07
Aug
thumb

We've been talking about Chameleon Launcher for a few months now, and despite getting off to a bit of a rocky start, the beta is now officially available for some testers and Kickstarter backers. I've spent the last several days playing with the launcher on a couple different tablets, and, despite the fact that it's still in beta, have been generally impressed.

1

For the unaware, Chameleon is a new type of launcher designed specifically for Android 3.0+ tablets. It takes a different approach than "traditional" launchers by turning the homescreens into size-adjustable, seamless hubs of information. For the time being, it only offers a handful of different "widgets," including GMail, weather, Twitter, Instagram, and news (RSS). The Chameleon team purposely limited the amount of available widgets in the initial release, as the entire goal of this first beta is to work out the basic kinks before introducing new features. Read: don't worry, more widgets are coming.

When Chameleon is first launched, you're greeted by a completely blank homescreen with a customizable scrolling dock at the bottom, context editor (more on that in a bit) on the bottom-left, and app tray on the bottom-right. A long-press on the homescreen brings up the customization menu, which keeps it simple and offers but two options: widgets and wallpaper.

Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-22-45 Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-38-32

As I've already mentioned, the current iteration of Chameleon only offers five different widget variations. While it doesn't yet cover a wide range of information that most users would want to keep on their homescreen, what it does offer works pretty well. Each widget is resizable on a 4x4 (10" tablets) or 4x2 (7" tablet) grid, and dynamically adjusts to display as much information as possible with the amount of space it's given (for the most part, anyway).

Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-39-27 Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-03-18 Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-03-46

Left: TF201; Right: Nexus 7

This brings me to the first negative aspect of Chameleon: support for 7" devices seems like nothing more than an afterthought at this point. Here's what I think happened: the Chameleon team spent an awful lot of time optimizing the layout of the launcher for 10" devices, and then the Nexus 7 was announced. They had no choice but to scramble and try to get a working build for smaller devices, and it shows. First off, a 4x2 grid just doesn't offer enough space. With a resolution of 1280x800, there's no reason the N7 (or other 7" tablets with a similar resolution) can't support a 4x4 grid like its larger brethren (which could actually use a larger grid, as well). Ultimately, I would love to see a user-customizable grid. That would be superb. 

In the current version, the weather widget doesn't use the layout in an intelligent manner when made full-screen. I'm not sure that anyone would actually want a full-screen weather widget, but for anyone who may, just know that it doesn't make good use of the screen real estate right now (especially in landscape mode). Since most of the other widgets are text-based, they end up scaling fine for the most part. It's worth noting that I almost feel like this is a moot point, given Chameleon's intended use: with clusters of information filling the homescreens, not just single widgets expanded across the screen's entirety.

Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-00-28

Look at all that unused space!

Chameleon also has this neat feature that will automatically switch up your homescreens depending on certain variables, such as Wi-Fi network, location, and time of day by using the aforementioned context editor. For example, if you want to see your GMail and the weather first thing in the morning, you can have a specific homescreen set up that will display at a certain time. Then, you can use the location variable to have it switch to something else, like news, Twitter, and Instagram when you get to the office (because social networking is always more fun when working).

Screenshot_2012-08-07-12-59-36 Screenshot_2012-08-07-14-01-24

While I realize Chameleon is still in beta, during my time with it I've had numerous ANRs (Android not responding) and FCs (force close). This happened regardless of which tablet I used it on, and after the most recent update on the TF700 (to version .26), it wouldn't load at all. Before the update, however, it was clear that the Chameleon team hasn't yet optimized the launcher for new higher-resolution Android tablets, as the background of the app tray (which is hideous, by the way) was far too small. Again, that's something I feel like is worth a mention but should still be taken with a grain of salt since this is still a very limited beta. I'm sure the Chameleon team is well aware of these sorts of issues and is actively working to fix them before the launcher sheds the beta tag.

Screenshot_2012-08-02-21-07-42 Screenshot_2012-08-07-12-05-25 Screenshot_2012-08-02-18-57-05

On the TF700

Despite all of its current quirks, though, I really like where Chameleon is going. For the time being, I definitely prefer it on 10" tablets, as I just don't find it nearly as practical on the smaller screen because of the nearly-useless 4x2 grid. Also, at this point, I simply prefer the stock launcher on the Nexus 7, as it provides access to basically all the information I could possibly want. With that said, I love using Chameleon as a standalone app, which I find to be a very practical solution when used in conjunction with the stock launcher.

