One of the main differences between Android and iOS is the way you can transform the look of Google’s operating system, down to the very last pixel. Alternative launcher apps re-skin Android, changing not just wallpaper, colours, and icons, but the layout of the interface itself.
It’s also ridiculously easy to return to your default launcher after you’re done experimenting with new ones. To go back to your original home screen, navigate to the Home menu in Settings. From this menu, you can switch between launchers or remove them from your system entirely. With that in mind, here are seven of the best launcher apps available for Android.
The Arrow launcher, created by the folks at Microsoft, re-skins Android to give it a distinctly Windows feel. Links to Bing, Wunderlist, and Office are all front and centre, as you would expect, but there are some useful tweaks here that will interest people who aren’t fans of Microsoft as well.
It brings your most-used apps into one convenient screen, for instance, each of which can have iOS-style notification badges, and there’s easy access to both recently accessed files (from texts to photos) and your recent SMS and call interactions. Swipe up from the bottom to reveal a mini control centre.
Nova is one of the oldest and most popular launcher apps, offering a high level of customisation for everything from the way that apps scroll to the positioning of icons on the home screen. Upgrade to the paid version to get unread count badges, gesture support, and some more handy extras.
After you’ve installed Nova, it doesn’t look like much has changed, but if you delve into the app’s settings you can introduce a scrolling dock, change the size of icons, change the appearance of folders and more. There’s also a night mode for reducing blue light when you’re using your phone in the evening.
Apex, another venerable app launcher out there, offers plenty of customisation options without bogging you down with too many screens and menus. Most of the changes you’ll see after you’ve installed the app are pretty subtle ones, but there’s plenty to explore once you start digging deeper.
The home screen and app drawer can both be tweaked extensively (think layout, animations, scrolling), and there are a bunch of Apex themes on the Google Play Store to really overhaul Android’s interface. Opt for the paid version to add even more customisations and effects to the mix.
ZenUI is the launcher that Asus puts on its own Android phones, but anyone can try it out for free courtesy of the Google Play Store. It’s clean and speedy and offers a variety of useful features, like grouping apps into related folders automatically for you and recommending new apps you might like.
On the home screens, icon sizes and layouts can be tweaked, and it’s possible to change colours and fonts with a couple of taps too. The stylings of ZenUI won’t appeal to everyone, but there are enough functions and features here to satisfy most Android tweakers. Plenty of third-party theme packs are available, too.
Revamped for 2016, the Go launcher is piled high with features, tweaks, and themes. There’s a smart apps management system that’s intended to make your favourite apps easier to access, and a separate store to access new themes, wallpapers, and other related material.
The launcher comes with a bunch of snazzy widgets and animation effects to select from, and it’s hard not to like this bright, colourful, customisable approach to Android. The ads can get a little annoying, but they support the app’s development and can be removed with the relevant purchase from inside Go.
Buzz completely revamps the look of the Android interface, providing access to a wealth of theme packs that apply such complete transformations that it’s difficult to believe you’re still using Android at all. Alongside the packs there are all the usual interface tweaks and customisations waiting to be made use of.
There’s gesture support too, so you can swipe up for apps or down for settings, as well as a matching lock screen replacement, so this really is one of the most complete and versatile launchers out there. The app also links to a Buzz custom widget editor you can use to tailor the look of Android even further.
Aviate, by Yahoo, adds some behind-the-scenes smarts to your Android home screens, grouping related apps together and aiming to surface what you need when you need it without any manual interaction. It’s been well designed too, and comes with hundreds of very nicely done wallpapers to take advantage of.
One of the launcher’s key features is the Smart Stream, a Google Now-style stack of cards bringing you information about the weather, upcoming events, nearby places, various phone features and so on. It’s less about home screen customisation and more about useful add-ons to the central mobile OS.