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Best, lightest, and most awesome Android launchers

Posted: , by Peter K.

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Best, lightest, and most awesome Android launchers

Ah, Android and its beauty! Without a shadow of doubt, it has the upper hand when it comes to flexibility and customizability - its biggest rivals (iOS and Windows Phone) literally don't stand a chance in this one-horse race. Thanks to this fundamental aspect of Android, almost any manufacturer out there usually snaps a home-brewed user interface suite on their devices. HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz are probably the most popular custom UIs for Android, but let's face it – not everyone likes the looks and the bag of features that these come with.

Fortunately, you can easily modify the interface looks of your Android device and make it suit your liking. Probably the easiest way to do so is by installing a custom 3rd-party launcher. Not only custom launchers provide you with different looks, they also come with a wide range of nifty customization features and options that are rarely found in stock UIs. What's more, most of the 3rd-party ones are usually a whole lot lighter and smoother, which is always welcome, isn't it?

While we are on the subject of home screen replacements, we decided to search the depths of Google Play and pick some of the best Android launchers out there. Check them out and don't forget to tell us which one is your favorite!

Note: The launchers below are sorted in no particular order.

Nova Launcher / Nova Launcher Prime

Nova Launcher is one of the lightest and most feature-packed AOSP-like launchers out there. It's often lauded as being the best all-around launcher for Android. It now comes with even more features than before and really sets itself apart from the competition. It already supports Google's Voice Search hotword ("OK, Google), allows its users to greatly alter the layout of their home screen, as well as the transition animations, icon shortcuts, etc. The paid version of the app, Nova Launcher Prime, will provide you with even more customization features. It's essential for customization devotees.

Apex Launcher / Apex Launcher Pro

Download Apex Launcher / Apex Launcher Pro ($3.99)

Although not as feature-rich, Apex Launcher is pretty similar to Nova in terms of customizability. It allows you to have up to 9 homescreens, multiple drawer tabs, customize the icon and the label of any app or folder, define home screen gestures, and many more. As a whole, it's a decently balanced launcher - if you are looking for smooth performance and stability, then Apex will probably not disappoint you. The paid version of Apex, dubbed Apex Launcher Pro, comes with even more perks on board.

Google Now Launcher

Download Google Now Launcher (free)

Okay, this is as stock as it gets - Google's in-house launcher is most probably coveted by those who dig the looks of vanilla Android, despite the relative lackluster of options and features in comparison with some other popular launchers. Still, Google Now Launcher provides you with a super-easy way to access Google Now (it's just a swipe away) and invoke Google's Voice Search directly from the home screen (courtesy of the ubiquitous "Okay, Google!" phrase). Check it out if you feel like that the pure Android experience is the best Android experience.

GO Launcher EX / GO Launcher Prime

Download GO Launcher EX / GO Launcher Prime ($5.99)

One of the most popular and downloaded launchers for Android, GO launcher, comes with a decent amount of customization options. It supports custom icon packs, a wide range of themes, beautiful transition effects, and more. You can also launch apps with gestures. Still, Go Launcher is not among the lightest launchers, so it shouldn't be your first option if your device is a low-end one. What's more, the free version of the launcher comes with ads, and if you want to get rid of those, you'll have to get GO Launcher Prime.


Download Themer (free)

If you've been into Android customization, then you've probably heard of Themer, the launcher that allows you to thoroughly change your home screen by downloading a new theme, each of which comes with a different icon pack, wallpaper, and widgets. There are many themes available for Themer and most of these are pretty sleek-looking ones.

Z Launcher Beta

Download Z Launcher Beta (free)

It might be lacking in the feature department, but Nokia's Z Launcher is a pretty easy-to-use home screen replacement. Just write the first letter of the app you want to launch and Z Launcher will comply. Nokia's launcher is a contextual one, which means that it keeps tabs on your day-to-day "app" habits and tries to suggest the relevant apps at the correct time. It's as straightforward as it gets, and just recently scored support for custom icon packs.

Smart Launcher 2 / Smart Launcher Pro 2

This is one of the more unique and curious Android launchers. The signature feature of Smart Launcher are the so-called "bubbles" - a circular dial of several apps that are neatly positioned on your home screen. Its app drawer, which can be accessed by swiping right, sorts your apps in several tabs - Media, Internet, Utilities, Games, etc. One of the few downsides of the launcher is that it doesn't support widgets - if you are a fan of these, you'll have to purchase Smart Launcher Pro 2.

