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On Android, you don’t have to be stuck with the default look the phone ships with. All you have to do is install a new “launcher”, which controls how your homescreen looks. But given the plethora of such apps on the Play Store, which launcher should you use?
Some launchers focus on getting things done, others let you customize them to the finest degree, and a few are about being lightweight. Heck, even Google lets you download its default launcher.
As usual, there is no “best” overall app, and it depends on your needs.
No-Nonsense, Lots of Great Features: Action Launcher
Best For: Anyone who wants a launcher with tons of smart, useful features, without having to set them up yourself.
A launcher’s core job is to get out of the way and let you do your tasks quickly. Whether it’s launching an app, looking up a widget, or anything else, the launcher is merely the mechanism. Action Launcher understands this better than any other.
By default, Action Launcher imitates the clean look of the launcher on Google’s Pixel phones. And yes, it has complete Google Now integration for voice commands.
Its shortcuts are the best part, though. For example, instead of adding an app’s widget on your fifth homescreen, Action Launcher has “Shutters”. Swipe up on an app with a corresponding widget, and you will immediately launch the widget.
Similarly, you can choose the most frequently used app of a folder as the “Cover App”. Tap the Cover to launch the app, or swipe the Cover to reveal the folder with other apps.
Action Launcher lets you add app shortcuts in the Google search bar, choose different icon packs, hide and rename apps, create backups and restore them, and it comes with a swipe-out scrollable app drawer.
It’s free to try, but that restricts most of the great features noted here. Check it out — it is definitely worth the $2.99.
Download: Action Launcher for Android (Free, $2.99 for Pro)
Most Customizable: Nova Launcher
Best for: Those who want to control exactly how their Android looks, and those who like to often change the theme of their launcher.
Nova Launcher is, without a doubt, the most customizable launcher on the Play Store. It lets you tweak each and every aspect of how your Android device performs. And it’s blazing fast too.
The free version of Nova Launcher lets you control the positioning of each icon on your screen, and it hosts a variety of icon packs. One of its popular features is the infinite scroll, letting you seamlessly scroll between the homescreen and the app drawer. And the app drawer itself is customizable too. Learn more in our collection of power tips for Nova Launcher users!
Nova also has the easiest backup/restore system we’ve seen. Given the large community of users for this app, you will often find Nova themes you can download for free. Now you see why this was our pick for the best free Android launcher.
The app really flexes its muscle with the paid version, Nova Launcher Prime. Prime includes two features that change how you use the launcher: Gestures and Badges on icons. Gestures are shortcuts to launch favorite apps, while badges display the number of unread messages/notifications on popular apps. Nova Prime also lets you hide certain apps that you don’t want others to see.
With this app, you’re better off installing the free version and trying it out for a month. If you like it, only then will it be worth it to pay for the Prime version.
If you’re looking for more highly customizable launchers, there are plenty of reasons to give Smart Launcher a try.
Download: Nova Launcher for Android (Free, $4.99 for Prime)
Free, Fast, and Light: Evie Launcher
Best for: Those on older phones looking for a lightweight launcher that still looks good and has all the basic features of a good launcher.
As great as the free version of Nova Launcher is, it has ads and in-app purchases. Plus, it’s customizable, but not beautiful. Evie Launcher outscores Nova on both counts, and even beats it on speed.
Evie is a marvel in how refined its animations are, while still being completely free. No ads and no in-app purchases that restrict features. It does require a few Android permissions to show you unread count badges and other smart features.
The homescreen is as barebones as it can get. Arrange the apps how you want, change the icons, and dive into settings to select how many apps appear on the homescreen or dock. You have similar granular control over the widgets and the app drawer.
Evie also lets you hide apps from the launcher, so as to keep it from prying eyes. And it includes a simple backup/restore function as well to save your theme.
All in all, it’s one of the best light Android apps to save storage and boost speed.
Download: Evie Launcher for Android (Free)
The Google Experience: Google Now Launcher
Best for: Anyone who wants what Google intended Android to look like.
If you buy a Samsung, it comes with the TouchWiz interface. If you buy an Asus, it comes with ZenUI. Every manufacturer seems to layer on their own version of Android. But if you want the stock Android experience without rooting, Google has its own launcher.
The Google Now Launcher is what you will get on a phone without a custom interface, like any of Motorola’s phones. This includes Google Now cards, which display relevant information when you swipe over to the left on your homescreen.
The app drawer is sorted alphabetically, but you can also find installed apps quickly by typing the first few letters in the Google search bar.
There’s nothing fancy about the Google Now Launcher. It’s job is to give you the look and feel of a vanilla Android phone, and that’s what it does efficiently.
Download: Google Now Launcher for Android (Free)
What’s Your Favorite Android Launcher?
There are plenty of other great launchers on the Play Store, but we reckon these are all you need to look at. Which launcher do you use on Android and why? What makes it the best?