Want to upgrade your Android experience? Try upgrading your launcher.
The way we arrange, organize, and interact with our apps on Android is called the launcher. Launchers usually consist of a series of home screens, where we can arrange app shortcuts and widgets and an app drawer. Every phone comes with a launcher, but when they drop the ball, there are endless third-party launchers that not only pick it up again but knock it clear out of the park.
Previous incarnations of this article have tried to claim that there is one launcher to rule them all, that there truly is a best launcher out there. I don’t believe that’s possible, even though I have a launcher I value over all others. You use your phone differently than I do, and I use my phone differently than my co-workers do or my friends or my family do. Everyone has their perfect launcher, but if you haven’t found your favorite yet, then here are a few launchers we think will satisfy users of every type.
Best light and easy launchers
Are you someone who doesn’t want to mess with a lot of bells and whistles? Do you just want to put your most-used apps front and center, maybe a widget or two, and get one with your Android experience? You want a fast launcher, a light launcher, one that doesn’t need a lot of fussing and tweaking, and these are the launchers for you.
Best light launcher: Evie Launcher
Evie Launcher is a lightweight launcher that just doesn’t quit and uses its few gestures in effective ways. First and foremost, like so many modern launchers, Evie has a swipe up gesture to open the app drawer. Another popular launcher gesture Evie offers is the ability to double-tap the screen to put your phone to sleep, either using the phone-locking Instant Lock or Smart Lock-friendly Timer Lock.
Evie is easy to set up and run with, but you can customize the desktop grid and turn gestures on and off as needed. It’s a quick launcher that’s also getting quick updates, so look forward to more optimizations and tweaks to help speed up your launcher experience. You can even back up your Evie layout and settings directly to Google Drive.
Runner-up: Microsoft Launcher
You’d think that if Microsoft was going to bring a launcher to Android it’d be a launcher that matches the launcher on Windows Phone — and you’d be wrong. Microsoft Launcher doesn’t look a thing like Windows Phone, and that’s great news. Not only is Microsoft Launcher a completely Android-native experience, but it’s a top-quality launcher to boot, and one of the few launchers besides Nova Launcher to offer edge-to-edge widget placement.
Microsoft Launcher is a browser that’s centered around a clean home screen with a robust dock, a smart feed centered around your Microsoft account and your daily phone use, and a speedy app drawer where you can easily find all your apps. Microsoft Launcher’s set up is a touch long-winded, but it’s a breeze to navigate. It’s not quite as bare-bones as Evie, but it is a light launcher that’s well-worth considering, especially if you have an Outlook account for work or school that it can tie into for email and calendar appointments.
Best customization launchers
Do you want full control over your home screens? Want to set more than just an app grid and a widget or two? Want to make your home screen look and act the way you want? Then you want a customization-based launcher. Often called theming launchers because theming is one of their more obvious uses, these launchers are for far more than just making your home screen look pretty; they’re for making your home screen function more efficiently and more effectively for your life.
By giving you control over gestures, advanced UI controls, and almost every aspect of your launcher experience, these launchers let you customize the way you interact with your phone in ways that truly exemplify the Android experience. These two customization-based launchers dominate much of the third-party launcher market, and there’s a very good reason: they’re awesome.
Best customization launcher: Nova Launcher
Nova Launcher is over six years old, and this storied launcher has been a major player in the Android launcher market longer than most of us have used Android. The reason for this continued dominance is simple: Nova’s mix of customization, convenience, and cunning is unparalleled. Nova lets your phone look more Pixel-y than a Pixel and more TouchWiz than a Galaxy S9 and does it with ease and grace. In fact, Nova’s biggest strengths are things that are hidden in plain sight, like its pocket ace Subgrid Positioning or its excellent backup system.
When we build themes for our Android Central readers, nine times out of 10 the launcher we use to build it and to share it with you is Nova Launcher. It’s an excellent launcher if you want to build complex themes or if you just want a smartly laid out launcher with excellent gesture controls.
