Ah, the Android navigation bar, or, as friends call it, the navbar. Unless you have a Samsung device with hardware Menu, Home, and Back buttons, you’ve surely experienced this modern Android fixture: A black bar that resides at the bottom of your screen, stealing precious pixels. Sure, it does important work – lets you go Back or Home, and access the Recent Apps screen and the menu… But why can’t it stay out of the way when you don’t need it? Well, with Ultimate Dynamic Navbar, it can – and it can also become more useful along the way.
Many a developer has been irked with Android’s navbar – and as a result, you will find something called Pie Controls on many ROMs, such as Cyanogen or PAC (reviewed here). This is a circular menu that pops into view as you slide your finger into the screen. It works, and yet, Ultimate Dynamic Navbar is better, as you’ll soon see. So whether you’re running a stock ROM or something that features Pie Controls, you will be interested in this app. It comes both in a Lite version and a full one that will set you back $3. We’re serious about these things here, so I’ll be looking at the paid version.
What You’ll Need: A Rooted Phone (Any ROM Will Do)
There are many cool things about Ultimate Dynamic Navbar, not the least of which is that it is ROM independent. I’ve recently discussed the joys of customizing your phone without flashing a ROM using the Xposed framework, and at the very end of that post I mentioned that some apps now come with Xposed modules of their own, like Greenify. Ultimate Dynamic Navbar is another prime example:
Having Xposed (left, above) is optional, but offers a good way to hide your navbar in case your ROM doesn’t natively allow for this. Having a rooted phone and granting Ultimate Dynamic Navbar root access is not optional, as you can see in the right screenshot above. If you’re wondering how to go about rooting your phone, our Android Rooting Guide can probably help you out there.
Disabling Your Existing Navbar
With that in place, let’s take our first look at the app:
The first thing you’re going to want to do is hide your existing navbar – otherwise you’ll end up having two of those, one on top of the other. I was unable to capture a screenshot of that, but it’s as annoying and superfluous as it sounds. So, tap Navbar spoofers (second entry in the main menu) to see your options. The spoofers screen, shown on the right, lays things out sensibly: If you’re already using Cyanogen, AOKP, or a similar ROM, Ultimate Dynamic Navbar recommends you toggle the navbar off using the ROM’s built-in mechanism.
The next-best option is hiding the navbar using the included Xposed module. This is why it’s important to read the screens: I initially just switched on the Xposed module, even though my ROM didn’t need it.
Last, and definitely least, is switching off the navbar by modifying Android’s build.prop file. That could work, but just like the developer clearly states, it’s dangerous and you just don’t want to go there. Get Xposed instead.
For Cyanogenmod, here’s how I toggled my navbar off: I went to Settings > Interface > Pie Controls and removed the checkbox from the top of the screen (i.e, disabled pie controls). I then went to Expanded desktop and selected Status bar visible:
That was it. I now had a device with a navbar that automatically hid itself out of sight when I didn’t need it. But the fun was just getting started: Now I could start customizing things in earnest, way beyond what Pie Controls can do on Cyanogen.
Swipes And Presses And Toggles, Oh My
Ultimate Dynamic Navbars has one of the most complete preferences menus I’ve seen in recent memory. Seriously, this beast lets you customize anything. Here are just a couple of screens to give you an idea of what you can do:
Different settings are going to matter to different people, but for me, Type of trigger was important. Initially, the trigger is set to the bottom-left corner of your device – tap it or swipe it to toggle the navbar. As you can see above, I changed it to Whole bottom edge, which means swiping up from the bottom of the screen pops up the navbar – a very natural gesture, for me.
Two other notable settings above are Swipe-to-Action and LongPresses in swipe-mode (in the right screenshot). The first lets you swipe up to expose the navbar, and then simply bring your finger to a button and lift it off the screen. That counts as a button press, and it makes working with an auto-hidden navbar just as easy as working with a visible one: No extra taps needed.
The second setting has to do with the fact that UDN (as we will refer to it from now) lets you set two actions for each button: A press and a long-press. If you want, you can have the long-press activate in the same way: Swipe to expose the navbar, move your finger to the button, and keep it there. After a moment, the long-press action would trigger. This is a mouthful to describe, but is very fluid in action.
Two other key settings have to do with the gesturepad’s height and the length of the activate gesture:
On my phone, I brought these both down to low values, as you can see above. This means I basically just move my finger into the screen from the bottom edge, and the navbar appears right under my finger – I don’t have to move it back. A small thing, but it matters for an action you do many times every day.
The takeaway here is that there is a lot to experiment with here, and you’re going to want to take your time and adjust things until they feel right for you.
Customizing Button Actions
Now that you have the bar working the way you like it, it’s time to consider individual buttons. Which buttons do you want, and what should they do? Possibilities abound:
Above you can see just a small part of the button customization screen. That list on the right shows you what each button can do (and there are more actions, too). You can turn off your screen with a button, change the volume, and of course, do whatever the button usually does.
One thing that is sadly missing is a way to trigger Shortcuts via buttons: It would have been great if I could long-press the Home button to open the app drawer in Nova Launcher Prime (reviewed here). That is one of UDN’s few shortcomings when it comes to customization.
Changing The Navbar’s Appearance and Size
Okay, so now you have the navbar of your dreams, along with the buttons set just so. This would be a good time to consider cosmetics and aesthetics:
UDN ships with lots and lots of button themes, ranging from stock ones (you can have your buttons look just like on the ROM that came with your phone, or with your friend’s phone), to some wild (not to say ugly) variants. Above you can see the stock Motorola and Samsung themes. You can also change the colors and glow effects.
Next, customizing the navbar’s size:
Above you can see two extremes (that 15-pixel navbar on the right is tiny, or what?), but 45 tends to be a sane setting for most.
Reading The Docs, And a Lone Bug
Since UDN can do so much, it’s nice to see the developer took some time to bundle a FAQ and address some potential concerns:
As you can see above, the FAQ is quite informal – “Now my device won’t boot,” says the user, “LOL,” replies the developer. That made me chuckle. The answers are informative, but they do contain the occasional typo.
Finally, this would be a good spot to mention the one and only bug I’ve come across when using UDN:
Above you can clearly see that Display notification is unchecked – I really don’t need yet another notification, what with having Lux (reviewed here) and Switchr (reviewed here) already showing two permanent notifications. And yet, even with the setting disabled, I still got a notification. Not the end of the world, but a bug is a bug.
It’s Worth It
Ultimate Dynamic Navbar is one of the most impressive customization tools I’ve seen recently. It is not only powerful, but it just plain works – it feels solid. I’m happy to know that I can get my navbar configuration just so, and have it work across any ROM I pick. Highly recommended.