Customize Your Phone's Home Screen
App makers offer an incredibly diverse array of options to customize your Android phone, with launchers ranging from minimalist skins to those that put an explosive array of color on your smartphone. A good launcher can give your phone a total makeover, from changing the look and feel with different icons and themes, to adding new functionality such as smart folders and search assistants. The Pixel 3 may have refreshed the stock Android home screen experience last fall, but there's more than one launcher for your phone. Here's a closer look at some of the best.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Let's start with the default launcher on Google's Pixel phones. Pixel Launcher is clean, attractive and fast, sporting features like notification dots, the current weather conveniently located at the top of the screen, intelligent app suggestions, and of course, quick access to Google search. It’s only for Google’s Pixel devices, though with a little trickery you can sideload the APK yourself on an Android 9 Pie phone.
Even if you don't have a Pixel phone, you can still field some Android Oreo-style features with the free and open source Lawnchair project. Lawnchair provides a mostly stock experience mirroring the Pixel launcher, with its Android Oreo-style shortcuts and app notification dots. But it also includes support for app icon packs, configurable icon and grid sizes, dock customizations and more. A Lawnfeed add-on also provides Google Now support if you want it.
Smart Launcher 5
Smart Launcher has long been one of our low-key favorites with its simple "flower" favorites grid and sorted app folder, and the latest version, Smart Launcher 5, adds a ton of features and refinements. Smart Launcher's flower grid is still available, but it's joined by a number of other well thought-out layouts designed to keep your favorite apps within easy reach of one hand, while smart search and an intelligently sorted and customizable app drawer makes it easy to find whatever you need, whether on your phone or out in the web. Adaptive icons and colors, fully resizable widgets, and more customizations round out the package, making for a great update to a classic launcher. However, you'll need to shell out $7 for the Pro version to access the many of those extra features, including pop-up widgets and expanded gesture controls.
A Pixel-like launcher from the team behind the popular Substratum theming engine, Hyperion Launcher is an extremely customizable Android launcher app that lets you tweak a vast array of settings. Besides the standard wallpapers and widgets, users can configure a gamut of settings for themes, folders, transparencies, animations, icon packs and adaptive icons. Hyperion provides a ton of its features for free, but others — like launcher-level font changes and custom gestures — are unlocked with an in-app purchase for the Pro version.
Niagara is a lean Android launcher designed to keep your notifications front and center, while keeping other distractions to a minimum. Notifications are displayed right on your home screen, with spam and persistent notifications automatically filtered out. The app drawer automatically surfaces your favorite apps, while also providing handy alphabetical shortcuts. That said, Niagara's extreme minimalism means that you shouldn't be expecting any unusual visual frills and options you might expect from most third-party launchers.
BlackBerry may be all but out of the hardware game, but it’s still making a big push into Android software. The BlackBerry Launcher is built to work with the BlackBerry Hub+, which which consolidates all of your emails, text messages, and other notifications into a centralized spot for quick access and response. Get the launcher and hub together to try them out, even if you don’t have a BlackBerry-branded phone.
Xiaomi's Poco F1 might not be widely available in the US, but you can get a taste of the Poco Launcher through the Play Store. The Poco Launcher deviates from Xiaomi's usual design sensibilities, offering an app drawer complete with smart category tabs that automatically sort apps into groups like Communication and Photography. The launcher offers a customizable screen layout, transition effects, icon pack support, and notification badges. It doesn't offer as many deep customizations as rival launchers, but it does look nice and is designed to be on the streamlined end of things.
Where other launchers might offer up decluttering visual customizations, AIO Launcher is all about cramming as much info as possible on your screen in a relatively spartan format. The app displays your frequently used apps, as well as system information, recently received calls, messages and email, as well as upcoming calendar events and more. While AIO Launcher is free, in-app purchases unlock other features such as widget support, app icons, and Android notifications in the home screen stream. It's not the friendliest interface out there, but an interesting choice if information density isn't a turn-off for you.
ADW Launcher 2
The original ADW Launcher was a ridiculously good and versatile launcher back in the day, though it eventually fell by the wayside as it languished without updates. Enter ADW Launcher 2, which brings the app back to the fore as a modern Android launcher. ADW Launcher 2 offers a wealth of features and customization options, such as a dynamically colored interface based on your wallpaper, an indexed app drawer, transitions, icon badges, app categorization and more. It also supports new Android features, including the app shortcuts found in Android 7.1.