Runner-up: Action Launcher
Action Launcher is one of the most popular launchers on the market, and the watchword of both the launcher and its users is QUICK. Quicktheme, Quickdrawer, Quickpage, Quickbar, quick, quick, quick. Action Launcher is determined to be a launcher that gets what you need to be done quickly so that you can get back to doing whatever you actually need to get done. To ensure that Action Launcher can be the quickest and best launcher for users who want to set everything up just so, Action Launcher has taken it upon itself to be one of the most customizable launchers on the market. From its robust gesture controls to its ubiquitous Covers and Shutters to hide folders and widgets under a seemingly plain looking app shortcut, no matter what you want to use, Action Launcher makes it easy to set up, even if its Quicktheme sometimes misses the mark.
Action Launcher is also quick to support features from the newest versions of Android, and it’s already started integrating some Android P flair. There’s a reason it’s the only launcher Phil uses: Action Launcher is damn good at what it does. While it’s not quite as intense as Nova Launcher, it’s a launcher that’s incredibly — well, quick — about getting you set up and on your way.
Honorable mention launchers
Now, there are launchers that don’t quite top the list for the lighter, easier quick launchers and can’t quite crack the intense theming prowess of Nova and Action. This doesn’t mean that these launchers aren’t awesome, and in an effort to highlight launchers with a standout feature or that serves a launcher niche excellently. After all, there are a lot of launchers out there, and there are a lot of ways to use them to interact with your apps.
Lawnchair Launcher was going to be added to this list, however the Lawnchair team just announced that they’re dialing back on the current version as they ramp up an overhauled v2. As such, while Lawnchair Launcher is a neat take on Launcher 3 — the AOSP launcher and base of Google’s Pixel Launcher — with some Pixel flair, edge-to-edge widget placement, and basic but beautiful theming, we’ll wait and see what Lawnchair v2 brings before adding it as the Best Early Access launcher.
Best app drawer: Smart Launcher 5
Smart Launcher has been around for a while, but this spring, Smart Launcher kicked things up a level or 2 with its jump from Smart Launcher 3 to Smart Launcher 5. The home screen features a new gridless widget-placement system, Smart Search has not only been overhauled, it allows you to switch search providers if you want to use something other than Big Brother Google.
But the real star of the show here is the app drawer. Smart Launcher 5 automatically sorts your apps into several categories, and if you pay for Smart Launcher Pro, you can even add your own custom categories and sort your various drawer tabs in a variety of ways, from most-used to install time to even icon color!
Smart Launcher 5 has a lot here to like, from a responsive and comprehensive categorical app drawer to some of the most precise widget placement on Android to the most diverse icon options on the market. Its gestures are also top-notch, especially the double-tap shortcuts that can at least double the functionality of every app on your home screen.
Best business launcher: BlackBerry Launcher
BlackBerry has made something of a comeback since its migration to Android a few years ago, and nowhere is this more apparent than BlackBerry Launcher, which is openly available on Google Play. BlackBerry Launcher is a stable launcher that eases Android newcomers into the many, many possibilities available in an Android launcher today. Part of this is by necessity, as millions of government and enterprise users are introduced to Android and what an Android launcher can do through DOD-certified BlackBerry phones.
From pop-up widgets that can appear with the swipe of an icon to one of the easiest-to-understand Shortcut galleries I’ve seen on Android to a no-nonsense approach to launcher settings and customization, BlackBerry Launcher lets you get things set up just the way you like them and then streamline your launcher experience for efficiency.
BlackBerry Launcher’s keyboard shortcuts are the best on Android
Keyboard shortcuts on BlackBerry Launcher are exclusive to BlackBerry’s physical keyboard phones, but they offer unparalleled ease and versatility. In the esteemed words of our own Jerry Hildenbrand:
My KEYone and its keyboard shortcuts let me keep my home screen blank and I just long press a keyboard key to open the app I want to open: "A" for the AC app, "C" for Chrome, "G" for Gmail, "K" for Slack, and "S" for Signal. This keeps me from tapping things with my bumbling fingers or worrying about things happening in my pocket.
As a business-geared launcher, BlackBerry Launcher offers a premium experience, and rather than paying a one-time fee for the launcher, BlackBerry Launcher relies upon a BlackBerry Hub subscription to eliminate its ads after 30 days. Or you could buy a BlackBerry phone and get access to the best launcher shortcuts on Android.
What’s your favorite?
Do you have a favorite launcher? What’s on your Android phone now? Sound off in the comments below.
Updated May 2018: Best Launchers has been updated to reflect new features and expanded outside the traditional quick and custom launcher categories with some honorable mention launchers.
May 17, 2018 at 07:04AM