If you're an Android user seeking the absolute best experience for your device, you might be inclined to toy around with your home screen. Why? Because there could be aspects of the default you find inefficient or that don't offer you enough power and control. If you want more from your Android device, you're in luck... even on the home screen front. The Google Play Store offers a number of solid home screen replacements, each offering a different approach and in some cases, a wildly different feature set.
Here are five outstanding candidates, ready to take over your device. Let's look at what each has to offer.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.
1: Nova Launcher
Nova Launcher (Figure A) is, without a doubt, my favorite of the bunch. But don't immediately settle for the free version. With Nova, go directly to the Prime version to gain even more features. What features, you ask? Added gesture support, unread counts, custom drawer groups, hide apps, icon swipes, added scroll effects—definitely worth paying a bit extra.
Still, the free version gives you icon themes, subgrid positioning, color controls, custom app drawer settings, gesture control, an improved widget drawer, infinite scroll, backup/restore, scrollable dock, and much more. If you're looking for the most control over your Android home screen, Nova Launcher is probably what you want.
2: Smart Launcher 3
Smart Launcher 3 (Figure B) is an ideal candidate for lesser-powered devices, while not sacrificing features. It's "material design" centric and gives you quick control over the apps you use most. Through the setup wizard, you can easily configure your default apps for music, phone, camera, photos, messages, and browsing.
Smart Launcher 3 also allows you to hide apps from the app drawer and integrates the lock screen into the launcher. Accessing the app drawer is but a right swipe away, revealing the handy app drawer categories (which you can customize). The Pro version of Smart Launcher 3 adds widget support and gestures. It's an in-app purchase that will run you $3.99 USD.
3: ZenUI Launcher
ZenUI Launcher (Figure C) is a customizable launcher that's focused on style, allowing you to turn your home screen into exactly what you want and need. One of its handiest features is the quick search. Just swipe down your home screen and a powerful search screen opens, where you can select the location for your search. (You can even set Yahoo or Google as your search engine).
The quick search feature also allows you to perform Apps, Contacts, Frequently Used, and Trending searches. Wand wth a quick swipe upward, you can manage your home screens widgets, home, wallpapers, themes, scroll effects, and much more. ZenUI is free and ready to install from the Google Play Store.
4: Apex Launcher
Apex Launcher (Figure D) offers a lot of settings, and even when you've customized it beyond recognition, your device won't suffer from slowdown. Apex includes a handy feature called the Apex menu. You can customize the launcher (via Apex Settings | Advanced | Customize Menu) by enabling/disabling options. Tapping the Apex menu will get you quick access to whatever items you've included.
Apex also allows you to fully customize your app drawer—something every home screen launcher should offer. The Pro version adds even more customizations, unread counts, dock swipe gestures, two-finger gestures, and more. It will set you back $3.99 USD.
5: Go Launcher
Go Launcher (Figure E) might be the most popular third-party home screen launcher for Android, and with good reason. Go Launcher is slick. As slick as any other launcher available, if not more so. But don't let the good looks fool you; it also offers plenty of customizations and options.
From within the Go Launcher settings you can customize the screen, the App Drawer, transitions, icons, fonts, gestures, app locks, and much more. And Go Launcher includes a quick menu (three vertical dots in the bottom center) that gives you access to various settings apps. One caveat regarding the free version of Go Launcher: Ads. I highly recommend you give Go Launcher a try and if you like it, drop the $5.99 for the ad-free Prime version. That version also adds a number of premium features, such as more transitions/animations, secure app lock, wallpaper filters, side dock, and additional gestures.
If you're looking for a more flexible, powerful home screen launcher for your Android device, you can't go wrong with any of these five options. Function meets form on all levels.
Have you found a bigger, better home screen launcher not listed here? If so, what makes it the ideal app to control your Android experience?
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.