23
Aug
Last Updated: July 24th, 2011

Modder’s Monday is a weekly column about rooting, hacking, and other forms of modifying Android written by Jaroslav Stekl, a man who spends his days coding, hacking, hiking, and of course, writing for Android Police.

One of the many things that I love about Android, especially after spending several years with an iPhone, is how customizable it is - right out of the box. You can change your keyboard, tweak the status bar to make it work any way you like, change apps’ icons, and even install home replacements that alter how your homescreen works. The best part about all this? No hacking, rooting, or other form of voiding your warranty is required. In fact, all that is needed is a trip to the Android Market and a careful read through this edition of Modder’s Monday.

Home Replacements

One would think that replacing the way you interact with your phone after a press of the home button would require intense hacking, but alas, a simple download from the Market will do.

For starters, I’d recommend ADW.Launcher since it’s completely free, requires very little technical know-how, and works with a wide variety of themes. No, it doesn’t introduce any mind-blowing new features, but who could resist theming out their Android device in such hilarious ways as the ADW iDroid theme:

or perhaps you're more into summer blockbusters:

You get the point. ADW.Launcher is the way to go if you’re into totally theming out your device.

So what about widgets? Launcher Pro is the way to go. Although you can’t install add-ons like you can for ADW.Launcher, you can add up to seven homescreens (and you can delete them, too, if you want), have a dock with up to fifteen icons (you swipe left and right to switch between rows of them), and of course, carbon copies of the People, Bookmarks, Calendar, and Messaging widgets from HTC’s Sense UI (all of which are gorgeous, even if Federico Carnales, the developer, put very little work into them).

Of course, ADW.Launcher and Launcher Pro aren’t the only home replacements out there, even if they are the most popular ones. Let’s check out some others:

  • LiveHome provides a 3D dock as well as an online wallpaper downloads center
  • SlideScreen provides an interface based on information like Stocks and Facebook rather than apps

  • PandaHome provides two docks, one that drops down from the top, and another lifting up from the bottom

    Keyboards

    Let’s face it: the stock Android keyboard is a disaster. The keys are hard to hit, hard to discern, and somehow manage to provide an average accuracy rate of about 40-50% (not really, but it’s close). While some manufacturers pack their own keyboards, there are almost always better alternatives to be found in the Market.

    My personal favorite is SwiftKey Beta. On first sight, it doesn’t look like anything more than a regular keyboard with rather large keys, but when you dig deeper, you discover its amazing word prediction system. While other keyboards, like the one included in HTC’s Sense UI, have prediction systems that guess at the word you’re writing while you’re halfway through it, SwiftKey starts guessing before you even start typing the word. Unfortunately, it only works its magic when you’re pecking out an email, chatting in GTalk, and a few other instances, but at least for me, that’s enough to make it a keeper.

    The keyboard that everyone knows and loves (and that used to be my favorite) is, of course, Swype. Infamous for allowing users to simply trace a pattern across the letters they’d like to type out, the keyboard does wonders for speed (if not accuracy). Too bad it’s got such an annoying autocorrect system and it’s only available via beta invite (or on devices that ship with it).

    SlideIt is essentially another version of Swype, only it’s available in the Market and comes in a paid version (€5.99) and a demo version (free).

    There are, of course, a number of other keyboards, including:

  • Better Keyboard costs $2.99 and provides a BlackBerry Storm-esque experience, only with a respectable autocorrect system.
  • ThickButtons is another interesting take on word prediction: the size of the keys changes as you type. Why? How? The keys it thinks you’re going to hit next in order to finish typing the word are the ones that get larger. Unfortunately, it’s less useful than it sounds due to the huge learning curve required.
  • Crocodile Keyboard is a crude, €2.00 joke of a keyboard.

    With A Cherry On Top: Status Bar

    For such a small space, Android’s status bar fits quite a bit. Out of the box you can pull it down to see details on your emails, missed calls, texts, and other notifications as well as view the time, network strength, and battery level. If you spend a little time in the Market, however, you’ll be able to make it do even more.

  • Date Status Bar does exactly what its name implies: it puts the date in the status bar rather than just the time.
  • Memory Status is made by the same developer as Date Status Bar and displays the internal memory or SD card memory in the status bar
  • Battery Percentage puts the exact percentage of the battery level in the status bar, though it isn’t always 100% accurate
  • Status Toggle puts a WiFi on/off toggle in the drop down menu from the status bar.

    Conclusion

    Needless to say, there are countless more ways to customize your Android device without rooting it and therefore voiding your warranty, most of which will be covered in some way, shape, or form on Android Police in the future. For now, if you have any favorites yourself, feel free to share them below in the comments section.

