Top Android launcher applications [September 2013]

by Jared Peters on
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homescreens

We’ve already gone over some of our favorite launcher apps for Android tablets, but there are just as many great home screen replacement apps for phones. If you’re not a fan of the stock interface that came with your phone, like Samsung’s TouchWiz or any version of HTC’s Sense, these launchers do an excellent job of giving you a more customizable experience, including altering icons and widgets and applying some great looking themes. We’re going to go over a few of the top launcher replacements available in the Play Store to get you started.

Nova Launcher

Nova Launcher is a popular third-party launcher app for Android that keeps the same general feeling of stock Android. On the surface, it can be an extremely simple launcher replacement that runs smoothly and gives you the option to resize any widget and adjust a few smaller details of the launcher, like the grid size (how many rows and columns there are for apps and widgets) and the transition effects in between screens. If you want something close to the stock Android launcher but just want an extra row for a few more apps, Nova Launcher works. If you want to get crazy with customization and have 9 home screens with a 7 x 6 grid, you can do that, too.

Where Nova really shines is the extremely in-depth customization options. Aside from the small things like grids, home screens, and transition effects we’ve already mentioned, you can do nearly anything else, like adjusting the transition and animation speed for scrolling through your screens or opening apps, or change the entire color theme of the launcher or the size of your icons. If you use many folders on your home screens, Nova supports different folder icons and custom folder backgrounds, plus smaller tweaks like changing the background of the folder of apps. All of these tweaks apply to the app drawer as well, including folders, which I think is one of the nicest additions over many other launchers. Sometimes, you want to group certain apps together, like all of your games, but many launchers don’t really offer a way to do that. Nova, on the other hand, allows you to make a custom folder or drawer tab in your app drawer, name it whatever you want, then group apps together in it. Using games as an example again, you can create a folder titled games that will show up first in your application list for easy access to anything in the folder, or you can create a drawer tab between your Apps and Widgets just for your games. It’s not only customizable, but it’s extremely handy for power users.

Themes are another exceptionally compelling feature for Nova. There are tons of icon packs available on the Play Store that change all of your other app icons, giving you a bit of extra visual flair when you’re showing your phone off to other people. You can also change an app’s icon in the app drawer or on a home screen from any icon pack on your device, so mixing and matching is a breeze. Another great feature I really enjoy is the ability to rename and hide apps in the app drawer. If you download a third-party Twitter app but wished it would keep the simple name “Twitter” in your app drawer, Nova allows you to change the name of the application as it appears in your drawer and on the home screen. Literally anything you would want to change about a launcher, Nova supports.

Nova Launcher itself is free, but it does offer a Nova Prime upgrade that allows you to put folders in your app drawer as well having unlimited drawer tabs, different gestures throughout the launcher, and unread counts on your apps for things like text messages and missed calls. For $4, it’s a great purchase for those of you that really like to tweak and customize your device.

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Play Store Download Link

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Play Store Download Link (Prime)

Apex Launcher

Apex Launcher shares many similarities with Nova Launcher, especially when it comes to customization. It keeps the same stock Android feel with the default app, but the customization features are what really makes this a better alternative to what comes preloaded on your phone. It supports up to 9 home screens with customizable grids, as well as all the other tweaks that make custom launchers so great. You can adjust the speed of animations in Apex, as well as transitions, animations, folders, and application icons.

The theme support in Apex is fantastic, and most themes that are made for Apex Launcher will also work on Nova, and vice versa. You can apply those themes to the launcher as a whole, or just pick and choose different icons out of icon packs for your favorite apps. Apex also offers a few other handy features like a backup/restore function and a way to lock your desktop to keep any accidental changes from happening, plus a ton of options for doing things like hiding your status bar or your icon dock.

Generally, picking Apex or Nova comes down to personal preference. Both launchers are great options with excellent performance, but depending on your device and the way you have it set up, one may give better performance than the other. Since Apex also comes with a free version and a $4 upgrade for a handful of other features, your best option is to try out both free versions and pick whichever launcher gives your particular set up the best performance.

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Play Store Download Link

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Play Store Download Link (Pro)

GoLauncherEX

Go Launcher EX is from the developers of the similarly named Go SMS Pro, Go Keyboard, and a ton of other great third-party Android apps. Like those other apps, Go Launcher EX provides a great launcher app that puts its own spin on how home screens should act. It has all of the staple features of other launcher replacements, like tons of transition effects, animation speed tweaks, and gesture based navigation. However, Go Launcher brings other features to the table that really make it stand out.

