Nova Launcher – Even Better Than The Default Android 4.0 Launcher

Erez Zukerman 13-11-2012

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 – a clean, dark theme, with thin typography and a very modern look.


With Holo came a new default launcher, and when Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) came out, that launcher just kept getting better. But not everyone has a Nexus phone, and many people use alternative ROMs that come with different launchers, which is where Nova Launcher comes in.

Widgets & Icons & Gestures, Oh My!

In this review I’ll be covering Nova Launcher Prime, the paid version of Nova Launcher which costs around $4 at the time of this writing.  Nova’s free version is perfectly capable, but Prime unlocks extra gestures, folders in the app drawer, and other sweet features. First things first, one of my favorite introduced with Android 4.1 is this:

nova launcher for android

This is kind of difficult to convey in a static screenshot, but what you’re seeing here is self-adjusting icons making space for a widget. Basically, my games folder and Seinfeld Calendar were at the bottom of the screen when I decided I wanted to put an analog clock widget there. I just dragged the clock there, and the icons scattered away, making room for the widget. Nice.

Another detail you can see in the screenshot above is the icon dock, and there’s more than meets the eye there. First off, folders in the dock: I like to have my browser as the bottom-right icon in the dock, but I can’t commit to just a single browser… so I have a folder instead.

nova launcher android

This makes it super-easy to launch the browser I need. But sometimes I need a single dock icon to just toggle between two functions. Take the messaging icon next to the browser one, for example: Sometimes I want it to launch the default Messaging app (for text messages), but at other times, I want it to launch Gmail. It just makes sense to me – one messaging-related icon for two apps. But how?

nova launcher android

Enter per-icon swipe gestures: Every dock icon can have a default program, and can also have another program that runs when you swipe over the icon (rather than tap it). I use this feature constantly: My Phone icon also launches Maps (especially when I’m travelling), my Evernote Food icon also launches Instagram, and my App Drawer icon also launches Android Market.

All of these dual actions are very intuitive (for me, at least), and having every icon pull double duty saves me from scrolling the dock. If you are into a scrolling dock with more than five icons, Nova Launcher lets you set one up, too.

Screen Swipes

Nova doesn’t let you just swipe dock icons – you can swipe the whole screen in various interesting ways, including multi-touch gestures:

nova launcher android

The list you see above goes on to include even two “rotation” gestures, clockwise and counterclockwise. So even holding two fingers on the screen and rotating them could do something (if you can only think of an intuitive action for it, which I couldn’t).

Swiping up with two fingers to open the app drawer is very intuitive for me, and using a down-swipe to launch Gesture Search Top 5 Ways to Find & Launch Applications on Your Android Phone Find your apps quicker and easier with these tools. Read More has really become second nature for me – something I do many times every day.

Customizing The App Drawer

nova launcher android review

The app drawer is interesting in that it looks like an important area of the launcher, but actually if you put your most-used icons on your home screens and use Gesture Search, you won’t be using it all that much (I hardly ever visit there). Still, Nova Launcher lets you configure just about every conceivable aspect of the drawer, from its style (vertical continuous scrolling vs. horizontal pages), eight different scrolling effects, and groups of icons.

In the drawer itself you can quickly change the icon sorting order in whichever way makes sense to you:

nova launcher android review

So if you like having your most recently downloaded apps first on the list, that’s not a problem.

Uninstalling Apps Via Nova

nova launcher android review

To me, one of the most important aspects of an app launcher is removing apps. For some reason this feature is often neglected, but it’s really important: This way I don’t need to run a separate app just to keep my system tidy and free of software I no longer want. Nova lets you long-press any icon on the home-screen for a quick options menu, which thankfully includes an Uninstall button. You can also uninstall apps from the App Drawer:

nova launcher for android

What you’re seeing above is what happens when you long-press an icon in the App Drawer and start dragging it. This is a clever bit of UI design, because you can either drop the app icon on a home screen (to just put it there), or you can drop it on one of the three “action buttons” above… the first of which is Uninstall.

What You Can’t See In A Review

There are two important factors I can’t really convey in a written review, but make a big impact on the Nova Launcher experience: Performance, and use over time. When I say “performance” I mean how very smooth Nova’s animations are, and how gliding and swiping around the app feels effortless. This is an area that’s getting better with time, too: When dock icon swipes were just introduced, they were fairly clunky and hard to start. Now they feel natural and effortless, thanks to some sensitivity tweaks that were done over time.

The second factor, use over time, is something you’ll have to find out for yourself if you ever give Nova a try. Basically, a launcher is one of those apps that should be very very good, but melt into the background. It’s an app that knows it’s not the star of the show – it should just let you quickly do whatever you want to do, start your apps, and be there when you need it. Nova Launcher does all this, and much more – which is why it is officially listed in our Best Android Apps The Best Android Apps on the Google Play Store for 2019 Looking for the best Android apps for your phone or tablet? Here's our comprehensive list of the best apps for Android. Read More page. This is one launcher that gets the job done.

Be sure to get the most out of it with these amazing tips for Nova Launcher users 10 Power User Tips and Tricks for Nova Launcher Prime on Android Nova Launcher Prime is undoubtedly the best launcher on Android, and with these tips and tricks, it can be even better. Read More .

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  1. Frank Zedmore
    December 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I have Nova Launcher on my tablet and Go Launcher on my phone which both work extremely well

  2. Austen Gause
    November 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    why is this incompatible with gingerbread

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 18, 2012 at 9:23 am

      It uses functions Gingerbread simply doesn't have.

  3. Vampie C.
    November 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you for the review.

    I bought it for 0.25 but actually never used it, because it can't transfer my screens from my other launcher (go launcher ex).

    Guess i'll have to invest some time again in putting everything into place.

  4. Boni Oloff
    November 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    This one looks more beautiful than another launcher i have ever seen in Android.

  5. Chris Hoffman
    November 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I've been using this ever since I got the pro version on sale for 25 cents. My favorite feature is how you can create separate tabs (categories) in the app drawer -- so you can have one tab for your apps and a separate tab for your games, for example.

  6. Chew Jian Yue
    November 14, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Interesting application that I would want to recommend my friend.

  7. Márcio Guerra
    November 14, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Need to take a look!

    Thank you! Cheers!

  8. TorchingIgloosdotcom
    November 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I snagged the Prime version when they had it for $.25 last month and put it on my tablet, it is BY FAR the best launcher out there PERIOD! The gestures take UI to an entirely new level, not to mention the backup/restore feature is PRICELESS when switching between Roms for testing. For those who didn't get the memo it does require a rooted device and at least Android 4.0 (ICS).

  9. ha14
    November 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    it looks classy, how much Ram consumes Nova Launcher?

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

      Changes from device to device, also depending on what you're doing with it. It's not for low-powered devices though.

  10. Richard Borkovec
    November 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I use this on my Nexus 7, and it's amazing! I love the fact you can uninstall and app right from the screens by long pressing.

  11. Alex Dick
    November 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    i use Apex Launcher. granted apex and nova are very similar. anyway. what is the app you have next to the dialer with the sushi icon... just doesnt look familiar

  12. Ahmed Khalil
    November 13, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    i like this launcher it looks very good and new for me i will try it on my smartphone, thanks