Hands On With Nokia’s New Z Launcher For Android

Matthew Hughes 22-11-2014

Nokia and Android are two words you don’t normally associate together. Prior to the being bought out by Microsoft, the Finnish tech giant was the largest manufacturer of Windows Phone smartphones. Whilst they did have a brief foray into the Android world with their X range of devices Nokia Android, XP Help, Gates AMA, Netflix Cards [Tech News Digest] Nokia's Android handset, Microsoft wants Windows XP to die, Bill Gates Reddit AMA, Mark Zuckerberg is a generous philanthropist, becomes Twitch Interactive, Bing has the Oscars covered, and Netflix promotions. Read More , this was a brief and unsuccessful experiment that was abruptly discontinued Nokia Drops Android Phones, Microsoft Cuts 18,000 Jobs, And More... [Tech News Digest] Bing joins Google in offering the "right to be forgotten," Facebook likes celebrities more than you, Edward Snowden hates Dropbox, sales of Xbox One double, and Amazon releases the first advert for Fire Phone. Read More after a few months.


Which is why it’s been such a surprising week for Nokia. Earlier this week at the Slush conference in Helsinki, they announced the Nokia N1 Nokia Unveils N1 Tablet, Google Has The Right To Free Speech, & More... [Tech News Digest] Also, Twitter indexes all tweets, Netflix heads Down Under, Nokia Z Launcher opens up, and mocking dumb start-ups with Smart Pipe. Read More , a low-cost, Atom-powered tablet with high-end aspirations that runs a heavily customized skin of Android 5.0 Lollipop. They also announced their Android launcher had reached version 1.0 and was finally available to download on the US and EU Google Play stores [No Longer Available].

Read on to find out how to get your hands on this new launcher, and discover whether or not it’s any good.

What Is It?


The Z Launcher promises to be a fluid, adaptive way to launch Android apps and visit websites. Much to the chagrin of privacy conscious users 7 Free Google Services That Cost You Battery Life and Privacy Here's how to protect your privacy and preserve battery life while using an Android device. Read More , this is achieved by tracking how you use your phone, with that data then sent back to Nokia HQ for analysis.

Z Launcher is officially only supported on the Nexus 5 Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Approximately a year after Google released the Nexus 4, the company behind Android has come out with its successor -- the Nexus 5. Read More , as well as the Samsung S3, S4 and S5. In reality, it works on a much broader selection of devices.


Those without these devices (or those outside of the supported regions) can still get their hands on the launcher, as Nokia has taken the unusual step to simultaneously distribute it as an APK file, which can be manually installed without having to deal with Google’s app store.

Installing Nokia Z Launcher

The Z Launcher is officially supported only by a handful of devices, and only these devices are eligible to download it from the Google Play store. I’m using a 2012 Google Nexus 7 Google Nexus 7 (16GB) Android Tablet Review and Giveaway We purchased a 16GB Nexus 7 for $249 which I've been reviewing for a week or so now, and I've really grown to love the little thing. We'll be giving it away at the end... Read More , so I’ve got to install it manually.

Allow Unknown Sources

If you haven’t already, allow the installation of applications from sources other than the Google Play Store. This is accomplished by going into your security settings and checking the ‘Unknown Sources’ box.



Download And Install The App

If you’ve got a Nexus 5 or a S3, S4 or S5, skip this step and just head straight to the Play Store. Otherwise, head to For some reason, you’ve got to sign in with your Google account in order to get your hands on the APK. Once you’ve done that, go ahead and download it.


Z Launcher demands some pretty extensive permissions How Bad Are Those Facebook Messenger Permissions Anyway? You've probably been hearing a lot about Facebook's Messenger app. Let's quell the rumors and find out if the permissions are as bad as they claim. Read More , including the right to call phone numbers, read your text messages and access your web history. If you’re happy with this, tap “next”.



And that’s it, basically. Once you’ve installed it, you’ll be given a brief walkthrough of the app, and then left to your own devices.

How Does It Work?

The Z Launcher relies heavily on handwriting recognition. Just start writing anywhere on the screen. Z Launcher then will make suggestions as to what it thinks you’re trying to reach. This can be anything from a website, to an app, to a contact.


Nokia promises that as you use the app more and more, the results provided will become more accurate. The Z Launcher also has some rudimentary personal assistant functionality. There’s not much to talk about here. It will show you the current temperature for your location, as well as the next item in your calendar. Helpful, but nothing to write home about.


daynightmorning zlauncher

The app also guesses which apps you’re going to want at which time of the day and displays them front and center for you. A widget is built into the top that shows relevant information like the time, weather, or your next calendar appointment.