Yahoo Aviate Launcher

Download Yahoo Aviate Launcher (free)

After a long period of being in beta and an eventual acquisition by Yahoo, the contextual Aviate Launcher has been available for all Android users since mid-June. It takes into consideration certain factors and will dynamically change the apps and links on your home screen. When you wake up, for example, you'll be treated to some news and weather information; when you arrive at the office Aviate will show you productivity apps; when the launcher finds out that you are driving on the, say, highway, it can bump music and navigation apps on your home screen. Neat, right?

Apus Launcher

Download Apus Launcher (free)

Although it is a relatively new player on the launcher playground, Apus has quickly gained a lot of popularity. Named after one of the most swiftest avians, Apus truly lives to its name. And there's a pretty solid reason for this - it's one of the lightest launchers we've ever tested. It will be safe to say that if you're looking for a quick and high-performing home screen replacement, you should be seriously considering Apus Launcher. Then again, it can't stand up to the major players in terms of customizability, but you can't have everything, right?

MIUI Mi Launcher

Download Mi Launcher (free)

Xiaomi's phones ship with the company's own ROM, MIUI. Its signature feature is the lack of... an app drawer, which makes it look like a peculiar mix between iOS and Android. The philosophy behind Mi Launcher is exactly the same - it ditches your app drawer and scatters your apps across several home screens. Don't turn your heads, Android die-hards! Mi Launcher is surprisingly easy to use and chances are that you'll end up loving it at the end of the day. Still, it comes with a pretty limited amount of customization capabilities, which might be a deal-breaker.

Action Launcher 3 

Chris Lacy's Action Launcher 3 is a total overhaul of Action Launcher 2. It still lacks a regular app drawer. In particular, swiping your home screen right will take you to an alphabetical list with all of your apps. Action Launcher 3 is strikingly light and smooth - interface lag and hiccups will probably be seen as scarce as hen's teeth. It also has a killer feature - thanks to Covers, users can interact with app icons in whole new way: tapping the icon will launch the app in question, but swiping the icon will open a folder. Nifty.

Buzz Launcher

Download Buzz Launcher (free)

The most prominent feature of Buzz Launcher is that it allows its users to download complete home screen setups. Don't confuse thеsе with themes - apart from coming with their own icon sets and wallpapers, these setups also rock their own layouts. Thus, each home screen setup has a completely different look and feel. Users can also create their own setups and share them. Surely, this great variety makes Buzz Launcher the perfect option for those Android fans that want to completely alter the interface of their devices trouble-free.

EverythingMe Launcher

Download EverythingMe Launcher (free)

This is a contextual launcher, touted as being able to "predict" what app you might need at any given time of the day. For example, it will bump news-related apps early in the morning, productivity-centric ones throughout the day, and even suggest restaurants if it detects that you are outside in the evening. The more you use it, the better EverythingMe will become (or so they say). Despite the limited customization options, it's a a pretty curious replacement of your stock UI.

Hola Launcher

Download Hola Launcher (free)

Measuring just 1MB in size, Hola Launcher aims at being as small and lightweight as possible while providing users with all the substantia features that each and every launcher should bring to the table. The unique features of Hola are Hola Swipe, an easy way to see your recent apps, Hola Box, which allows you to easily hide apps and folders, and, of course, numerous customization options.

SF Launcher 2

Download SF Launcher 2 (free)

Recently risen from the ashes like a phoenix, SF Launcher 2 is a complete revamp of the original SF Launcher, now with a Material Design makeover. It adopts the card-like interface of Google Now, bringing it up front on your home screen. Your apps, your widgets, and Google-ish city-based themes are all a part of the equation. Basic customization is also on board.

T9 Launcher

Download T9 Launcher (free)

Remember when all phones had physical keyboards that boasted T9 input prediction? So do we. If you've been missing this once-prevalent functionality on your shiny new Android trooper, worry not - T9 Launcher comes to the rescue. 


Download iLauncher ($2.65)

It resembles iOS. If you can stomach this and recuperate from the initial shock, then you'd probably notice that iLauncher is a pretty good home screen solution that mimics the looks of Apple's platform down to the last detail. Pair it with an iPhone clone and voila, you might fool up to 75% of the population.

CM Launcher

Download CM Launcher (free)

Here's another lightweight solution for all those on the market for a new launcher. Indeed, CM Launcher goes easy on your phone's storage (<1MB), while still sporting interesting features. It organizes your apps into smart folders and also comes with a built-in anti-virus protection, as the developer puts it.

Turbo Launcher Ex 

Download Turbo Launcher Ex (free)

Everything about Turbo Launcher EX is focused around gestures - you can swipe the screen up to bring out your recent apps, swipe the bottom dock to enter app search, or even switch between the different views of the interactive weather widget. Unfortunately, customization options are quite basic, which might scare away some users.

Launcher Lab

Download Launcher Lab (free)

Launcher Lab is a mix between Themer, Buzz Launcher, Nova, and iLauncher. It has adopted all the good features from all of the aforementioned tools, making it quite an intriguing Android launcher. Apart from the strikingly eye-pleasing animations, Launcher Lab also allows you to customize it by downloading different themes for it; you can also create new animations and transition effects. It also has an iOS-like control center (available via a swipe from the bottom) and an app search feature.

  • Options

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 09:51 6

1. FilthyJ24 (Posts: 9; Member since: 06 Sep 2013)

I use lightning launcher.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:00 1

6. tadaa (Posts: 267; Member since: 18 Apr 2013)

super light and customizable, though not for everyone. i use it with meeui icon pack to for an n9 experience

posted on 12 Sep 2014, 06:51 5

57. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 3718; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)

PA, you should give ratings to this launchers out of 10.

posted on 03 Oct 2014, 01:09 3

73. PeterK. (Posts: 296; Member since: 13 Nov 2013)

Duly noted.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 00:14

90. thariq (Posts: 29; Member since: 11 Jan 2014)

Rate by category is more welcome

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 14:17

85. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

Go Next Launcher 3D Shell is the best on the market right now. I've got 7 of the Launchers listed in the article and use them all from time to time. Apex Pro and Nova Prime are good values they just don't have the features Go Next Launcher 3D Shell has for business professionals and power users. It is more expensive but worth it if you need the best and most productive Launcher on the market.

It's also the fastest Launcher for my Note 3 and most stable.

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 14:41

86. Dvoraak (Posts: 21; Member since: 14 May 2014)

This isn't to flame you. I'm genuinely curious what makes you think Next is the power user's choice. I bought it but only use it occasionally to see what they've done recently. I stick with Nove Prime for the exact same reasons you list for Next. Go provides a sidebar but Nova has the most extensive gesture controls. With Nova and Appsi running, I've never been tempted to keep Next for any length of time. What am I missing?

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 15:49

88. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

Not saying Nova or Apex are bad, Go Next has more widgets for Calendars, ToDo List, etc. The menus to build your UI are more robust, even the side bar slide has a pop up menu. I am just comparing 2D to 2D, not even to mention the 3D environment of Next. Some of those, aficionados would not even consider a plain 2D UI.

Apex Pro and Nova Prime may even be a better value for the price, it's just Next Launcher 3D Shell has the most features and functionality right now.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 06:15

92. Dvoraak (Posts: 21; Member since: 14 May 2014)

Well, it looks like it's time for me to try it again. One of my larger complaints with Next was there was no way to search themes that were made for the 3D engine. I didn't care for the 2D and the 3D themes were fairly limited and not the easiest to find. Thanks for setting me straight on features I may have missed.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 10:45

93. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

Try flicking the Dock either up or down it should take two flicks. Select "Personality" > "Theme".

It should give you a list at the top of Launcher, Live Wallpaper, Locker. Under those 3 you should have "Featured" & "Installed" Themes you can browse those and at the bottom you can select "Get More Themes" for each category. You can also search for 3D Themes.

If you want more detail you can start a new topic at Android Central Forums or one of your other favorite forums.

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 23:37

89. ColinW (Posts: 148; Member since: 04 Jun 2014)

I have just downloaded Next Launcher to try. So far I am only half impressed. First it is full of advertising, it looks fantastic, if not a bit "too flashy", but the rubbish scattered all over the home pages was annoying. Second, can you set up how many home screens and dock menus you want? I am still tinkering at the moment but if this is not available I will uninstall.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 11:27

94. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

What advertising? I paid $16.99 back in 2012(have never paid for anything else, including themes) and have never seen an ad.

