Smartphone displays have grown much bigger in recent years to cater to our growing appetite for consuming media. However, the software running on most of these phones still isn't optimized for one-handed use. One of the best things about Android is that issues like this can easily be addressed by third-party apps. Niagara Launcher aims to make your phone's homescreen more convenient, and after four years of development and a two-year beta, it's launching for real.
A simpler experience
The launcher centers around a minimalist homescreen that gives you access to all the apps on your phone without the clutter associated with app drawers. This is done by using an alphabetical sidebar with all of your apps just a single swipe away. What makes it easy to use with one hand is that it can be triggered from the bottom half of the display, on either side. However, if you're used to gesture-based navigation on the phone, you may end up triggering the back action — this will take some time to get used to. Also, I'd personally love it if I could swipe through the list of apps and open one without lifting my finger.
If you want to double-up on minimalism, you can also choose to hide the alphabetical sidebar.
The launcher allows you to select several favorite apps (eight is the recommended number) that will sit on the homescreen at all times. But, it will also append your frequently-used apps at the bottom of the list. You can also enable swipe up to search to type the name of the app you want to open — Sesame integration is available too.
What Niagara does well is that it doesn't sacrifice functionality at the cost of minimalism. The calendar widget at the top neatly shows the weather, and tapping on it reveals a card that exhibits the forecast and your calendar items (with your permission). Similarly, the homescreen also has a media widget that displays when media is playing. As far as widgets are concerned, you can currently only place one. If you're used to adding multiple widgets to your homescreen, you won't be able to do so natively with Niagara.
You can also opt for a floating Google Search button. I'd personally prefer a search bar, though.
Notifications from your favorite apps can also be embedded on the homescreen, and not only can you see rich previews but also reply without having to open the app. All of this works rather well from my testing.
But what about folders? Well, they don't exist in their traditional form. With a little inspiration from Action Launcher, Niagara allows apps to be bundled behind a favorite app on the homescreen. These apps can be accessed by a simple right swipe on the app they're hidden behind. For instance, I've hidden all my games behind Stack Dash (it's so addictive!). These same swipes also reveal app shortcuts.
My favorite feature by far is Music apps. Once you identify the music apps on your phone, the launcher automatically pushes them at the top of the list when you connect your phone to an audio source over Bluetooth. This is a thoughtful implementation and works perfectly.
That's probably as far as the primary functions go, but there's more to the launcher in terms of customization. It includes the basics you'd expect from any homescreen app — the ability to change icon packs, edit icon shape and size, as well as a choice of font. There's also an option to set the theme and text color based on the current wallpaper. If you're a tinkerer, you should know that you can tweak things like hiding the status bar or the alphabet sidebar too.
Niagara Launcher is free to install and if you're not in the mood to shell out money, it's free to use too — it won't throw ads at you. But like most other apps, Niagara's developers have put some of its better features behind a paywall. These features include the neat inbuilt calendar and weather widget, Sesame integration, a few customization options, and swipe actions, among others. However, these won't be all. The developers have made it clear they will release further Pro features — apparently a new one every week this winter. There's a Github page that gives you a quick look at what's to come.
If you're interested in paying for Niagara Pro, you can opt for a one-time fee or a subscription plan. The latter, for early birds, is set at $4/€4/₹80 a year after a two-month free trial. These prices will be hiked up to $6/€6/₹100 a year shortly thereafter. The one-time payment will set you back $10.99/€10.99/₹220.
Should you try it?
Definitely. Niagara Launcher is a purpose-built launcher that doesn't leave functionality in its bid for minimalism. It may not be as customizable as something like Nova Launcher or Action Launcher, but this is just the start. If you're looking to rejig your homescreen experience, I'd recommend that you give it a try. I'm going to continue using it and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next. It isn't perfect just yet, but it's hella promising.