It can take some time for the launcher to get the hang of what you often use, but it has the potential to be extremely useful.

Is This The Launcher You’ve Been Waiting For?

The Android Launcher space is a crowded one indeed. There’s no shortage 5 Awesome Free Launchers You May Not Know About [Android] I'm an Android user because I love to tinker with my phone and change it up every once in a while. Android lets me do that easily right out of the box because it was... Read More of free launchers 5 More Free Launchers You May Not Have Heard About [Android] One of the great things about the Android community is that modifications and changes are always being made. Android technology is always changing, and thus, there are always new avenues to explore--and so many more... Read More available, with the Nova Nova Launcher - Even Better Than The Default Android 4.0 Launcher Up until Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) came along, Android’s interface felt somewhat less polished than iOS’s. But with Android 4.0, Google made a clean break with the previous visual style for Android, introducing Holo... Read More and Atom Atom Launcher, Reviewed: Your Next Android Launcher? 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... Read More launchers standing out from the crowd. There’s also Facebook Home, which launched to tepid reviews, and seemingly has been mothballed in recent months with no updates released since January 2014. With this level of competition, has Nokia produced something exceptional that is bound to enthrall and captivate? I’m not sure.

It’s certainly fast, and it looks the part, but it’s hobbled by a horrendous handwriting recognition system. If you remember the Apple Newton, the Nokia Z Launcher will feel incredibly familiar. It just isn’t accurate, with it regularly confusing ‘R’s as ‘K’s, and ‘A’s coming out as ‘G’s.


It doesn’t help things that words have to be written a letter at a time. It doesn’t matter any if you’re using a phablet with sufficient screen space to write entire passages with your finger, or a full blown tablet. As you might expect, this is A-N-N-O-Y-I-N-G.


Results are pretty questionable too. After a good stretch of using the Z Launcher, it still doesn’t recognize that I’m probably going to go to Reddit when I draw R-E-D.

Will You Be Downloading It?

Z Launcher has its share of flaws, but it’s important to reconcile these with the fact it is still very much in beta, and we should be more forgiving as a result. It certainly looks the part, with a clean and pleasant interface. It just isn’t executed terribly well.

Should Nokia continue with their great Android experiment and invest time and money into developing their launcher, it could potentially become a compelling product.

Have you installed it? Love it? Hate it? Tell me. Comments section is below.

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  1. Roy R....
    November 30, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I guess what I like most about Z launcher is its simplistic uncluttered look and feel.

  2. Nagesh
    November 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm


  3. Paulo
    November 24, 2014 at 1:48 am

    Not having that much issues with the handwriting myself. Gets me to my apps & contacts way quicker than before, so it's a keeper for now. Plus it can only get better with each development update.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Agreed. Let's hope Nokia maintain development on it!

  4. Roy R....
    November 24, 2014 at 1:09 am

    I downloaded this app just under a week now for my sg note 3 and I must say it works flawlessly. I have no issue whatsoever with my handwriting perfect every time.
    A fantastic launcher that I am enjoying very much.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Glad to hear you like it! What's your favorite feature?

  5. Amir
    November 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    It's hard to try any other launcher after I am switched to APUS launcher. You guys should also give it a shot.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      What do you like about it?


  6. marlena
    November 23, 2014 at 5:27 am

    I use capital letters and have had no problem...and btw, your a looks like a G to me.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      I'm not sure I agree!


  7. Marlowe
    November 23, 2014 at 1:27 am

    That Red looks like Rel, haha.

    Anyway Z Launcher looks sleek! I hope the flaws get ironed out soon!

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Same! It's pretty good!

  8. Mark G
    November 22, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    I've had a go to the last 2 versions, but although lightweight isn't new enough or revolutionary enough for me to give up Buzz launcher anytime soon.
    Does anyone get on with time sensitive launchers? I dropped Aviate/EverythingMe for that reason. I like things to stay put.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      Fair enough! What do you like about Buzz?

  9. Fritz Pinguin
    November 22, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I would have problems to read your handwriting, too. :-(

    • Waqas
      November 23, 2014 at 1:56 am

      I have installed it and I liked the handwriting feature and how it display your most used apps but, I love the Google Now launcher more so, I am back to Google Now.

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm