I've used plenty of home screen launchers over the years. Most of them seem a bit gimmicky, some of them are so minimal that they may as well be vanilla Android, and others rise above the rest. The most recent home screen launcher I've tested is Z Launcher (currently in beta). This launcher, created by Nokia and only available in certain regions, turns your home page into a global search interface that you interact with by drawing letters on the screen.
This home screen replacement is different than anything you've used to date, and it's really impressive. Say, for instance, you want to open the Chrome browser to the TechRepublic website. From the home screen, you can draw a "t" and some of the search results will start to show up. Now draw and "e" to filter the results even more. Eventually, you'll spell out the word and the link will appear (Figure A). Tap on that link to open the site.
Z Launcher running on a Verizon-branded Droid Turbo.
Z Launcher also learns from your usage. So, the few launchers listed on the screen will eventually change, based on the apps you most frequently use.
Now that your interest is piqued, let's install this home screen replacement and start using it.
Z Launcher should work on most Android device and can be found in the Google Play Store. Here's the installation process:
- Open the Google Play Store on your device
- Search for Z Launcher
- Locate and tap the entry by Nokia Apps LLC
- Tap Install
- Read the permissions listing carefully
- If the permissions are acceptable, tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
As with the installation of any new home screen launcher, when you press the home button on your device, you will be asked which launcher to use as the default. Go ahead and select Z Launcher and tap Always. If you don't want to continue using Z Launcher as your default, there's an easy way to reset the choice from within the Z Launcher settings.
When Z Launcher starts up for the first time, you'll walk through a brief tutorial (or you can just skip it). Once you're through that tutorial, you'll find yourself on the Z Launcher home screen (Figure B).
The Z Launcher home screen.
On the home screen, you'll see a list of most used apps (this changes as you use apps) a clock widget (which you can swipe to the right to display your next Google Calendar appointment — and tap to open that appointment in the Google Calendar app), and a dock. I've already highlighted how to find links, apps, contacts, etc. from the home screen (start drawing letters and they'll appear — it's very easy to figure out). But what if you want to hide an app from showing on the home screen? Simple:
- Long-press the name of the app (or contact or setting — whatever you want to hide)
- When the screen changes (Figure C), tap the Hide button
Hiding an app from the Z Launcher home screen.
You can also easily pin an app to the dock by long-pressing the app icon (on the right side of the screen) and then dragging the icon down to the dock.
To get to the Z Launcher settings, tap the app drawer button at the center of the dock, and then tap the gear icon near the top right (Figure D).
Locating the Z Launcher settings.
From the options, you can enable/disable web searching, change your web search options (from either Google or Baidu), check your Data Insight (insight into your popular actions), and reset the default launcher selection.
A lot of apps boast that their entry into the Android home screen launcher space does a great job of learning from your actions. However, none of them are nearly as good as Z Launcher. And the "scribbling" (the drawing of letters on the screen) is fantastic, fast, and recognition is spot on. As you "scribble," you'll find tons of suggestions based on what you've drawn, which means easy access to all of your data.
In the end, Z Launcher may or may not be just the launcher for you. It is a unique take on the home screen launcher — one that many will appreciate for the simplicity and speed of use. Although you won't find a vast array of options, Z Launcher is a home screen replacement that's incredibly efficient for both average and power users.
Do you play around with different home screen launchers? If so, which one do you prefer? Share your favorite 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.