The theme support of a launcher can be a big deal for many people, and Go Launcher takes that very seriously. There are over 10,000 available themes for Go Launcher, including some themes that also work with other launchers like Nova and Apex. However, Go Launcher themes go a bit further than just coloring some icons; many themes make major changes to the app drawer and other parts of the interface of your homescreens, including indicator dots, app drawers, and other pieces of the launcher. It also supports just picking and choosing certain parts of different icon packs and themes, so if you want to get a theme to massively change your launcher experience or just to subtly change a few details, Go Launcher EX has the bases covered.

One piece of the puzzle that custom launchers tend to lack is widget support. Any Android system widget or app widget downloaded from the Play Store will work on (just about) any launcher you might have, but any widgets from launchers like TouchWiz or Sense are locked to their respective launchers. Normally, that’s not a big deal, but sometimes, those first party widgets are really great and hard to replace with other apps. The Go Launcher team understands that, and they’ve created many widgets that exclusively work on Go Launcher EX to replace some of those higher quality widgets that come preloaded on your phone. They’re all aptly named Go widgets, such as Go Calender, Go Clock, Go Notes, etc. They’re all widgets that will only work on Go Launcher, but they provide great, clean functionality and complete theme support to make sure they match your existing launcher setup.

If you’re willing to put in a bit of extra work on your launcher or you really enjoy high quality widgets, Go Launcher EX is a great free option. It isn’t as simple to get set up as Apex or Nova, but there are more complete themes and widgets available for it. Overall, it’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the market.

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Play Store Download Link

action_launcher_pro_google_play_logo

Action Launcher is an extremely unique launcher that we’ve covered a few times. It’s drastically different from other launchers, and it gives you a way of navigating your applications that’s pretty different from Android as a whole. Action Launcher essentially relies on gestures for most of the navigation, completely doing away with the “app drawer” and replacing it with a slide out navigation drawer from the left hand side of the screen. You still get access to all of your apps and widgets from this navigation drawer, but it frees up your screen by removing the traditional Android dock.

These gestures extend to applications as well. You can assign folders to application shortcuts as gestures, so, for example, you can set up your browser shortcut to open any folder with more apps in it when you swipe up on the icon. You could set this up to open up shortcuts to specific bookmarks, your Twitter app, or anything else. These gestures also apply to assigning widgets to shortcuts, which is a very cool feature unique to Action Launcher. Swiping up on your music player could open the music player widget, making skipping and pausing tracks a breeze. These widget shortcuts are totally customizable, so a Twitter app can open a Facebook widget or any combination you can think of.

Action Launcher offers a few customization features on top of that, such as icon packs and changing individual icons, as well as some grid customization options and a handful of other tweaks. It won’t compete with some of the other customization-focused launchers on this list, but it’s extremely clean and minimal. Unfortunately, there’s no free option to test out Action Launcher, but at $3.99 it isn’t any more expensive than most other launchers. Definitely worth checking out for the price.

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Play Store Download Link

buzz launcher

Buzz Launcher is probably the best launcher to use if you’re the type of person that likes to use extremely intricate designs pn your home screen or you enjoy changing the design every few days. The killer feature for Buzz Launcher is its ability to import custom home screen designs, which are automatically set up for you: widgets, wallpaper, icons, everything. There’s a sort of social media sharing site set up within Buzz Launcher called Homepack Buzz, which is absolutely full of “packs” you can download and apply to Buzz Launcher. According to Buzz Launcher, there are over 80,000 unique home screens available for use.

After a pack has been applied, if you’re missing a certain widget or application, Buzz Launcher offers up a placeholder widget or app that directs you to the Play Store to download the missing apps. It’s extremely clean and user friendly. They also offer a powerful Buzz Custom Widget app alongside Buzz Launcher to stretch that customization out ever further. That widget is found in many of the available Buzz Packs, along with other popular apps like Zooper and Ultimate Clock Widget.

If you’re interested in trying out tons of other themes and set ups, or you’re extremely dedicated at piecing together your own, it’s hard to go wrong with Buzz Launcher. It’s free and very robust. However, if you want something a little simpler to use, other launchers may be a better option; Buzz is powerful, but compared to other launchers the interface and options can be a bit more confusing to get set up, especially for beginners. You can check out our previous video review here.

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Play Store Download Link

These are five of our favorite replacement launcher apps, but there are still plenty more available in the Play Store. Did we miss any of your favorites? Sound off and let us know in the comments.

