The Best Android Launchers

Customize Your Home Screen with an Android Launcher

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I say it all the time. The best thing about Android is that you can customize it endlessly. Without even rooting your device, you can easily change default apps, install third-party keyboardscustomize your lock screen, and tweak your settings to save battery life and reduce data consumption. An app launcher is just one more way you can easily personalize your Android experience.

So, What's an Android Launcher?

The home screen is the main interface on your mobile device; your Android may also have a skin provided by the manufacturer.

This is how you access, launch, and manage your apps. If you don't like your launcher, then you'll really start hating your smartphone or tablet pretty quickly. We can't have that. A launcher app takes over your home screen, offering themes, app icons, app folders, and tons of customization. With most, you can resize elements on your screen, organize your apps the way you want them, change colors and design, create shortcuts, and even change how you interact with your home screen. This includes gesture and swipe controls that you can set based on the apps you most frequently use. The best launchers have wide compatibility, going back to Android Kitkat (4.4) or earlier and up to Marshmallow. Most launchers are free though some offer paid versions with upgraded features.

Top-Rated Launchers

Nova Launcher is by far the most popular launcher according to reviews, primarily because it lets you, the user, design the look and feel rather than rely on prepackaged designs.

With it, you can choose the number of apps that can be displayed on your screen, the size and design of app icons, the overall color scheme, and more. Nova Launcher is free, with a paid Prime version ($4.99, though it's often on sale in the Google Play Store.) The paid version offers additional features such as gestures, custom tabs and folders, and the ability to hide apps that you don't use but can't remove, such as bloatware installed by your carrier or manufacturer.

 The app offers a two-hour refund period should you change your mind.

Also very popular is Apex Launcher, which offers similar features including up to nine home screens that you can cycle through when you get bored and replacement icons for stock Android apps. You can also hide any elements you don't want, like the persistent Google search bar, and lock your screen to prevent unintentional tweaks. For $3.99, you can upgrade to the Pro version, which adds gesture control and support for themes from other launcher apps.

Other top-rated launchers include Go Launcher (free with in-app purchases), which offers more than 10,000 themes, and Aviate, which groups your apps together based on how you use them, and can even predict your activities. For instance, if you plug in your headphones, Aviate will offer shortcuts to music and audio apps. If you have a phone running an older operating system, you can install the Google Now Launcher, which adds Google Now integration to your smartphone, so you can swipe left to launch it, and say "OK Google" to start using voice commands. (Or you can update your Android OS.)

Customization Without Rooting

The best thing about Android launchers? You don't have to root your smartphone in order to install one and enjoy all its features.

Using a launcher is a great way to customize your device if you're not ready to dive into the world of rooting. It removes many of the restrictions that your carrier or manufacturer may have placed on your device, such as how you can manage and organize your apps. Try one and you won't know how you got along without one.

On the other hand, if these launchers have limitations you can't live with, rooting your device isn't that difficult. Doing so has small risks and large rewards, and means that you can access custom ROMs including CyanogenMod and Paranoid Android.