My quest for a highly configurable Android home launcher has led me to yet another entry in the category. This one is called Solo Launcher. This newly redesigned UI (built to integrate with the KitKat Holo Light UI) offers over 300 personalization settings and over 5,000 available themes, live wallpapers, lock screens, and fonts. It truly is a tinkerer's dream come true. But... is it the home launcher for you?
Warning: Solo Launcher will not increase your productivity, make you a better system administrator, or help you quit smoking. It will, however, get you closer to that Android home launcher nirvana that you’ve been questing for over the years.
Let’s take a look at Solo Launcher to find out if it's for you.
Here are some of the features you can expect to see in Solo Launcher:
- Unread mail count
- Gestures (nine kinds of complex gestures)
- Quick start actions (for apps or widgets)
- Unlimited custom groups in drawer
- App drawer tabs (for better organization)
- Customized widgets for weather
- Clock weather, battery saver, and task manager widgets
- Compatible with themes of GO Launcher EX, Nova, ADW, Apex, Holo
- App hiding
- Seamless integration with Google services
- Transition effects for home screen and app drawer
- Customize desktop and app drawer columns and rows
- Built in Solo Launcher app store
Installing Solo Launcher is quite simple. Just follow these steps:
- Open the Google Play Store
- Search for solo launcher
- Locate and tap the entry for Solo Launcher (by Solo Launcher Team)
- Tap Install
- Tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
The first time you tap the home button, you'll be prompted to select your home launcher. Tap the listing for Solo Launcher, and then tap Just Once (to try it out).
When the launcher is loaded, what you’ll see very much resembles a standard Android KitKat home screen (Figure A).
Solo Launcher running on a Verizon-branded HTC One Max.
Clearly, the first thing you’ll want to do is delete all of the promotional icons on the home screen. Long-press them, one at a time, and then tap Remove from the pop-up menu. Here are some of the icons you might find come in handy:
- Solo Torch: Turns the LED flash on (if applicable), to be used as a flashlight (or torch)
- Solo Settings: Get quick access to the Solo Launcher settings
- Solo Play: Quick access to the Solo Play Store
- Solo Actions: Quick access to numerous actions (such as app drawer, recent apps, toggle notification bar, expand notifications, toggle dock, voice search, etc.)
Once you’ve cleared the home screen of unnecessary elements, it’s time to get to the heart of Solo Launcher, which is the configuration.
Configuring Solo Launcher
If you’ve removed the Solo Settings icon from the home screen, fear not — you can gain access to the settings by opening the app drawer, tapping the overflow menu (three vertical dots in the upper right corner), and then tapping Solo Settings.
From the Solo Settings screen, you'll first notice a red warning indicating you haven’t set Solo as the default launcher (Figure B). Ignore this until you know if Solo Launcher is right for you.
The Solo Launcher Settings window.
The Settings categories are fairly straightforward. Tap each to get an idea of what you can do with this home launcher. I won’t go through the gory details of every setting, but I will give you some examples of options to watch for.
One nice touch Solo has added is the ability to control how many columns and rows are available in both the home screen and the app drawer. This comes with a caveat — if you up the number too much, you’ll compress the icons until you can’t read the text. To get around this, you must first shrink the Home Icon Size. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open the app drawer
- Tap the overflow menu
- Tap Solo Settings
- Tap Home Screen
- Scroll down until you see the Home Icon Size slider
- Slide the slider to the left to about 70% (Figure C)
Setting the Home Icon Size in Solo Launcher.
Now, go back to the Home Screen section of Settings and tap Desktop Columns. Up that number to 6. Change the Desktop Rows to the same number. Tap the home button and see if both icons and text are readable. You may have to adjust either the Home Icon Size again or select a lower number of columns and/or rows. After playing around with this, you should get a perfect storm of settings that allows you to increase the number of launcher icons you have on your home screen. For those of you who prefer to have a chessboard of icons for quick access to everything on your phone, this set up will be ideal.
Unread message count
Solo Launcher has a nice integrated message count system. For each applicable app, you can set an unread message count badge on that apps icon. The badge can be set to live on any of the four corners of the app, and you can set default apps for certain actions (such as setting Hangouts for missed message instead of the default Messages app).
To configure unread message counts, go to Solo Settings | Unread Counts. From within this window (Figure D), configure your badge style (the color of the badge), the position, and what apps you want to display unread messages.
Configuring unread message counts in Solo Launcher.
Once set up, you’ll see the unread badge show up on the individual apps (Figure E).
Unread Gmail message count.
Create app drawer groups
One of my favorite features of Solo Launcher is the ability to create groups for the app drawer. This allows you to navigate your apps more easily. To set this up, do the following:
- Open the app drawer
- Tap the overflow menu
- Tap Solo Settings
- Tap App Drawer
- Scroll down and tap Add Group
- Tap the plus sign [+]
- Give the group a name (Figure F)
- Select all of the apps you want to include in the group
- If you want to hide the grouped apps from the main drawer, tap the option to disable
- Tap Save to save the new group
Creating a new app drawer group.
Now, when you open the app drawer, you’ll see new the new groups as tabs at the top of the screen (Figure G). Tap one of the new groups to gain quick access to the associated apps.
Better app organization with Solo Launcher.
Solo Launcher has plenty of configuration options while remaining close to the default look and feel of the KitKat home launcher. Many users will welcome the extra settings.
What about you? Does the Android platform already have too many options, or is that what drew you to Android in the first place? Personally, I’d like to see some of these options make it into the Android home launcher defaults. Share your opinion 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 jackwallen.com.