» See more articles by Jared Peters


  • Matey

    Why is Holo Launcher HD not in this list?

    Holo with the cheap upgrade to Plus for unread counts is better than either Nova Prime or Apex IMO

  • randyfromreno

    Next Launcher. It’s a little expensive but well worth it.

  • ari_free

    What about TSF shell? It looks cool but I could use a review

    • friendinME

      It is very cool looking and has great animations. For me, once I got past the glitz of it, I found it to be pretty un-intuitive and clunky. They try to do so much “different” that it ends up being not-easy. IMHO, it is also pretty pricey for a launcher.

    • Tsf user

      It’s one of the most customisation able launchers I’ve ever tried, been using it now for 6 month’s and it’s the only one I’ve found u can descale the whole launcher and it won’t cut the edges on the apps or anything u wanna add. So in my opinion it’s simply unbeatable! Next launcher is just for show off, and u can only maybe get by 6 hours or so before u need a recharge, I’ll definitely recommend u and all others who reads this to get TSF launcher and do a good Youtube search, u won’t regret the buy if decide to go for it!

  • dheeraj

    There are so many launchers atleast 8-10 which are just excellent….Pick yours depending on how much customization,speed,etc you want……This is the power of android

  • Chris Wolski

    Love love love adw… extremely easy to use and customizable!

  • Richard

    I’ve been using launcher 8 for over a year now, it gives you a really good stable windows phone experience on android and supports most widgets very well you really should give it a try

    • dheeraj

      so true

  • Michael K Johnson SR

    What about the Next launcher I think it is the best, I have tried all of the above and the next is the best of all.

  • Andrew

    I have tried quite a few and really like smart launcher. It intelligently sorts your apps and looks clean. You can even use holo icons.

  • heyitsruss

    Everything Home is hands down the best. Love the smart folders and the way the phone easily adapts to me.

  • http://blog.yellowchilli.net yellowchilli

    it used to be the case that these first party skins such as Sense and Touchwiz suck. But things have changed and they’re very functional and easy on resources. I find Sense’s Blinkfeed to be irreplaceable

  • heyheyitsraerae

    Nova has all the “handy features” listed in the second paragraph about Apex, except for hiding the status bar, I believe.

    • friendinME

      It is available in Nova. Go to settings… gestures and buttons…if you choose a gesture to customize, you will see the option to “toggle notification bar.” On my phone, swiping up with two fingers switches off/on the notification bar. :)

  • 2alofah

    I really enjoy the Smart Launcher, it is very simplistic, one screen that you can put all your favorite or most commonly used apps on, you can easily add, change or delete the installed ones. No multiple screens to move through to find them! The other thing that I really like is that it has a side bar menu to e left that has all your apps automatically organized into specific categories for you. You can change the apps in a category easy, plus the Google play is at the top of every category and a search option. You can also uninstall apps from within their categories, no more looking thru long lists to uninstall apps. There are not a LOT of customized screens to choose from, but you can use any wallpaper background like any other common launcher. The pro version costs like $2.99, and provides more customization options then the free option, but is nice to play with and get used to the different functionality, but its so easy to use!

  • Andrew James

    Love the hiding if the status bar AND the dock with a simple swipe up or down using Go Launcher. And the fact that you can swipe the dock left and right and have several “pages” just in the dock.

    I love to customize and GL seems to pretty much do it all!

  • Christian

    Holo Launcher HD

  • shaun firtell

    My new HTC One is the first phone that I kept the native launcher, there are plenty of options to customize and using Viper Rom I am able to make it unique and still keep Sense. Every other phone I’ve had I used Apex or Nova Prime, they are both very similar. No launcher can look better than the best stock launchers and thankfully HTC is giving more options but I’ll be switching to the LG G2 on the 25th, seems that phones stock launcher will be the closest yet to aftermarket in terms of choices. I also root my phones so I can change the look of all other areas such as status bar icons, notification area and every other nook and cranny.

    • brotha numpsie

      We talkn bout launchers not phones.

      • jigie

        he did mention about ” sense launcher” i bet he is in the same page as we are…don’t you think so???

    • friendinME

      I have an HTC One and love it. I really really wanted to like the Sense launcher, but just don’t. It offers no animation, the screen grid isn’t very customizable, and widgets don’t resize well. Home screen number is very limited (and can’t just “jump” to one). And as for Blinkfeed… I prefer to just use Flipboard.

  • Hamed

    I tried it all the best one is next launcher ³D

  • Andy Lopez

    Next launcher is by far the best!

