Mobility

Performance-driven Android 4.0 home screen replacement

Jack Wallen demonstrates how to install and use Nova Launcher, a home screen replacement for your Android 4.0 device.

I'm always on the lookout for new and better home screen replacements for the Android platform. I've tried quite a lot of them, and they all have pros and cons. But one home screen, Nova Launcher, seems to have one of the best balances between customizations/features and performance. Nova has quite a lot to offer but doesn't do so at the expense of performance. In fact, it performs as well as the default launcher (better in some instances) and provides more features.

There are two versions of Nova: Free and Prime for $4.00 (USD). The Prime version offers a few extra features you might find useful.

With Nova Launcher (free), you can enjoy:

  • Color themes
  • Icon themes
  • Scrollable dock with up to seven icons per page / up to three pages
  • Customizable app drawer: transparency, scrolling style, horizontal paginated or vertical continuous
  • Scroll effects
  • Infinite scroll
  • Folder icons
  • Backup/Restore
  • Widgets in dock (add any 1x1 widget to the dock)
  • Widget overlapping
  • Bulk add
  • Activities shortcut

Nova Launcher Prime offers all of the above, plus:

  • Drawer groups
  • Folders in app drawer
  • Organize apps into tabs and folders in the app drawer
  • Gestures
  • Hide apps
  • Dock swipes
  • Unread email counts in dock, desktop, draw, and folders
  • More scroll effects

One thing to note is that Nova Launcher is optimized for Android 4 and will not work on previous releases. With that said, let's install and use Nova Launcher.

Installation

We'll install the free version of Nova Launcher. If you like what you see, you can purchase the Prime version for more features and effects. To install the free version, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Google Play Store
  2. Search for "nova launcher" (no quotes)
  3. Tap the free version of Nova Launcher
  4. Tap Install
  5. Tap Accept & download
Once Nova Launcher is installed, you have one more step to take care of. When you hit the home button on your phone, a prompt will appear, asking which application to use for the action (Figure A). Tap the Nova Launcher entry, but do not check the box for Use by default for this action... yet. You want to make sure Nova Launcher works well for you and your device, before you make it your default. Figure A

Preparing to use Nova Launcher on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S III.
Once you tap Nova Launcher, the new home screen replacement will start up. On the first screen, you'll notice a widget that allows you to automatically import all of your launchers from your device's default home screen. Tap this, and all of your launchers and widgets will appear. My new Nova Launcher wound up the usual clean work environment (Figure B). Figure B

The microphone that built zombieradio.org.

There are two really handy features to the Nova Launcher Dock:

  • Toggle Dock
  • Infinite Scroll

The Toggle Dock feature is a widget that allows you to enable/disable the Dock. This doesn't actually disable the Dock — rather, it hides it. But effectively, you get more screen real estate (as well as a cleaner home screen) by toggling the Dock.

Here's how you can set Nova Launcher up for quick toggling of the Dock:

  1. Long-press the home screen
  2. Select Nova Actions from the overlay
  3. Scroll down and tap Toggle Dock (Figure C)
Figure C

These are all Nova Actions that can be placed on the home screen.

When you tap the Toggle Dock button, the Dock disappears. Tap it again, and the Dock reappears. If you purchase the Prime version of Nova Launcher, you can set up a gesture to enable/disable the Dock.

Infinite Scroll of the Dock

You can set the Dock to have up to five pages. A "page" can hold up to five launchers, for a total of twenty-five launchers on the Dock alone. To set the amount of pages on the Dock, do the following:

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Tap Nova Settings
  3. Tap Dock
  4. Tap Dock Pages
  5. Tap the up or down button (Figure D) to add or subtract pages to the Dock
  6. Tap OK
Figure D

You do not have to match Dock page with number of home screens.

You can now slide the Dock to the left or right to reveal more space for launchers.

With that set up, let's enable infinite scrolling. What this does is allow you to continue scrolling one way to return to the beginning. This makes it easy to have multiple pages and quickly locate icons. To enable this, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the menu button
  2. Tap Nova Settings
  3. Tap Dock
  4. Tap Infinite Scroll to enable

Now the Dock will continue to scroll either to the left or right and return you to the beginning.

There are tons of other features available with Nova Launcher. Play around with this speedster of a home screen replacement for your Android 4.0 device and see if it doesn't win the coveted place as your default home screen on your Android device.

About

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.

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