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I am not the kind of user who jumps to a different Android launcher every week. I’ve been using Nova Launcher for nearly a year now, I think – and before, I was using Go Launcher (and featured themes for it) even longer. In other words, I get attached – I spend time crafting a homescreen I really like, sometimes even using crazy widgets like UCCW. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally become curious when an interesting contender shows up – and Atom Launcher is just such an alternative. What makes it interesting, to me, is that it’s not another clone. It tries to set itself apart in terms of features, rather than outdo Nova or Trebuchet in every possible way.
What Atom Launcher Promises
Before we start evaluating Atom Launcher, we’d best know what to look at. What does it say it can do? Here’s an official video showcasing it:
So, to summarize:
- You can import your homescreen from a previous launcher (“home copy function”)
- Features unique resizable folders, which let you flip through apps
- Has “awesome” widgets that are “very simple”
- Features a hidden dock for quickly adjusting visual settings
That’s not all Atom can do, but those are the main selling points according to the video. So let’s run through these one by one and see if Atom really delivers.
Here’s an image showing how import worked for me. On the left is my Nova Launcher setup, and on the right is the result of automatic import by Atom:
Disregard the minor differences in wallpaper; that may be my fault. The icons, however, you should not disregard: I indeed had a folder on my homescreen (the “quotes” icon), which Atom converted into its own folder, in the same spot, and I can understand the icon was lost in the process. The odd spacing may be due to DPI differences between the apps (because I use PAC ROM, which lets me change the DPI on a per-app basis), so, not Atom Launcher’s fault. But what about all of my other beautiful icons? I carefully applied the gorgeous flatro icon pack, and Atom migrated virtually none of those icons. And not only that, but what happened to my Chrome icon? There are five icons on dock in the left screenshot (Nova), and only four icons on the right…
In short, the Automatic Homescreen import feature does not work as advertised, and you may be better off not using it at all.
Here’s what a folder looks like on Atom Launcher:
This is a 100% crop of the screenshot, so you can look at the folder up close and personal. Basically, a folder is a “Cover Flow” list of apps, which you can flip between. It looks quite cool, and you can set it to be as wide as you want it, to fit more apps in (height is not adjustable, though). Atom also lets you easily add multiple apps to a folder without having to drag them around and try to drop them accurately on a tiny target (something Nova and other modern launchers require). With Atom, you can just select the folder, tap Add, and get a list of all of your apps. Tap as many apps as you want, and all will be added to that folder.
In general, the way Atom handles folders is a significant improvement over Nova, and one of the strongest areas for the launcher.
Widgets and Themes
The video above promises awesome widgets and themes. On its own, Atom Launcher doesn’t feature these: You will have to install two companion apps (one for themes, and the other for widgets). That’s actually an advantage in my eyes, because it keeps the core launcher lean and slim. Here are most of the Atom Launcher custom widgets:
Pretty basic stuff, really. Two clocks, two calendars, a memo, and a favorite contacts app. What’s nice about them is that they can be easily configured in various ways: The Digital Clock lets you set what information you want shown, as well a pick a color.
This is not groundbreaking – it’s been available with apps like Minimalistic Text for ages now. But the way Atom Launcher implements it is much simpler and friendlier – just a couple of buttons to tap, and you’re done. That’s a good balance between customizability and comfort.
A homescreen loaded with widgets looks like this:
All in all, the widgets are nice, but I am glad Atom Launcher packages them separately – if, like me, you’re not really into widgets, just skip them. Now, let’s look at themes:
Let me be blunt: The themes are downright ugly. Here’s the Iron theme, applied to my app drawer:
Wow. I mean, aesthetics are subjective, but this really makes my expensive smartphone look like a toy. Not cool. And believe me, I spent some time hunting for a decent theme. The main issue here is just one of design: As Atom Launcher grows, it will hopefully attract some more serious designer attention, resulting in more attractive themes. For now, don’t bother with the themes. Atom says it can apply ADW themes, but could not handle Flatro properly.
Hidden Dock to Apply Wallpaper Effects
Another major Atom Launcher innovation is the “hidden dock.” No, it’s not what you think: It doesn’t let you launch any apps. Instead, long-pressing the Home button pops up a useful panel for applying custom effects to your wallpaper and homescreen:
Here you can see me adjusting the transparency of all homescreen elements. Honestly, this is sheer genius, and one of the best features Atom Launcher brings to the table. I know of no other launcher which can do this. The selection of effects is poor (only four at this time), and they don’t look all that nice, but the core concept is very strong and I hope the Atom Launcher team finds the resources (and the designer) to give it the aesthetics it deserves.
Bottom Line: Innovative Interface Concepts, Poor Design
Atom Launcher delivers, in the sense that it’s not another Nova/Trebuchet clone. It really is innovative, with interactions that feel well thought-out and don’t involve too much dragging and dropping (a major pain point in most launchers). Some key features are still missing, such as icon swipe actions (being able to launch two things with one icon, like Nova allows), but the main area that needs some urgent TLC is the design department. If the Atom Launcher team can hire a competent designer to endow their launcher with the pizazz it deserves, Nova may have something to worry about.
What launcher are you using? Will you be giving Atom a try? Let me know below.