Moving forward, I'm eager to see what new widgets the Chameleon team offers, and I would love to see some sort of integration with existing Android widgets (which is probably unlikely). Even if the latter never materializes, the Chameleon team is eventually going to make an SDK available so third-party developers can create their own widgets designed specifically for the launcher. From what I gather, it's all done in HTML, so the processes should be quite simple. I just hope that developers embrace this feature; otherwise, I'm not sure I could leave the stock launcher behind, and would likely end up using Chameleon as nothing more than a standalone information hub.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Kevin Niven

    Still cant get in and haven't received my email with any code. I did the kick starter. Anyone get an email yet??

    • kindrudekid

      well you are not alone my dear friend! same here waiting since ages
      the new update said
      "Just to give everyone a heads up. Your inboxes should in the very near future hold a Chameleon Beta registration invite.
      We are working though some pretty large lists and emails can only be sent so fast. All Kickstarters from 5$ and up should have invites in their hand by end of day tomorrow."

      this was posted on August 6th

      and today is august 7 and its almost over!!!

    • LAnce

      I Got mine invite from them today,they did say it could take "up to a week" but yup, nothing worse than waiting for something that other people allready have!

    • ericl5112

      I haven't. They did an update yesterday and said everyone should have their code by tonight. Can't wait to try it out.

    • thistimearound

      I got an e-mail saying that I'd get an e-mail. Reminded me of my time in the corporate world where we'd have meetings about the meetings we would be having.

  • http://profiles.google.com/stermi Emanuele Ricci

    Need moar widgets!!!!!

    • Jon Garrett

      more

  • http://twitter.com/ro1224 Robert Oliveira

    I got my email overnight. Have patience; it's coming - there would be no point in overwhelming their servers and causing a crash (and needless further delays)

  • http://www.facebook.com/alcaron Paul Fulbright

    I don't think the context aspect is worth a damn. There are not enough widgets to make it worthwhile. If I wanted, say, my work email to show when I am on works wifi and personal email to show when I'm not, I'm SOL, because theres no other email widgets. And I cannot use a third party widget because it isn't written for/by chameleon.

    So really the context is pointless, I could, maybe hide my facebook? Different news feeds?

    Nothing very compelling about the experience in my opinion, and I honestly do not see how this is going to be stable enough to ship in a moth, month and a half.

    Now, maybe a year from now, when they have (if, they have) written a widget for the stuff you could actually want to do, ok. But right now, this just isn't impressive and I wont be replacing the stock launcher with it.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      You didn't actually read the review, did you?

      "The Chameleon team purposely limited the amount of available widgets in the initial release, as the entire goal of this first beta is to work out the basic kinks before introducing new features. Read: don't worry, more widgets are coming."

  • http://twitter.com/rohanXm Rohan Mathur

    I personally don't like being limited to only one homescreen without having easy access to the other ones (you gotta go and hit the button, select the home screen you want). I love stock in the sense that im a swipe away from my homescreens with new info.

    And yes, I have tried it already (I got it via... unofficial means).

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      No you don't. You can swipe back and forth, just like any other launcher.

      • http://twitter.com/rohanXm Rohan Mathur

        Really? Hmm I guess I didn't spend enough time with it. I'll download it again. Thanks!

        • http://www.facebook.com/salustio.solohueso Salustio Solohueso

          Yes you can. Many people are jumping into conclusions without even testing the whole thing. It is the first beta, think about it.

    • zesus

      same here i got it by unofficial means, going to try it on my paranoid android rom

  • Jonathan Wong

    I particularly like Chameleon because all the widgets are consistent. Perhaps Chameleon could support add-ons that adds widgets from other apps?

  • http://www.facebook.com/vivecuervo7 Isaac Dedini

    I have a question for everyone - does/can this run in portrait mode? I don't think it was mentioned in the review, but I might put my Note back to tablet mode just to see if I can run it. I'll miss my home screen music controls, however.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      Yep, it sure can.

      • http://www.facebook.com/vivecuervo7 Isaac Dedini

        Ok, thanks for the heads up. I'm looking forward to checking it out!

    • PointZeroOne

      It doesn't, they said this early on in the kickstarter

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

        That's incorrect. It runs fine in both portrait and landscape.

