows the complete system folders, ‘Documents’ which opens the SD card contents, ‘Settings’ which brings up the Android system’s settings, ‘Browser’ which starts the internet browser app, and ‘More Apps’ which starts up the Android Market.
Windows 7 on your Android phone
The launcher is pretty similar to a Windows 7 for PC environment and makes you feel at home, if you are a Windows user. But, the launcher is not comfortable to use on smaller screen- sized handsets and on regular large screen handsets as it gets a bit clumsy to use in portrait mode.
There’s nothing much to mention about Launcher Pro. This launcher is one of the most wanted and highly customizable applications recommended and used by Android users and third-party ROM developers. The application has lots of settings to help customize the looks and feel. The interface is pretty simple and easy to configure and understand. It has almost all the settings and functions that ADW features, but additionally includes options such as information on the dock bar for missed calls, messages and emails. Desktop screens are limited to seven as usual; transition effects such as scale, rotate, flip and cube are available.
It's got everything you need
.App drawer can be styled as 2D or 3D along with Fly-in effects too. The dock bar is also scrollable with three bars, which can be customized with a personal choice of application shortcuts. The launcher is very powerful and is a must-have if you prefer lots of animations, styles, features and a non system-heavy application.
LiveHome is almost similar to ADW and Launcher Pro, but heads more towards a graphical interface. The launcher sports a regular scrollable dock bar, while the app drawer is somewhat different. You can choose to see the application icons in a grid or a list while the top of the app drawer features another task bar, which highlights customizable icons for search, settings, task manager, themes, and a few more. Custom Effects such as Cube, Book, Stretch, Rotate, and Split can be applied to the desktop screens to give it a more graphical experience. Lots of free and paid themes are available for LiveHome in the market. This home launcher is a must-try-once application.
Also quite simple and neat
There are many more home launcher apps releasing on the market each week. While some offer speed and performance, others offer productivity and eye-candy. Choose the one which suits your needs. Do make a note that home launchers also consume a substantial amount of battery power, so minimal is better.