  • Jaroslav Stekl
    Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

    • (gj)droid

      I'm pretty surprised to see someone recommend ADW Launcher OVER LauncherPro. I've used both and LP is at least two times faster/responsive; if not more than that when you turn up the speed settings. Applications menu scrolls at 1:1 speed with your thumb, etc. ADW is slow and clunky from the very first use. Also, the customization possibilities of LP are also virtually limitless - you just have to know what you're doing. Although ADW is easier to customize via random Market skins (if you find a good one, all they contain are dock skins and icons that are available for any dock.) I guess what I'm saying is, if I didn't care about the speed and performance, I'd use the Sense UI that's standard with my Incredible.

      I'm not trying to trash ADW, it's a good app. It's possible that maybe ADW performs better on Vanilla ROMs like the Nexus One or something - but from my experience, it's not even a contest.

      PS - The team behind Cyanogenmod(s) only uses ADW because it's the best open source/free home app available. LP is not an open source app. I'm almost certain I've read a comment in the forums (XDA maybe) from one of their devs saying they would use LP if it was an option.

      • http://iWebadroid.com Jaroslav Stekl

        At no point in my article did I recommend using ADW.Launcher over LauncherPro; I recommended both for different tasks (ADW.Launcher for themes, LauncherPro for widgets).
        However, if I was forced to choose one, I would go ADW.Launcher. As it is currently, I use a variety of ROMs and HTC's Sense UI (yes, I like Sense).

      • Elderon

        Adw has many options which can drastically increase speed. If you can't manage to get a reasonable speed from the Launcher then you probably should take a look at how you manage your phone.
        Mine flies with zero lag. Maybe it lags when you have 7 screens all filled with widgets and icons.

        But that is probably more of a device memory issue. Personally I don't see what the fuss over speed is with LP, I can going from one end to the other in adw with one flick, no lag and I can tune it to be faster, but whwhat's the point?

    • (gj)droid

      I guess I did misread it, and I apologize for that. I thought it said ADW is the way to go, as in period.

      Wasn't paying attention, my bad. Also you've caused me to give ADW another try - maybe I didn't give it enough love!

      Thanks for the other links - I stumbled across Battery Indicator Pro via the links...then I found a zip to hide the default battery icon in the status bar. Cool. Again, sorry.

      • http://androidpolice.com Jaroslav Stekl

        No prob, man!

        Again, I don't use either. Despite the argument against rooting (voiding warranty, bricking your phone, etc.), I'm a big hacker and I think you'll find future editions of Modder's Monday to be more focused on rooting. Hope I didn't give anything away!

      • Westy

        I think its purely a matter of opinion. I personally like launcher pro more because of the dock. He does take his jabs at Launcher pro development by pointing out the widgets and how they it didnt take much for the developer to create them since they are just like the HTC Senses UI.

        I think both are cool, i would like some features from ADW such as how the hide status bar works on there and being able to just load up themes.

    • Casey

      I've used launcher and adw and I think adw is better because you have cool themes to use and its very quick on my vibrant. No lag at all. Awd now has icon packs that you can use to change your icons and they are all part of the themes that you get from the app market.

    • Christian Mello

      I'd pick ADW.launcher over LP any day for its sheer amount of customization options :-) And to any complaining about clunkiness, you have obviously not played with the scrolling speeds. Also, the newly introduced screen moving/adding tool! Not to mention that Anderwebs is awesome ;-)

    • jm

      ADW launcher is the more elegant of all the launchers for Android phones. It has a lot of customizations and even allows you to keep backups of your arrangements. It is very smooth and does not stop functioning as often as the other launchers do. I have the DroidX and I hate the Blur, or whatever you want to call it, launcher that comes with it. ADW nicely kicks it into the background to be seen no more. It also has the pinch that allows you to see all your screens at the same time a la HTC Sense. That is a very useful feature indeed. The only thing that is left out, for obvious reasons, are screen transitions which tend to be distracting rather than useful. Oh, and no distracting adds.

    • http://noland-politicamenteincorrecto.blogspot.com/ Noland

      Jaroslav Stekl ha hecho un excelente artículo sobre dos grandes aplicaciones y dio su opinión particular, con la que coincido.
      Si prefieres una u otra es tu decisión, si prefieres una u otra cualidad, elige el que más te convenga.
      Pero irritarse por tener una opinión distinta demuestra como y quien eres.

      Gracias Jaroslav Stekl por tu artículo y a los comentaristas dignos de ser leídos.

    • Louicifer

      I know this was from two years ago but I'm using panda home and I can't hide my status bar, its very frustrating, anybody know how?