  • Cheryl

    I’m using everything home launcher. It’s way easy to use and free! Compartmentalizes all your folders for you! You install and it does the rest! I really love how easy it is!

  • peterjohn

    Atom launcher for me

  • Tulai Paul

    Excellent article with detailed guidelines. We hope that the appnext or chartboost or revmob will also listen to the pulses that have been vibrant in today’s world. Its a fight for survival for all companies.

  • brotha numpsie

    All this crap. ITS NEXT LAUNCHER. KING OF OF THE HILL

  • Tushar Amberkar

    i have tried all launchers,in which i think next launcher is the best launcher with hd themes available but it eats up battery a lot because of all effects used in it,go launcher is bit in slower side,buzz is good launcher,apex and nova both r same,right now i m using action launcher,its very simple launcher but its very faster than other launchers too n does not eat up much of ur battery too,i personally feel launcher should b simple wit customizable themes,n whtever u try to open through it should b fast enough which i think action launcher is capable of,so just give a try,see it if u like it or not,tc.

  • Guest

    try launcher 8 pro =)

  • Showkat Hossain

    Action Launcher is the best.Next launcher has much more features but you really do not need those, hope you are not a kid to use features those are good for nothing :-). My vote goes to Action Launcher,

  • Ryan

    Tile Launcher which makes the home screen look like Windows 8 is the best best best!!!! Check it out

  • Zeylo

    What about the Vire Launcher?

  • friendinME

    I seem to be a launcher junkie. I have sampled many of the dozens available. These days, I keep coming back to Nova. It is quick, customizable and loaded with features. Apex is quite similar. Action has some very cool features: “shutters” and “covers” almost won me over… but the rest of the launcher is just too lacking in other features. Unfortunately, IMHO, it is too limited in other areas. I was not a fan of Buzz… seemed like a different animal to me. :)

    • mrwatcherofmovies

      and SPB Shell?

  • Arun Shekar

    should try buzz launcher

  • Aeon

    My personal favorite is Smart Launcher…just epic!

  • Al F

    I happen to use Go Launcher. Love it. Love the ability to customize so much. I think ALL these launchers do similar abilities, and although Im tempted to try other launchers, I think I’ll just stay with what I’m now familiar and happy with. Sounds like theres really no wrong choice…the only wrong choice is choosing an iPhone for those who want a customized experience.

  • Soham

    Action launcher is the DADDY if you want a really different experience. True, nova does offer you loads of settings and preferences but action launcher is my fav.

    • what?

      what? are you sohai???

      • HAHA

        LOL.
        He’s not sohai, he’s Soham.

  • san

    Guys Next Launcher is * TOTALLY DIFFERENT * & * BEST * when compared all this launchers …pls try it ;-)

  • zavukodlak

    TSF Shell is the best launcher you can try it

  • dude

    You guys are all noob when it comes to launcher. All your launcher are nothing compare to Rocket launcher with grenade launcher on the side.

    • ben-tisty

      you forgotten space launcher

      • mrwatcherofmovies

        how about angry bird launcher?

  • ben-tisty

    @c7bf0e091ef5bcf6147cc6917dc4a435:disqus you forgotten space launcher.

    • Mahin Bhai

      dude u “forgotten” hw to spk english

      • lax

        seriously? hm? spk? Oh the irony

        • dan

          *@dude, you forgot space launcher.
          that’s the correct grammar

  • Luigi Proud DemoCat!

    SmartLauncher is my favorite and everyone I’ve shown it to wants it. Simple, easy to use and navigate.

  • Zubair Ahmad

    Next launcher is my favorite totally different from any other launchers.

  • Kpekus (Galaxy Note 3)

    I bought the premium version of Nova. So now I have both Go Launcher Ex Prime and the premium version of Nova. I still believe Go Launcher Ex is the best. With the various plugins for Go Launcher Ex, especially Toucher Pro, Go Launcher is way ahead. Added to that is the fact that Go Launcher Ex can run on pre-4.0 versions of Android.

    • Jonathan Ashton

      But almost every theme requires Getjar gold or cash.

  • +

    Go launcher and next launcher don’t have a great icon pack like Nova and apex

  • ichall stallone

    next launcher is the best of 3D launcher ….. GG Next launcher

    • Warren Sheehan

      problem with next is the battery life sucks

    • Karen Sullivan

      You are right, but the price is a little outrageous. My trial has just expired and I’m seriously thinking about paying the astronomical price, simply bc I love it that much.