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While the Windows Phone platform is long gone, you can still enjoy some of the Windows experience on a mobile device.
One of the best ways to do this is through Microsoft Launcher. It’s an Android app that replaces the default home screen on your phone or tablet. For anyone who is more tightly integrated with Microsoft’s suite of services rather than Google’s, it’s definitely worth checking out.
But what are the key features of Microsoft Launcher? What benefits does it offer over your default Android launcher? And how do you install it on your device? Keep reading to learn more.
Why Does Microsoft Launcher Exist?
Historically, Microsoft’s relationship with mobile operating systems has not been a happy one. Windows Phone flopped, the company’s acquisition of Nokia was ill-conceived, and its early offerings on both Android and iOS were lackluster.
More recently, however, the company has finally started to hit its stride in the mobile department. There’s an acceptance that Microsoft will never be able to muscle in on the market share of Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems. As a consequence, they’ve come up with alternative strategies.
Android development has become a central pillar of those strategies. Microsoft now sells Android devices in its own online shop, and almost all the Microsoft apps on Google Play have received complete overhauls. Pinning everything together is the fully redesigned Microsoft Launcher.
How to Download and Set Up Microsoft Launcher
You can install Microsoft Launcher directly from the Google Play Store. The installation process is the same as any other app. And unlike lots of other alternative Android launchers, Microsoft Launcher is entirely free to download and use.
When you run the launcher for the first time, there’s a basic setup process you’ll need to work through. The launcher will prompt you to either use your current wallpaper or Bing’s daily choice, select your favorite apps that you want to appear on your home screen, and decide whether you want to use the app as the default launcher.
Download: Microsoft Launcher (Free)
Why Use Microsoft Launcher?
What are the standout features of Microsoft Launcher, and why does it deserve your attention?
1. A New Feed
The biggest selling point of Microsoft Launcher is its integration with the company’s other apps and services.
At the center of that experience is the Feed. Swipe left on the home screen to access it. The Feed has three views (reachable via the tabs at the bottom of the screen). They are Glance, News, and Timeline.
Glance is a card-based list of important items you want to keep an eye on. It will show calendar appointments, upcoming tasks, your Sticky Notes from Windows 10, recent documents, and more.
Eleven widgets are available in total. They are Microsoft Family, Calendar, Tasks, Sticky Notes, Cortana, Screen Time, Wunderlist, Recent activities, Frequently used apps, People, and Documents.
The News tab is a built-in version of the Microsoft News app. You can select the country whose news you want to see, then customize the feed with the topics that interest you. Sadly, there is no way to add custom topics for niche interests.
The Timeline tab provides a complete list of all activity across any device connected to your Microsoft account. This includes Windows, Surface tablets, Office 365, and more.
If you tap on a card, it will take you directly to the file, app, or action that it refers to. As such, the feature is really useful if you’re the type of person who is often on-the-go and jumps between different screens to stay productive.
As you’d expect, Cortana is also a fully integrated part of Microsoft Launcher. As with Windows, simply saying “Hey Cortana” will fire it up.
You can then use Cortana for nearly all the basic productivity tasks you’d want to accomplish on your phone. Try it for setting reminders, creating tasks, providing daily agendas, reading out messages and emails, and providing directions.
3. A New Dock
Microsoft Launcher introduces a new dock feature. It acts as a go-between for your most-used apps on the home screen and the list of all apps in the app drawer.
You can use the dock to add a combination of apps, contacts, widgets, operating system shortcuts (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and brightness), and search tools. You have control over the number of items in the dock, as well as various display options.
4. Customizable Home Screen
The home screen customization options available in Microsoft’s launcher are much more extensive than the stock Android launcher.
You can adjust the icon layout and size, change the way folders appear, flip between scrolling and swiping to change pages, lock the home screen to prevent changes, and lots more. The launcher also supports existing app widgets.
To make alterations, fire up the Microsoft Launcher app from the app drawer, or open the dock and tap on the Settings icon.
5. Customizable App Drawer
Like most launchers, if you swipe up on your home screen, you will open your app drawer. By default, it will show all the apps running on your device. However, Microsoft Launcher offers more customization options than the stock experience.
If you tap on the three dots in the upper-right corner, you can switch between a vertical grid, horizontal grid, or alphabetical list. You can also toggle the recent apps view on/off, customize the number of rows and columns (you can fit up to 12 apps on a single row), and hide apps that you don’t want other people to see.
6. Multiple Themes
Microsoft Launcher comes with a fully functional light theme, dark theme, and transparent theme. You can also tweak other aspects of the theme, such as the blur effect, opacity, and accent colors.
You can specify how you want gestures to work on your device in line with the new features made available on Microsoft Launcher.
Gestures are available for Cortana, the dock, your Feed, your Microsoft account, and Bing wallpaper rotation, as well as the usual slew of general OS shortcuts.
More Android Launchers to Consider
Microsoft Launcher definitely has a lot to offer, so give it a try if you’re bored with what’s on your phone now. But if you don’t care for Microsoft Launcher, you have a number of Android launchers to choose from.
Sure, there are some old-timers like Nova Launcher and Smart Launcher that are as popular as ever, but lots of newcomers are also worth your attention. To have a look at some of these, check out our roundup of the best Android launchers.