Android has had multitasking built into it right from the start. But to really benefit from multitasking, you need a quick and simple way to switch between apps. In Windows, this is Alt-Tab; Android has its own native mechanism for that in the form of the native “recent apps” screen accessible via a single tap on most devices. While informative and fully featured, that screen leaves something to be desired in the efficiency department: Interacting with it takes multiple taps and swipes. Switchr is a new app from developer Mohammad Adib, aiming to offer a fast and simple way to switch between recent tasks.
Adib has previously created the excellent Floating Stickies (reviewed here) and Sidebar Pro. Being familiar with his work, I had high expectations for Switchr. I will be reviewing the $2 Switchr Pro version below.
Since Switchr is so dynamic and visual, the best way to get a feel for it is to see it in action:
So, Switchr promises a lot: Two different forms of task switching, live task switching, and extensive customization. Some of these features turn out to be more useful than others.
Getting Started – Onboarding and Switching Methods
When you first install Switchr, it takes you through a polished and informative onboarding procedure, outlining what it can do:
Having to use an onboarding procedure is often a cue that a developer did not work hard enough to make their app intuitive to use. Switchr is a rare exception to this rule: Its innovative sliding interface merits some explanation up front. It is far from the first app to use side-swiping gestures (established alternatives like SwipePad and the aforementioned Sidebar Pro have been doing this for years), but its Flow and Slide interactions are new:
Immediately following the onboarding procedure, you will be asked to choose whether you want to opt for Flow or Slide. This is an early stage to have to make such a choice, since you haven’t really used either, and both are quite different. Let’s look at Slide first.
Less Than Ideal: Slide Mode
So-called Switchr Slide uses an “in-and-out” side-swipe gesture to show you a single card with a recently-used app. Repeat the gesture to flip to the next card:
The gesture is very similar to the one used by the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to shrink the display area for one-handed use. If you don’t have a Note 3, however, it isn’t likely any other app on your system uses this gesture. While easy to trigger, the Slide Mode doesn’t feel efficient. To switch three apps back, you’ll have to repeat the in-and-out gesture three times. And if you happen to miss the app you wanted and flip one past, you’ll have to let go of the screen, switch to that incorrect app, and start over again. Being able to only see one previous app at a time also adds to th confusion. The end result involves lots of swiping and fumbling around – not something I would want to use on an everyday basis.
The Great Parts: Switchr Flow, Responsiveness, Customization
If Slide Mode was all Switchr did, it would have been a disappointment. Fortunately, it is only one of two very different task switching modes, the other being Flow:
Above you can see two different looks for Switchr Flow. Keen-eyed readers will note the CoverFlow Effects panel in the right screenshot: That’s the screen you use to tweak Flow settings, and just about anything can be customized.
In use, Switchr Flow feels excellent. You slide your finger in from the side of the screen, and a horizontal list of icons pops up immediately. You can decide whether to show recently used apps (including ones Android has shut down since you’ve last used them), or only currently-running apps. Showing only currently-running apps makes for faster switching (as the apps don’t have to start up when you switch to them), but also means you’ll have less apps available on the list. The choice is yours to make, amongst many other choices Switchr allows you to make:
Above you can get a look at the General Settings screen, as well as a better look at CoverFlow Effects. The only part of the settings that didn’t work well for me was the Edit Margins feature, which is supposed to let you move the trigger area around – it showed handles around the trigger area, but would not let me interact with them.
But here is the important part: Switchr Flow is incredibly responsive and fast. That merits bold text, because it’s not something you’ll spot in the screenshots, but it makes all the difference when using the app. A task switcher must be fast above all else, and this is something Switchr delivers, at least on my Sony Xperia Z. The overlay shows up quickly; moving my finger across the screen flicks through app icons at a blazing speed and with buttery-smooth animations; and switching even five apps back requires only a single swipe, rather than multiple taps.
Looks Like a Keeper
Switchr tries to do a lot, and does not always succeed. Yet despite its failings and clumsy Slide Mode, it does deliver on its main promise: A quick, intuitive way to switch back and forth between apps on your Android device, thanks to Flow. This is a high-quality app from a developer with a proven track record, and I can warmly recommend it. Check out the free version today, and let me know what you think in the comments.
Explore more about: Multitasking.