        • PointZeroOne

          Ok cool, just remember them saying as part of a design thing it'd be landscape only. Guess they changed that.

      • jusatin

        It does, or atleast you can turn your tablet into portrait mode, and the app will move your widgets with you. (Althou when you turn the screen back the widgets are missplaced)

        • PointZeroOne

          Is someone deleting comments? A mod had replied to this already. And I see another post I made isn't on this comments section any more

          • http://www.facebook.com/vivecuervo7 Isaac Dedini

            Yeah I noticed that as well. Strange, but anyway thanks for the replies guys, I'll give this a shot tomorrow perhaps.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

            Yeah, not sure what's up with that. Looks like Disqus is eating comments again.

    • falter

      Works fine on my A500 - widgets all snapped in to place fine after rotating

  • PointZeroOne

    Really feels limited with only being given a 4x2 on my device. Galaxy Tab 7.7

    But I can't see yet if I'll take advantage of it all or not yet because I don't use any of the widgets they've released with it yet.

  • bungadudu

    Let's face it. It's an over-hyped crap!
    After I received my email, downloaded, used it for 2 mins I turned off the tablet.

    • PointZeroOne

      It's a beta and not final product....

      • wolfkabal

        This is true - it's beta - but I'm with @bungadudu:disqus - especially it's usage on a 7" tablet. Rather useless.

  • http://twitter.com/SoWhy Prof. Professorson

    I'd like to try it but I'm unwilling to pay money for an app that I might not like but there is no way to testdrive it - during a beta everyone should be able to try it, that's the only feasible way to get a large number of testers.

    • PJ Willman

      Well they have a sample of around 16,000, which isn't too bad. You can try it when it hits 1.0.

    • PointZeroOne

      except this was funded by a Kickstarter. They can do the beta how ever they want

      • http://twitter.com/SoWhy Prof. Professorson

        Of course they can do it however they want. I just think they should do it another way

  • mmaria452

    Does anyone have the link and don't mind putting it up.. I'm still learning about android.. I've learned so much from xda developers and want to thnk everyone ...Hope sumone can put link up....Thnx..

    • wolfkabal

      This isn't open to the public, you have to be a part of the Kickstarter or otherwise authorized to used the beta. You have to register and associate your Play store account with them for validation.

  • Rob

    Chameleon is not worth your time or money. What it is is a series of widgets on a a couple of nice looking backgrounds. That's it in it's entirety. You have very little control over where you place the widgets (there is a strict grid pattern to use) or how much you can resize them (according to this grid pattern) and when you resize them smaller these widget they lose a lot of info (ie what they display). Only widgets desgined by Chameleon can be used and right now there are only 5 (twitter, gmail, facebook, instagram, and news...with very limited sources), so forget about using any widgets from your favorite apps unless chameleon deigns to create one in the future. These widgets also have limited functionality and you have no control over that limited functionality. Say you want to manually set your location on a weather app, or set your facebook app to update manually or perhaps every two hours instead of one. You are out of luck, it's chameleons way or the highway. Want an app (not a widget) on your desktop, well you can but only along the bottom edge of the screen and only five. Have multiple gmail accounts and would like notifications for each one better be prepared to have multiple large widgets taking up screen real estate or your out of luck. As for the supposed context wonderfeature, it's been tried before. Do you really want to have to jump through extra hoops to do something because it is a certain time of day or you are logged on to a certain network, if you like those extra steps then this is for you, if you like everything ready to go at your finger tips when and where you want it then this is best left alone. For crying out loud hitting the home button at the bottom of your screen doesn't even take you to your homescreen. This home screen replacement has limited functionality, so unless twitter, facebook, and instagram updates are your entire world (and even then there are better widgets included with other apps) this app will not be worth even 15 minutes (the refund window) of your time. If you have broader interests, and need something that you can set up exactly how you want it, to be useful for work and play AVOID THIS HOMESCREEN.

    • Kevin Niven

      Agree!

      • http://www.facebook.com/salustio.solohueso Salustio Solohueso

        Rob, you will need to wait before coming to a conclusion. One thing that proves that you are talking too early, you can have more than five shortcuts to applications at the bottom of the screen, just drag and drop. Take it easy.

    • Cuvis

      Aren't you jumping the gun on that a bit? This is a very, very early beta, after all, and far from feature-complete.