Apex might be the last of the major launcher replacements to get a redesign for Android 5.0's visual style, but it certainly doesn't want to be the least. Apex's 3.0 update adds new Lollipop animations and a completely revamped visual style, making it more or less homogenous with Google's own launcher, but with the range of settings and tweaking options that customization fans crave. You can download the standard Apex Launcher for free, with the $4 upgrade app available for more options.
Nova is a homescreen launcher replacement that doesn't look like one, an option that feels about as close to stock as anything non-stock can—except immediately following the release of a new version of Android. During that time, Nova looks slightly dated, harking back to a distant past known to us as several months ago (or, for the majority of devices out there, the present). But without fail, an update comes that brings Nova users the look and feel of Google's latest homescreen.
Here's the thing about customization on Android, or any other interface for that matter: it's time-consuming. Whenever I try out a new launcher, I end up testing every option and toggle just to see if I like it, which inevitably means bouncing back and forth between the homescreen and the Settings menu for the launcher to see the results. It takes forever, which is why I've generally given up on fun things like themes and icon packs.
It seems like it's hard to find a non-Nexus device that uses anything close to stock Android. Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Asus, Acer - everywhere you look there are customizations to a greater or lesser extent. Even Motorola, formerly Google's own subsidiary, uses a custom launcher. Chinese manufacturer ZTE is looking to break that trend, however. The company is planning to launch new smartphones that use the Google Now Launcher (AKA the Google Experience Launcher) by default.
It looks like the "OK, Google" search hotword has now become a standard feature for advanced Android launchers. Nova Launcher added the search function in its 3.0 update earlier this month, and now its biggest competitor, Apex, has followed suit. Users who are on Android 4.4 can enable the voice-activated search function in Apex Launcher 2.4. Earlier versions, sadly, cannot access the functionality - you'll have to search with your fingers like some kind of sad troglodyte.
The folks over at TeslaCoil have been hard at work. Just a week or so after testing a ton of small but significant changes in the 3.0 beta release of the popular Nova Launcher, they've expanded them to the full Play Store version. Check out our breakdown of some of the more significant additions for more details. But there's one more trick up its sleeve for the general release: the "OK Google" hotword.
For my money, Nova Launcher is the best of the AOSP-style launchers available in Android. Developer TeslaCoil Software has consistently updated the launcher for the better part of three years, and one of the biggest updates is coming soon. Nova 3.0 won't add any earth-shattering changes, but there are a bunch of little changes that will thrill the customization-obsessed in small ways.
On the homescreen, you can now customize the text below shortcuts to a greater degree with color and shadow options, and widgets can now have individual padding settings.
Today Mozilla showed off something that seems like it's an amazing addition to its software portfolio: a Firefox Android homescreen launcher. That would be huge news, if it weren't for the fact that Mozilla invested in the promising launcher Everything.me (later rebranded EverythingMe) in November of 2012, eventually making its search-focused interface a core part of the Firefox mobile OS, which is just now getting off the ground. Now Mozilla and EverythingMe are showing off a tweaked version of that app, rebranded as Firefox Launcher for Android.
Now that the developers of the more popular apps in the Play Store have come to grips with the changes in Android 4.4, it's high time to see them take advantage of the new options. Such is the case with popular alternative homescreen Apex Launcher, which exits its KitKat-enhanced beta and lands on the Play Store today. The new version adds a host of visual tweaks to bring the launcher up to date with 4.4.
Themer wowed us with its introduction a few months back, and today's update to the powerful homescreen replacement and customization app is the largest yet. The biggest change is a redesigned app drawer, which allows for both the standard scrolling view and a new Categories screen. Categories are basically folders, but they're displayed like Google Now cards, and automatically populated with apps. You can manually tweak them if you want.