You can set up to 9 Home Screens and 7 Dock Menus. I have 5 icons on my Dock Menus.

posted on 22 Feb 2015, 01:10

97. ColinW (Posts: 148; Member since: 04 Jun 2014)

I will look at the home screens and dock menus. The version I downloaded did have icons scattered everywhere that were all related to products being sold. When going into the settings menus many of the items were paid (for example themes) many said they were free but when downloaded they are non-operational, just examples and directed to to the playstore to pay for a functional version. I do not mind paying, but this was a little backhanded. Looking at reviews there were many comments on this. I will give it a week of playing with to see if it matches my current and long term launcher Apex.

posted on 22 Feb 2015, 17:29

98. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

Yep, nothing wrong with Apex at all they had an update on 12/20/15. Agree it is annoying to have so many paid themes in Next. It is real hit or miss if the free ones have ads or not. I tend to avoid the ad based themes.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 22:54 1

33. a_tumiwa (Posts: 373; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)

yes Lightning Launcher is the lightest launcher, the original version even has size less than 100kb

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 09:54

2. tadaa (Posts: 267; Member since: 18 Apr 2013)

there are 2 launcher 8s in the play store. the one made by the OG launcher 7 dev works better and is more polished.

posted on 22 Jun 2014, 13:35

45. MySchizoBuddy (Posts: 150; Member since: 23 Aug 2011)

can you provide a direct link

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 09:56 3

3. AfterShock (Posts: 3698; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)

Number 12 ought to rub some the wrong way lol.
And with a tap of the app drawer button, you have the look of the another OS.

Both make my skin crawl.


posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:43 2

14. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3689; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)

True that bro, themer has such beautiful homescreens, but no app drawer customisation at all. That really made me to ditch it. BTW TSF shell sucks, its such a mess and lags(January 2012) like hell. I bought it for $17(3D skeuomorphism was all rage those days) and boy what a mess. I regret that waste of money.
And what is GNFTW.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:06 3

17. AfterShock (Posts: 3698; Member since: 02 Nov 2012)

Google Now, no matter how much I like a couple of these, I come back to GN after a bit.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 13:24 2

25. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3689; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)

I see. Whats so special about it? If its about Google Now hotword, then latest Nova update includes that, and works like a charm.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 09:59 20

4. enthasuium (Posts: 129; Member since: 21 Nov 2013)

Beauty of Android. New feelings everyday. No boring UI like iOS for years and years

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 18:20 13

29. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 55; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)

Very true. Android looks like YOU want it to look like, not like some company thinks it should

posted on 12 Sep 2014, 08:10 1

59. Smarter (Posts: 59; Member since: 18 Jul 2014)

I totally agree. iOS may be a little big boring but is not bad. Unlike WP, tiles are really very boring and nobody wants the bad user interface from Microsoft.

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 08:07

79. MrHate (Posts: 225; Member since: 09 Feb 2015)

Wow you're changing your launcher everyday? Good for you. No reason to bash iOS and it's so boring UI.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 01:19

91. dimas (Posts: 2122; Member since: 22 Jul 2014)

I tried iLauncher and it got me bored with one day use. I guess even iOS imitations are living the legacy of the original.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:00 20

5. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3689; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)

Nova launcher FTW! Go launcher is fugliest, buggy and stutters, I have tried to like it, but I simply keep coming back to Nova.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:27 8

10. Tsoliades (Posts: 228; Member since: 22 Dec 2012)

It's basically the TouchWiz of custom launchers. I agree. Nova is the best.

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 14:02

84. BlackhawkFlys (Posts: 337; Member since: 07 May 2014)

Plus a lot of bloatware.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:09 3

18. babak7712 (Posts: 4; Member since: 27 Apr 2012)

I agree. Nova launcher is the best I have ever experienced.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 18:21 1

30. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 55; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)

Exactly the same for me. i try to like it, but there's somethink i dont like. NOVA is best

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:03 1

7. jayd3n (Posts: 33; Member since: 15 Apr 2014)

i think NOVA, KK and Solo are the best launchers for me and i like the customer support of KK launcher, they are so active and yes ive seen KK when its still a baby and i can tell they really did a good job developing it. The laggy KK back then is now super smooth.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:09 2

8. user996 (Posts: 215; Member since: 25 Feb 2013)

dodol is best

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 09:17

38. RandomUsername (Posts: 808; Member since: 29 Oct 2013)

wtf is dodol

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 21:11 1

40. harry46 (Posts: 1; Member since: 03 Jun 2014)

Use Dodol once///it is the best

posted on 26 Jun 2014, 09:37

50. user996 (Posts: 215; Member since: 25 Feb 2013)

not just launcher but keyboard and lockscreen are good too

posted on 23 Feb 2015, 08:54

99. arjay225 (Posts: 3; Member since: 26 Nov 2012)

Yes! I currently use Dodol Launcher on my Galaxy S5, super easy to customize and very fluid. I used Nova and Apex before, but I'm extremely happy with Dodol :) It should really be on this list.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:20

