Coming across a genuinely new launcher interface and paradigm on Android is rare. Most third-party clients try to emulate the default Android launcher and add some customizations and improvements here and there. Not to undermine the power of something like Nova Launcher, but there's only so many times you can swipe left and right between homescreens or tap to open and close an app drawer before you wonder what that new launcher you installed does differently. If you seek the novelty of a new welcoming interface each time you unlock your phone, choices are somewhat more limited especially if you want a reliable and simple app, not one that has been built for the sake of difference more than usability.
Nokia's Z Launcher is a bit different. Instead of a customizable homescreen where you place your app icons, it chooses them based on the ones you often open and you're most likely to need right now. Essentially, it adapts to your context. It has a few more tricks too, like scribbling the names of apps, contacts, and websites to launch them directly. In its new update, this scribble function is about to get a little more powerful.
Scribbling now supports synonyms, so you can launch music apps by simply writing music. Spotify, Pandora, and even YouTube should appear in the list of options.
The Google app is an interesting beast within the Android Ecosystem. It provides speech recognition, Google Now, multiple APIs, and even a launcher. Next to Google Play Services, the Google app is by far the most multi-faceted apk most of us have on our phones and tablets. The latest couple of updates teased users of the Android M Developer Preview 3 with brief access to Now On Tap before it was quickly taken away with a promise that it was still "coming soon". There were also a few other smaller details waiting to be found in a teardown, including the likely return of rotation support on the Google Now Launcher and some more forward motion for offline voice commands.
The last time we asked the custom launcher question was, surprisingly, over two years ago. Among "yes," "I have used one but don't anymore," and "no, and I have never used one," the results were 67%, 25%, and 7%, respectively. So, let's see what those numbers look like now that some more time has passed.
I personally install the Google Now Launcher on pretty much any phone that comes across my desk, because I just like the consistency and simplicity. While I definitely understand the appeal of, say, Nova Launcher, I just don't spend much time manicuring and perfecting my homescreens.
Android users in general like widgets. Android "advocates" (which I suppose includes all of us here at Android Police) remember when it was one of the biggest differentiators between Google's mobile operating system and iOS, back when people were trying to convince us that we didn't really need copy and paste support. So when Nokia's Z Launcher homescreen replacement app launched without widgets, a considerable number of users couldn't switch over because of this lack.
Now the developers have alleviated this problem, so it's a good time to give Z Launcher another chance. Version 1.2 adds basic widget support: swipe to the blank screen on the left side of the main launcher and long-press to add them.
One aspect of Google Now Launcher that never felt quite right was the way you removed apps. If you happened to be on a home screen, saw an app icon, and decided to uninstall that app, you had to go to the app drawer to do that. You could get rid of the shortcut from the home screen, but not uninstall it. The Android M version now takes care of that small annoyance.
When you drag it over uninstall, it will turn red. When it is hovering on remove, which just gets rid of the shortcut, the icon becomes grayscaled.
Android app drawers come in all shapes and sizes, but most stick to the same basic formula. There's a homescreen with apps, folders, and widgets. Everything else is tucked away inside the app drawer.
Well, that isn't the case with Hexy. This experimental third-party launcher takes the apps that would otherwise be in your drawer and dumps them all over your homescreen. There they reside in a sea of hexagonal tiles. If you've ever seen an Apple Watch and thought there's a method of managing apps I can get behind, here's your chance.
In the center of the screen there's a group of hexagons that contain your most used apps.
Nova Launcher is easily the top pick for conventional Android home screen replacements, and a "daily driver" for a good chunk of Android Police's staff. The latest update added a Material Design user interface, but there are other goodies hiding just below the surface. For example, version 4.0 includes a simple app search function hidden in the app drawer. It's especially handy if you've got hundreds of installed apps (like Artem) or just don't like organizing your apps into folders (like everyone else).
To activate the search bar, just drag down from anywhere in the app drawer. It's the same gesture used to refresh the page or service in some Google apps.
Expectations are high for each update to Google's core apps on Android. After all, we know there are going to be a lot of new features announced at I/O in less than 2 weeks. Quite a few apps have recently gone through a Material refresh, and plenty of others have seen smaller changes as they slowly coalesce around the current design guidelines. That appears to be the story with the latest Google App update. The latest version finally enables full screen mode for Google Now on devices using custom launchers.
left: old version, right: new version
Prior to this release, users with the Google Now Launcher set as their default homescreen would see their Now stream with translucent status and navigation bars.
At this point, there is no real shortage of "smart" launchers in the Android ecosystem. Of course, we have to put "smart" in quotation marks, because there still is a void in terms of truly good products trying to do that. So when I tell you that Bento is a new entrant in this bustling market of context-aware launchers, you shouldn't ask, "do we need another one?" You should ask, "is this the one that will really do a great job?"
Bento is a venture capital-backed project that is in a semi-private beta at the moment. As I go over the app in its current state, it's important to keep in mind that it is not a finished product at this point and is not the kind of wide-release beta that you might be accustomed to.