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?
Okay, but... how does one change the launcher of their device? It's pretty simple and straightforward. Installing it is easy, but setting it as the default launcher requires an additional tap or two. Android will automatically ask you which one of the installed launchers to be the default one when you press the home button of your device for the first time after the installation has been completed. Most launchers will also guide you through the process of setting them as default ones. In addition, if your device is running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher, you can also select the default launcher via the Settings menu – just head there and look for the Default Applications submenu.
While we are on the subject of home screen replacements, we decided to delve in Google Play and pick some of the best and most popular Android launchers. 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 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 Nova, Nova Launcher Prime, will provide you with even more customization features.
Download: Nova Launcher (Android)
Nova Launcher screenshots
Apex LauncherAlthough 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.
Download: Apex Launcher (Android)
Apex Launcher screenshots
Google Now Launcher
Okay, this is as stock as it gets - Google's in-house launcher is most probably coveted by those who dig the looks of and the feel 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.
Download: Google Now Launcher (Android)
Google Now Launcher screenshots
GO Launcher EXOne 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: GO Launcher EX (Android)
GO Launcher EX screenshots
Smart Launcher 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.
Download: Smart Launcher 2 (Android)
Smart Launcher 2 screenshots
Yahoo Aviate Launcher
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?
Download: Yahoo Aviate Launcher (Android)
Yahoo Aviate Launcher screenshots
Although it is a relatively new player on the launcher playground, Apus has quickly gained a lot of popularity. 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?
Download: Apus Launcher (Android)
Apus Launcher screenshots
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 for some Android devotees.
Download: Mi Launcher (Android)
Mi Launcher screenshots
dodol Launcher One of the strongest points of dodol Launcher is the abundance of themes that are available for it. Apart from the ample amount of these, Dodol Launcher is also pretty customizable. Well, not as much as Nova, but dodol Launcher still enables you to customize various aspects of its interface. Performance-wise, dodol Launcher is smooth and should be more than acceptable for the average Android user. Oh, and did we mention that this launcher is completely free?
Download: dodol Launcher (Android)
dodol Launcher screenshots
Action Launcher is all about ease of use and smooth performance. Similar to Smart Launcher, it lacks a regular app drawer. Swiping your home screen right will take you to an alphabetical list of your apps, while swiping your home screen left takes you to the so-called "QuickPage", which gives you access to Google Search and some of the apps you've recently used. Action Launcher is strikingly light and smooth - interface lag and hiccups will probably be seen as scarce as hen's teeth. Unfortunately, most of the customization features are only available in the paid version of Action launcher.
Download: Action Launcher (Android)
Meet Solo Launcher - one of the most feature-rich launchers for Android. Solo comes with a Unread Messages counter, gesture combinations, and a panoply of available themes, to name a few. Additionally, it's a performance champion and runs quite smoothly, support for Google's voice search via "Ok. Google!" is also on board. Solo Launcher is free to download and all of its features are available out of the box for free, as well. If you are a customization freak, then Solo Launcher would probably surprise you with its flexibility. Don't hesitate to give it a try.
Download: Solo Launcher (Android)
Solo Launcher screenshots
Maybe 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.
Download: Buzz Launcher (Android)
Buzz Launcher screenshots
EverythingMe is a contextual launcher that is touted as being able to "predict" what app you need at any given moment. According to the time of day, it will suggest the apps that you are most likely to use. 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. Despite the limited customization options, it's a a pretty curious replacement of your stock UI.
Download: EverythingMe Launcher (Android)
EverythingMe Launcher screenshots
Atom is yet another launcher that offers a fair amount of customizability features. Some of the more interesting of these are the included theme maker, which easily allows you to create and share a theme, and the customizable Atom Bar. Apart from these, Atom Launcher does not have a hidden ace up its sleeve - its true strength lies in its smooth performance.
Download: Atom Launcher (Android)
Atom Launcher screenshots
Although not as popular as some of the previous entries in this list, Lightning Launcher is by no means unworthy of being a honored member of the launcher hall of fame. All in all, it's really fast, reliable, and runs smoothly. Such a performance usually means that the app is not endowed with many customization features, but that's not the case with this one here. One of the more notable features, for example, allows you to create up to a 100 (!) different desktops - we can't imagine what one might do with so many screens, nevertheless, such a feature is nothing but a proof that Lightning Launcher packs some impressive capabilities in the customization department.
Download: Lightning Launcher (Android)
Lightning Launcher screenshots
6. tadaa (Posts: 243; 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
57. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 2591; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)
PA, you should give ratings to this launchers out of 10.
33. a_tumiwa (Posts: 262; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)
yes Lightning Launcher is the lightest launcher, the original version even has size less than 100kb
2. tadaa (Posts: 243; 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.
3. AfterShock (Posts: 2798; 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.
14. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3197; 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.
17. AfterShock (Posts: 2798; 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.
25. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3197; 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.
4. enthasuium (Posts: 73; Member since: 21 Nov 2013)
Beauty of Android. New feelings everyday. No boring UI like iOS for years and years
29. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 25; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)
Very true. Android looks like YOU want it to look like, not like some company thinks it should
59. Smarter (Posts: 33; 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.
5. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3197; 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.
10. Tsoliades (Posts: 211; Member since: 22 Dec 2012)
It's basically the TouchWiz of custom launchers. I agree. Nova is the best.