9. Xperia_droid (Posts: 39; Member since: 07 Nov 2013)

launchers are good but we can't use default widgets with them which is painful. between nova is my fav.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:29 2

11. ghanemsam (Posts: 64; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)

the best are :
1. GO Launcher ... the king of customizations
2.Nova Launcher .. the lightest one

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:32 1

12. LikeMyself (Posts: 438; Member since: 23 Sep 2013)

Great article! Never had time try all these interesting launchers!
Apex for me! Nova doesn't give gesture swipes for free! And Apex is lighter on RAM!
Next Launcher is wonderful! I've used a modded version with Lucky Patcher some time ago before its major updates! The effects when swiping are amazing! Too expensive though even when on sale it was about $8!

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:38

13. johnsons (Posts: 31; Member since: 16 Jun 2014)

The 1st one, reminds me the days I had an android phone....

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 10:47 4

15. alrightihatepickingusernames (Posts: 474; Member since: 29 Dec 2013)

I'm using Nova Prime on my Nexus 5 and 10, I'd like to use Next 3D but it's just flat out overpriced, I wouldn't pay more than $4.99 for it. How they justify a price of 16.99 is beyond me.

posted on 21 Feb 2015, 11:35

95. Dude2 (Posts: 40; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)

How you justify $16.99 or an extra $12.00 is a good question. For me the robust menus, extra widgets like calendar, todo, and other PIM functions are worth an extra $1.00/month. If you use those tools day and day out, it is worth the extra cost.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:01

16. dmakun (Posts: 320; Member since: 06 Jun 2011)

What about "Aviate" ? Although you need an invite to start using it but if definitely put it amongst one of the best replacement launchers for Android.

posted on 25 Jun 2014, 14:13

47. notmadeofbeef (Posts: 2; Member since: 25 Jun 2014)

They just dropped the requirement for an invite for the latest version. Not sure if it's fully rolled out yet or not but I got it yesterday and it's a great update in my own opinion.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:09

19. kkmkk (Posts: 481; Member since: 06 May 2013)

nova launcher is the best for reasons only who use it would know it

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:27 7

20. darksaber (Posts: 4; Member since: 17 Jun 2014)

touchwiz..... :) best

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 18:23 4

31. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 55; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)

Dont like... UI colors are horrible and is bloated with Samsung's s**t

posted on 12 Sep 2014, 08:17 1

60. Industriality (Posts: 131; Member since: 08 Sep 2014)

No this sucks, in fact it's the worst UI among all smartphones.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 11:49

21. foreverjin08 (Posts: 73; Member since: 10 Sep 2013)

I use inspire launcher, pretty good to use. Easier than any other launchers.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 12:39 2

22. amats69 (Posts: 1430; Member since: 12 Nov 2012)

Htc sense!

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 13:00 3

23. mike2959 (Posts: 537; Member since: 08 Oct 2011)

Keep in mind that your stock launcher is still running. You are actually adding to the amount of RAM being used. Running these launchers does not really disable your stock UI, touchwiz, sense.. All still running.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 20:01

32. checkmymike (Posts: 148; Member since: 28 Dec 2011)

Just freeze your stock launcher.

posted on 20 Feb 2015, 08:58

81. RangoX (Posts: 53; Member since: 20 Feb 2015)

What process should I freeze?

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 13:04

24. Tuxedo (Posts: 346; Member since: 19 Mar 2013)

Anyone know the name of the wallpaper shown on 2,4, and 5?

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:13 1

35. PeterK. (Posts: 296; Member since: 13 Nov 2013)

Hey there, Tuxedo! If you really dig the wallpaper, you can find it within this app:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ryanmkelly.me.murum It's in the "Blur" section.

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 13:37 1

26. LikeMyself (Posts: 438; Member since: 23 Sep 2013)

Jolla is putting a beta version of the launcher of Sailfish OS on Play Store next week! Preferable devices are Nexus and GPE!

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 16:46 2

27. gigaraga (Posts: 1454; Member since: 29 Mar 2013)

Who would even use Launcher 8? looks terrible. I like dodol launcher...works well ;)

posted on 19 Jun 2014, 18:05

28. promise7 (Posts: 877; Member since: 03 Jul 2013)

I find Go Launcher extremely bloated and ad heavy, but it does have like a trillion themes.

posted on 20 Jun 2014, 01:10

34. admeenp (Posts: 3; Member since: 20 Jun 2014)


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