I love a good user interface. Even better, I love a good minimalistic interface that offers a clean home screen with quick, easy access to apps. To get such an interface, depending on the launcher you use, a dock may be necessary. You'd be surprised to find out there aren't a plethora of viable docks in the Google Play Store. I've tracked down the dock apps that I believe are solid enough for everyday usage. Each offers a different take on the venerable dock. And although your current launcher may already offer a full-featured dock, you may find one of these superior.
Let's take a look at the gems that I've uncovered.
The Dock4Droid app is actually a dock and a task manager all in one — and, wow, is it awesome. This dock/task manager combo means you get immediate access to currently running apps, plus the ability to stick apps to the dock for quick launch (Figure A).
Dock4Droid running on a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto X.
Dock4Droid also features a handy quick-dial feature that allows you to add quick-dial contacts. With just a tap of a dock icon, you can call a contact. There are special "actions" that can be added to Dock4Droid (close icon, app info, home, back, etc). You can even configure the action to launch the apps from Dock4Droid (finger up, single tap, double tap).
There are two versions of this app: Lite (Dock4Droid) and paid (Dock4Droid Unlock). The Lite version is free and fully functional, while the paid version, which costs $1.99 (USD), adds extra functionality.
The pseudo-3D design of Dock4Droid should appeal to most Android users. The one element some might find a turn off is the lack of themes. In the paid version, you can adjust some of the appearance settings, but not much. This, of course, doesn't detract from how efficient and useful Dock4Droid is.
2. Ubuntu Launcher
Ubuntu Launcher will give you the look of a Ubuntu Unity desktop. What Unity fanboy or fangirl wouldn't want that? I will warn you, this is beta software that was created to simply mimic the look of Ubuntu desktop. It works very well (more so than most beta software), but it isn't the most flexible app that you'll ever use. With this app, you can add launchers to the "dash" (Figure B), and get quick access to your app drawer, by tapping the Ubuntu icon in the top left corner.
The Ubuntu Launcher ready for action.
The Ubuntu Launcher is limited in features — and again, it's really just a home screen that serves to resemble the Unity desktop. Be warned, this is not a dock you can add to your favorite launcher — Ubuntu Launcher is a launcher, in and of itself, that happens to add a dash-like dock for the Android platform. If you're a fan of Ubuntu Unity and want the look and (sort of) feel of your favorite desktop, this might be the one (until you get your Ubuntu Phone).
3. Action Launcher
Action Launcher will be getting a bit more coverage here at TechRepublic, because it's one of the most impressive launchers you'll find. It also offers one of the best docks for Android. What is unique to this Action Launcher is that it gives you two docks for the price of one — one for quick access to apps and one called the "Quick Page." The latter is a slide out dock that's actually a full-featured home screen (Figure C) that can be customized to fit your needs.
The Action Launcher Quick Page.
The left edge dock of Action Launcher is really just a slide out version of the app drawer and nothing more. If you purchase Action Launcher Pro for $3.99 (USD), you get access to a number of features that turn this into a stand-alone dock (which can be run even when Action Launcher isn't running), and you can even hide apps from the dock app drawer. The paid version also gives you the ability to change the look and feel of the both the dock and the Quick Page.
Well, did one of these apps rock your socks, or were you disappointed by the offerings? Are docks even the most efficient way to launch apps and interact with your smartphone or tablet? If not, what have you found to be the best interface for the Android platform? Share your thoughts 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.