The flick-gesture for quickly opening the camera app on the Moto X and new DROIDs has been repeatedly highlighted by Motorola. And like any buzz-worthy feature in an upcoming phone, it's been almost immediately duplicated. Twisty Launcher popped into the Play Store last night, promising to deliver a customized version of this gesture-based feature, with the added benefit of being compatible with any device or app.
The name "launcher" is a bit of a misnomer - Twisty launches apps, but it isn't a homescreen in any way. Select an app to open with a gesture (the camera is enabled by default) and it will run in the background, waiting for your to call upon the mighty power of waiving your phone around.
Nova Launcher is one of the most popular home screen replacements out there, and the developers are hard at work ensuring that this doesn't change any time soon. The latest update introduces even more ways to customize every aspect of your launcher's appearance. Anyone who makes the jump to version 2.2 will gain the ability to add backgrounds to their docks, customize the look of their unread badges, and dabble with new scroll effects. You'll need to have Nova Launcher Prime to utilize those last two, though.
Custom Dock Styles
Custom Unread Count Badge Styles (Prime)
New scroll effects (Prime)
Optimizations and fixes
Nova has long granted us the ability to customize the number of icons on our docks and how much space they take up.
The latest trend in Android user interface modifications is the gesture-based meta-launcher, a way of quickly launching and switching between huge numbers of apps. My personal favorite is still SwipePad, but the current fashion is for Holo-style, scrollable sidebars. Appsi is the latest among these, but differentiates itself with a ton of customization and plugins.
First of all, the setup process is a lot simpler than similar apps, allowing the user to easily move the activation areas with a more graphical UI, instead of adjusting numbers or sliders. Each hotspot can be expanded with gestures, or more precisely, modified launch gestures - turn the launch movement up or down to bring up a shorter list of favorites, for example.
Aviate Launcher, if you haven't heard of it, is a new home screen replacement that looks to offer you information right when you need it and which is, at the time of writing, in the middle of an invite-only alpha period.
After receiving my invitation recently, I was anxious to take the launcher for a spin. I have no doubt it will improve as it progresses toward a broad launch, and there are a few drawbacks, but it is already one of the best alpha products I've ever used. It's a thoughtful, well-made, unique home screen replacement that I actually want to use.
App drawers suck. Okay, that may not be universally true, but for the sake of this hands-on, lets all agree on this premise. Once we install apps from the Play Store, it takes way too long to find them, and once we're done, it can be bothersome trying to remember which app we installed before that one. After a couple of months, that clean app drawer can grow to become six, seven, and even eight pages long. Most launchers now come with the ability to organize these apps into folders, but coming up with a manageable system of organization can be quite the pain.
Yandex isn't a household name in most areas, but if you live in Russia, chances are pretty good that you've at least heard of the Google and Amazon competitor. A few months ago we brought you news of an updated version of Yandex's customized launcher and dialer combination, Yandex.Shell, at the time only available in Russia. Today it's free to download for everyone with a spiffy new English localization. New features for the update include the standard bugfixes and an experimental hardware acceleration mode.
If Yandex.Shell looks familiar, it should: it's made by some of the same talented developers who've been wowing mobile users for years with SPB Shell 3D and related products.
One of the more interesting alternative launchers out there (that is to say, one that isn't just a grid of apps and widgets plus a drawer) is Action Launcher. This premium custom launcher has been gaining fans since its launch, thanks to a unique gesture-based app drawer and a focus on speed and usability. With version 1.7, developer Chris Lacy has added some of the features this younger launcher lacks, most notably icon theme support - the various theme packs for GO, Nova, and Apex launchers should work with Action Launcher Pro now. A stock Jelly Bean icon pack is included.
TeslaCoil Software's Nova Launcher has become one of the most popular custom launchers for Android power users since shortly after the arrival of Ice Cream Sandwich, and part of the reason is the constant addition of new features. The latest revision (2.1) adds a whole lot of goodies, especially if you like to play around with the look and feel of your icons and themes. The release adds features both for free users and those who've bought the $4 Nova Launcher Prime. The app is still compatible with devices running Android 4.0 or higher.
The first thing you'll notice is the new entry in the Settings menu, New Apps.
Apex Launcher has bumped up to version 2.0, bringing in a host of new features to both the free and pro versions of the app. Free users who make the leap will find various improvements to the interface, updated translations, and the option to set the duration of vibrations. The pro version now allows users to place folders in the app drawer, but the star of the show is its integration with the new Apex Notifier.
Apex Notifier is not a standalone app, but an extension that works both with Apex Launcher and DashClock Widget. Apex Launcher Pro users who install Apex Notifier will see unread counts appear as badges atop various application icons, including:
You are free to tweak the size and color of notifications, and you get to have a say in which apps badges will appear on.
Alternative launchers have been on Android since the beginning, and most of them have made their name by taking the stock experience and piling on new features. Action Launcher is a little different. This app shakes up the UI conventions of the Android home screen, and it's really got some good ideas. The new update fixes a few niggling issues with the way apps and widgets are added to the home screen.
Adding new app shortcuts or widgets to Action Launcher before this update was perhaps the most clunky part of the experience. You'd have to open the customization menu and scroll through the list to find the items you wanted.