Evie Launcher gives you a clean, minimalist setup that feels very similar to stock Android. There’s also a clever slide-out bar on the left side that gives you quick access to all of your apps. Universal search means you can just start typing an app's name to find whichever one you need. Live wallpaper support, a custom app dock, and other features allow you to tweak your home screen and app drawer to your heart's content. Evie continues to add new features, such as expanded language support, as well as new app drawer and folder sorting settings.
Fast, sleek and highly customizable, long-running Nova Launcher is among the best modern Android launcher apps. Nova balances extensive appearance and utility customizations with a minimal performance impact, letting you set your home screen just right without slowing down performance. There are a lot of options to work through, from color themes to icon packs, scrollable docks to app drawer customizations, folder settings and infinite scrolling. The Nova team is never content to rest on its laurels, continuously adding new features, such as Sesame Shortcuts, animations, and Oreo improvements. Though, again, this is one of those cases where you'll need to spring for the premium paid version, Nova Launcher Prime, if you want access to the most powerful features.
Apex Launcher lives up to its name as another excellent Android launcher with a good balance of features and performance. Core features include the ability to customize the homescreen grid size, with up to nine screens, as well as a scrollable dock with up to five pages. Infinite scrolling, transition animations, numerous folder styles and multiple app drawer styles add even greater customization. The paid version unlocks more options, such as more drawer options, additional gestures and theme support.
ASAP Launcher is another app that focuses on providing a clean, no-nonsense interface so you can get back to whatever you really should be doing as soon as possible. ASAP sticks to a clean Material Design aesthetic, while using slide up app drawers and settings drawers to quickly bring your favored apps and device settings within easy reach. It's not aiming for personalization, but the launcher does feature a number of themes, as well as support for icon packs.
Lean Launcher is an open source launcher designed to mimic the official Pixel Launcher, even on unsupported Android phones, while offering a few more options than the root-free Pixel Launcher that it was based on. The minimalist look now also includes options to hide the search bar and customize the app grid. You also get a lockable home screen and support for icon packs as well as adaptive icons. Clean and no-nonsense while offering a decent amount of customizations, Lean Launcher is a good option for those looking for a slimmer launcher experience.
Big Launcher is designed with seniors, children and the visually impaired in mind. It uses large, simplified interface buttons to easily access common phone functions like calls, messaging, favorite contacts, and apps. The launcher is built to be easy to use and simple above all else — so don't expect a ton of fancy interface features — but it's a handy launcher to set up for friends and relatives who might have trouble with a more standard phone interface.
Action Launcher 3
Action Launcher 3 is among the first of the big third party launchers to give itself a Pixel-style makeover, combining its extreme customizability with new interface features and styles introduced with the Pixel launcher. Action Launcher now includes an adaptive app bar, the pill-shaped Google search bar, and Oreo-style app shortcuts (backward compatible to Android 5). A slide-out app drawer provides users with quick access to an app library and widgets, and special gestures such as "covers" and "shutters" allow for speedy access. Action Launcher automatically picks out dominant colors in your wallpaper and adjusts the app drawer, folder backgrounds and search box to match.
Microsoft rebranded its excellent Arrow Launcher into the Microsoft Launcher, keeping Arrow's compact, context-sensitive app pages and customizable feed, while also working to improve the interplay between your Android phone and Windows PC. Users can quickly snap photos from the phone and view them on their desktop; they can also open web links from mobile to Edge on PC, or start editing Office 365 documents from their PC and continue on the go with their mobile phone. All of this is in addition to Microsoft's universal search bar, customizable themes, and configurable gesture controls.
For people with a somewhat slow or older phone, the last thing you want to do is make things even worse with a resource hungry launcher. Thankfully, Hola Launcher lets you customize your phone without killing your performance. The entire launcher is just 2.5 MB in size, and even includes built-in memory boost feature to keep your phone zipping along. It also emulates the older, simpler stock Android launcher, which some users may prefer.
If you really want to get wacky with how your phone looks, check out Total Launcher. You can turn your home screen in a collection of giant circles, calendars and tabs that link to various apps. It’s one of the more original options to come along in a while, and you may want to check it out if you’re tired of the same old grid of icons.
More Android Apps
If you're also looking to find some new apps to enhance your mobile life, check out our slideshows about the best Android apps that aren't available on iOS and the top Android apps you're not using. Or if you think all of these customizations would be better utilized on a new phone, check out our list of our favorite Android phones on the market right now.