18. babak7712 (Posts: 2; Member since: 27 Apr 2012)
I agree. Nova launcher is the best I have ever experienced.
30. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 25; 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
7. jayd3n (Posts: 23; 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.
50. user996 (Posts: 181; Member since: 25 Feb 2013)
not just launcher but keyboard and lockscreen are good too
9. Xperia_droid (Posts: 25; 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.
11. ghanemsam (Posts: 60; Member since: 21 Nov 2012)
the best are :
1. GO Launcher ... the king of customizations
2.Nova Launcher .. the lightest one
12. LikeMyself (Posts: 267; 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!
13. johnsons (Posts: 31; Member since: 16 Jun 2014)
The 1st one, reminds me the days I had an android phone....
15. alrightihatepickingusernames (Posts: 355; 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.
16. dmakun (Posts: 171; 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.
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.
19. kkmkk (Posts: 86; Member since: 06 May 2013)
nova launcher is the best for reasons only who use it would know it
31. uRiBiTo666 (Posts: 25; Member since: 02 Jun 2013)
Dont like... UI colors are horrible and is bloated with Samsung's s**t
60. Industriality (Posts: 10; Member since: 08 Sep 2014)
No this sucks, in fact it's the worst UI among all smartphones.
21. foreverjin08 (Posts: 22; Member since: 10 Sep 2013)
I use inspire launcher, pretty good to use. Easier than any other launchers.
23. mike2959 (Posts: 225; 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.
24. Tuxedo (Posts: 135; Member since: 19 Mar 2013)
Anyone know the name of the wallpaper shown on 2,4, and 5?
35. PeterK. (Posts: 91; 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.ryanmkellyIt's in the "Blur" section. .me.murum
26. LikeMyself (Posts: 267; 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!
27. gigaraga (Posts: 879; Member since: 29 Mar 2013)
Who would even use Launcher 8? looks terrible. I like dodol launcher...works well ;)
28. promise7 (Posts: 399; Member since: 03 Jul 2013)
I find Go Launcher extremely bloated and ad heavy, but it does have like a trillion themes.
34. admeenp (Posts: 3; Member since: 20 Jun 2014)
WHAT'S THE ICON PACK OF ATOM LAUNCHER? THE LAST LAUNCHER #15.
36. PeterK. (Posts: 91; Member since: 13 Nov 2013)
Hi there, admeenp! That'd be Velur:https://play.google.com/store/
39. refillable (Posts: 630; Member since: 10 Mar 2014)
Nova still seems the best for me after trying many launchers :).
41. Elfmonster (Posts: 50; Member since: 23 Dec 2013)
I tried lots, settled on Nova's fastest settings.
But Buzz would be the best future because it's essentially a launcher umbrella offering tons of its own sub launchers, like an Android customization carousel within an Android customization carousel.
42. Tech_Junkie1996 (Posts: 42; Member since: 29 Aug 2013)
What about Aviate? Sure, it is invite only, I but think it's one of the best contextual launchers available.
43. Gzoref (Posts: 2; Member since: 09 Feb 2014)
I like to change things up once in awhile, but I always find myself going back to either Atom Launcher, Apex, or Solo. I love Solo's weather clock, and Atom is so clean, smooth and extremely light.
I've, and I love the idea of Buzz , but I just find that when you find a template that you like, it's so difficult to customize it without ruining the template itself, with the layout. I'd love a launcher with a choice of templates and drag and drop apps or widgets.
44. ePoch270 (Posts: 92; Member since: 26 Sep 2013)
I love Action Launcher Pro. I'm bummed he didn't mention covers and shutters. The ability to view a widget of any size temporarily with a simple swipe is unbelievable. I can have dozens of widgets on my home screen without actually wasting real estate.
46. na7noo7 (Posts: 223; Member since: 29 Mar 2014)
Best launcher for me is Samsung's terrain launcher with no bloatware.
Worst one is probably the Z launcher because it lacks customization.
48. notmadeofbeef (Posts: 2; Member since: 25 Jun 2014)
Personally, I don't understand the inclusion of Go Launcher in a "Best Launchers" list simply due to its bloatware. I also definitely thing Aviate should be included in this list despite its lack of customizability that it gets so much grief for.
53. Planterz (Posts: 749; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)
So, a 3 month old article gets bumped because Android Authority does a similar one?
69. ViewFromTheTop (Posts: 12; Member since: 08 Sep 2014)
AA's article itself is an year old one that was bumped LOL!
I guess these guys should just write up completely new articles and give them Sept. 2014 or Jan. 2015 monikers so that you know which is the latest article. :-)
54. kaikuheadhunterz (Posts: 710; Member since: 18 Jul 2013)
The only reason why I don't use 3rd-party launchers is because of the lack of support for transparent status bar on MIUI v5
70. Planterz (Posts: 749; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)
Nova does transparent status bar on AOSP. Does this not carry over to MIUI?
You could always root (if you haven't already) and use an Xposed module to make your status bar transparent.
55. boosook (Posts: 982; Member since: 19 Nov 2012)
Google Now launcher is the best, and once you start saying "ok, google" you can't go back.
68. Blazers (Posts: 203; Member since: 05 Dec 2011)
The latest version of the Google app now allows any launcher (TW included) to use "ok google" even with the phone locked. The negative side of this is decreased battery life, and it disables your phones voice recorder.