Best, lightest, and most awesome Android launchers

Posted: , posted by Peter Kostadinov

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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. 

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.

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!


Nova Launcher / Nova Launcher Prime

Download Nova Launcher (free) / Nova Launcher Prime ($3.99)


The best, bar none. It's been a few years since Nova Launcher has been our go-to choice for a custom Android launcher. In mid-2018, this still holds true, now even more so. Unlike other apps that have gradually degraded over time, Nova is still going strong, scoring new features and polishing existing ones to the point where it can safely serve as a model of excellence, an exemplar app that everyone should strive to match.

Enough with the flattery, what are the selling points of Nova Launcher? The answer is simple - customizability, snappiness, and great user experience. Shipping with classic AOSP looks by default, Nova could be easily transformed into whatever you like due to its emphasis on tweaking and deeply customizing your interface.

That's why some of the best and most beautiful screenshots of Android interfaces rely on the Nova Launcher backbone -- there's hardly anything you can't do with this one. In the meantime, it plays quite nicely with almost any hardware you throw it at, providing a snappy and pleasing experience even on older phones.

Recently, Nova scored some of Pixel Launcher's lately-introduced features, like the slide-up app drawer and search bar, as well as new search view comprising a bunch of new tabs. 

Oh, and if you're considering this one, we highly recommend getting the Prime version -- it's worth it. 



Lawnchair

Download Lawnchair Launcher (free)


A new entrant on the launcher scene is a niche debutant that has been doing the round in the underground - dubbed Lawnchair as a tongue-in-cheek joke, this one is closely mimicking the appearance and overall functionality of the Pixel launcher found on the original Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Unlike the default offering found on Google's former flagships, Lawnchair is inherently more customizable, though not overwhelmingly so. 

You can change your icon pack, manage the appearance of your home screen by selecting the icon scale and how many columns/rows it should have, define gestures, and tweak a ton of other options. All of that is sprinkled with a nice amount of snappiness and performance that are on par with Nova Launcher or the regular Pixel launcher. 

An excellent app.



Lean Launcher

Download Lean Launcher (free)


Similar to Lawnchair, Lean Launcher is an open-sourced variation of Google's Pixel-exclusive launcher. Available for any Android device, Lean Launcher is quote cuistomizable yet none of the options will be a distant departure from the looks of the stock Pixel launcher. 

Supporting the At A Glance widget and the Google Feed page integration, Lean Launcher is one of the most impressive imitations of the original Pixel 2/2 XL launcher. As an added bonus, it really is lean and lightweight.

The launcher boasts icon pack support, the ability to self-generate adaptive icons and even extract a matching icon background from the stock app itself. You can also hide apps, change icons on a per-app basis, and even customize the gestures that the launcher supports. Note that you will have to install a companion app for many of these features to work but the app does a good job at explaining how to achieve that.


Microsoft Launcher

Download Arrow Launcher (free)


Microsoft's own Android launcher has steadily established itself as one of the very best Android launchers available on the Play Store. Extremely customizable and feature-rich almost to the point of being overflowing with options. The usual customizable stuff like homescreen layout and theme customization are naturally present.

Yet, the two biggest selling points of the Microsoft Launcher are the Cortana integration and the continuity feature. Microsoft's AI can be summoned at the tap of a button and will allow you to communicate with your phone just like you'd do with the Google Assistant

If you sign in with the same Microsoft account that you use on your desktop computer, you will also be able to customize your queries and ask Cortana personal searches. Signing in with your Microsoft account also allows you to continue where you left off on your desktop computer. Continuity at its best.



Action Launcher 

Download Action Launcher


Chris Lacy's Action Launcher brings all the aesthetic goodies of Android P to just about any Android device. In the meantime, all the features of the regular Pixel launcher have also been added as optional settings. You also get the At A Glance widget, app shortcuts, and adaptive icon pack suppot, though some of these will cost you a one-time in-app purchase.

Snappy and intuitive, Action Launcher is a great offering that will float the boat of customization-savvy Android fans, though we should mention that it tends to run a tad slower than other launchers in this very piece.

One of its defining features is the Quicktheme feature, which enables you to easily theme your interface to match with your wallpaper. Another neat functionality is Shutters, which enables you to launch an app's widget by simply flicking up on its icon. The same applies to Covers, a unique take on folders - when you tap on a Cover, you will open the app itself, but swiping up opens a customizable folder with other apps inside.



Apex Launcher

Download Apex Launcher

If Nova Launcher is a viable alternative to any stock Android launcher, then Apex is definitely a viable alternative to Nova. Apex Launcher is pretty similar to Nova in terms of customization prowess, features, and overall user experience. Indeed, whatever you are able to do in Nova, you can do in Apex as well. Apex is one of those launchers that don't look particularly good right out of the box and required you to fine-tune and tweak this until you're satisfied with the way it looks.

Some may see this as a serious flaw, but we feel like it's a feature. However, one of the deal-breaking differences that tip the scales in Nova's favor is that it gets updated more frequently. In the meantime, Apex does not require you to purchase its 'pro' version to make use of some basic features, like icon scaling.




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