If there’s one thing we really love about Android, it’s the ability to replace just about every part of Android. The stock apps for messaging, dialing, internet browsing, and playing music aren’t bad. They’re just not that great for the power user who wants more out of his phone. That’s the real beauty of Android. If you don’t like an app, replace it.
That’s why we started our Beat the Stock series. It’s our way of helping you find the best third-party app to replace whatever came with your phone. This week is all about launchers. The launcher is the app you see when the home button is pressed. It’s where you keep the app drawer and icons and all that. Like most everything in Android, it can be replaced. Here are a few excellent alternatives to beat the stock launcher.
Trebuchet is the Stock to Beat
Your stock launcher will vary widely depending upon the flavor of Android. For our purposes, we tested the launchers on an old HTC Evo 4G running CyanogenMod 9 nightlies. It came stock with Trebuchet, one of the du jour launchers for Ice Cream Sandwich.
Trebuchet, like most stock apps, isn’t that bad. It comes with a few screens worth of options and a persistent search bar. The app drawer works.
That’s the problem with Trebuchet. It only works. There’s nothing particularly exciting or new. While not bad, it’s not good either.
Like many of you, we recently picked up Nova Prime when it was on sale recently. The paid version has a few more features than its free cousin, but both are equally worthy of your time.
The most impressive thing about Nova was its speed. Everything seemed snappy and smooth. Animations didn’t lag, apps launched quickly, and the launcher never redrew itself. Nova worked like a charm on our ancient Evo 4G.
Power users will appreciate Nova’s dedication to customization. This launcher is loaded with options. You can customize an app’s name and icon, margins, grid size, search bar style, app drawer transparency, animations, dock style, app labels, app drawer folders and tabs, and hidden apps. That’s not even the complete list.
Power users will appreciate the built-in gestures. You can set custom actions to pinch, swipe, double tap, and two finger swipe.
Nova also comes with extensive support for themes as well. If the default ICS icons don’t look appealing (heresy!), you can change them easily. It’s not quite MIUI, but the Nova theme support is close.
Overall, Nova is an excellent launcher. It’s fast, stable, and customization-friendly. We would recommend this to anyone.
Apex is similar to Nova in that both are good launchers for Ice Cream Sandwich only. However, we couldn’t help but notice some lag while navigating screens on our homepage. Apex isn’t quite as fast as Nova.
It is, however, just as customizable. Apex’s settings holds a similarly absurd number of options to change the grid size, margins, transition effects, icon labels and images, app drawer style, animations, swipe gestures, and themes.
Apex’s real advantage over Nova is Tablet UI mode. It displays your phone launcher like it’s a tablet. We disliked the result, but it’s at least worth trying.
Apex is a good launcher. It is not as smooth, but Tablet UI mode is interesting enough to merit downloading.
MiHome is a unique launcher that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on Android. It’s based on the popular and gorgeous ROM MIUI. We’ve reviewed this app before, so read this for our impressions at length.
MiHome, like MIUI, has a brightly colored and appealing aesthetic. The white-and-orange look is appealing and friendly. This launcher looks seriously good.
There is a downside, though. MiHome doesn’t have an app drawer. Some of you will hate this. If you do, don’t bother with MiHome. Even if you don’t mind, there are still few customization options. Other launchers like Nova and Apex live and die by huge menus packed full of settings. MiHome has a single option to change graphical quality.
On the plus side, it does come with access to MIUI’s massive theme store. If you don’t like the stock MIUI aesthetic (heresy!), there are plenty of alternatives.
We would recommend this launcher for beginners or people who struggle with finding their apps. Everyone else might miss the app drawer.
Ah, ADW, how we miss thee. Although currently out of use, this was our favorite launcher back in the Gingerbread days. There’s a good reason. ADW is lightning fast and stable as hell. It’s a fantastic launcher, especially for low-end phones.
The customization menu was designed by idiots. It’s confusing. At least there are plenty of options hidden within it. You can change widget size, app icons and labels, transition effects, grid size, default orientation, gestures, app drawer style, and themes. Lots of themes.
ADW is a great launcher, but it feels very… Gingerbread. It’s not designed for ICS. If that doesn’t bother you, then ADW is a great choice.
Espier is an interesting launcher that specializes in looking almost exactly like iOS. Look at the screenshots. No app drawer, a bubble background, not a widget in sight… sure looks like iOS to us.
Espier falls victim to the classic iOS problem of placing looks over functionality. You have to dig through the settings to hide apps. Widgets are limited to a single page. There are two separate messaging apps. The “app switcher” is basically useless.
Espier isn’t bad for people who like the look and feel of iOS. We won’t begrudge you your launcher. If that aesthetic does not interest you, don’t bother.
Launcher 7 is by far the most unique launcher on this list. It aims to replicate Windows Phone on Android. Instead of icons and widgets, you get tiles. Seriously.
Launcher 7 does a decent job of replicating Metro. Animations look cool, live tiles are neat as hell, and the launcher generally performs well. The only real oversight is its lack of support for widgets. Don’t even try to put a widget inside a tile. It looks awful.
Where this app shines brightest is once you start digging through the settings. Launcher 7 has an absurd amount of options to customize each and every tile exactly the way you see fit. Icon, name, theme, effect… it goes on. Although confusing, the menus have everything necessary.
Ultimately, whether or not you will enjoy Launcher 7 depends directly upon your affinity for Metro. If positive, give it a shot. Launcher 7 is a cool change of pace.
Whatever launcher you decide to use, there is one that fits your needs. You can even try out a flavor of iOS and Windows Phone. That’s Android for you… something for everyone.