The Android platform has become a resounding hit for many reasons. One of those reasons is flexibility. Unlike competitor platforms, you can make Android look and feel exactly how you want. So, if you don’t like the way the launcher works, you can install another. Being a professed “launcher junkie,” I’ve gone through nearly every launcher I could find in the search for the perfect Android home screen. That search has led me to examine the best and the worst the Google Play Store has to offer. Included in the “best” category is Atom Launcher.
Atom Launcher offers some exciting features:
- Allows you to create your own theme
- Copy custom home screens over to other devices running Atom Launcher
- All-in-one Atom bar with Google search, clock, settings icons, and more
- Smart folders
- Included dock bar
- Icon customization
- App hiding
- All-in-one widgets (Memo, Monthly Calendar, Daily Calendar, Quick Settings, Contacts, Search Bar, Digital Clock, and Analog Clock)
Atom Launcher is one of the better home launchers you’ll find for both smartphone and tablet devices. Let’s install it and take a tour of the main features.
The installation of Atom Launcher is quite easy. Just follow these steps:
- Open the Google Play Store
- Search for Atom Launcher
- Tap the entry for Atom Launcher by DLTO
- Tap Install
- Tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
Once it's installed, tap the home button of your device and select Atom Launcher as your home launcher. You can try it out by tapping Just Once or set it as the default by tapping Always. If you decide to go back to the original home launcher, you can do so by going to Settings | Application Manager | Downloaded | Atom Launcher, and tapping Clear Data. This will then prompt you to select a new default home launcher.
When you first launch Atom Launcher, you'll be prompted to walk through a Welcome tutorial. Swipe through that (reading as you please), until you find yourself on the Atom Launcher home screen (Figure A).
Atom Launcher running on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy Note tablet.
The default theme is nothing terribly special, but making a quick-change to the theme is simple:
- Tap the Free Themes launcher on the home screen
- Select one of the free themes
- When the Google Play Store opens with that theme, tap Install
- Tap Accept
- Once the theme is installed, tap the home button of your device
- Long-press a blank spot on your home screen to reveal the home screen pop-up menu
- Tap Theme Settings in the resulting window
- In the Theme Setting window (Figure B), select the newly downloaded theme
- Tap Apply
- Tap the home button on your device, and the new theme should appear
Setting a new theme for Atom Launcher.
Now, let's get to work.
One of the first things you’ll want to examine is the Atom Bar. This is a quick-access hiding toolbar that resides at the top of your screen (for smartphones) or the left edge of your screen (for tablets). The Atom Bar does not replace your notification bar. Instead, it gives you quick access to:
- Theme settings
- Add-to home (shortcuts, widgets, Atom Widgets, Atom Action, folders, wallpapers)
- Atom Launcher settings
- Android settings
Editing the Atom Bar is simple. You can add/remove items to/from the Atom Bar, add/remove items to/from the All Apps menu (shown when the app drawer is open), and add/remove items to/from the home screen popup menu. Here’s how you change the Atom Bar:
Tap the Atom Bar icon to open. The icon will be either a left-pointing arrow (for smartphones) or a downward-pointing arrow (for tablets). Once the Atom Bar is open, tap the home icon with the cog (Figure C). This will open the Atom Launcher Settings window.
The Atom Bar in action (left side of the screen).
In the Atom Launcher Settings window, tap menu from the left navigation. You should now see the options available for the Atom Bar. Say you want to add an app drawer button to the Atom Bar. This would make it easy for you to access the app drawer from either the left or right side of the screen. To do this, follow these steps:
- From the Atom Bar Settings window, tap Atom bar menu
- In the resulting popup, scroll down to the Screen switching section
- Tap All Apps screen to enable (Figure D)
- Tap OK
Adding an app drawer launcher to the Atom Bar.
You should now have quick access to the app drawer from the Atom Bar.
Creating folders on your home screen is also simple. But these aren’t just standard folders that group launchers together. With Atom Launcher Smart Folders, you can resize and turn them into an interactive launcher. Say, for example, that you want to group all of your Google-related launchers together, and you want to be able to quickly choose which app to launch from that collection. Here’s how you do this:
- Long-press the home screen
- From the home screen pop-up menu, select Folder
- From the new window (Figure E), tap to select all of the apps you want to include
- Tap OK
Adding launchers to a Smart Folder.
Now, follow these steps to change this from a dumb to a smart folder:
- Long-press the newly created folder
- When the resize bars appear, release
- Resize the folder until it's 1 square tall and 2 squares wide
- Tap outside of the folder
What you should see now is a rectangle containing one larger launcher and a four-square of smaller launchers (Figure F).
A Smart Folder ready for action.
Swipe to the right or left to change the active launcher, and tap the launcher to open the app. You can cycle through all the apps until you find the one you want to open. You can also enlarge that Smart Folder to be any width you like. The larger the folder, the more active launchers will be visible.
Atom Launcher has quite a bit more to offer. I’ll cover other features in future posts. In the meantime, play around with this wonderful launcher, and see if it doesn’t turn into your new default.
Have you found the ideal home launcher for Android? If so, which one -- and what makes it perfect for you? Let us know in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.