For those that are either new to Android – or terrified of voiding their warranty – there is a simpler way to change the ‘feel’ of your handset.
For those new to Android, you may not know that everything is replaceable. From messaging to the dialler, you can change whatever you want. This even includes the launcher; that which handles your home screens, widgets, icons, app drawer, and lock screen. It’s what appears every time you hit the ‘home’ button, so switching it is a great way to personalise your phone.
A wolf in sheep's clothing?
So, how easy is it? Easy peasy. In fact, it’s so low down on the difficulty scale that it sits below “lemon squeezey” – all you have to do is install an app from the market.
So, why am I dedicating 500 words to it (I hear my editor ask…)? Because there are several options, my friends.
Most launchers support a configurable number of homescreens, a selection of interesting transitions as you swipe between screens, a customisable dock (that can offer gestures), and, often, themes and special widgets.
The biggest names in the launcher world are LauncherPro, ADW.Launcher, GO Launcher EX, Zeam, alongside a few other weirdo ones (such as the Windows-Phone-7-themed Launcher 7). All of them are free, but there are usually some bonus features available to “pro” users.
LauncherPro is my favourite, mainly because the dock (those 5 apps at the bottom of the home screen) can scroll across, giving me as many docks as I want. It also has a boat-load of interface and performance options, so may not be a great one for the non-technical. The ~$3.50 paid version unlocks some HTC Sense-style widgets.
ADW.Launcher comes with the CyanogenMod (as it’s open source), and its biggest strength is its visual customisability. It comes at a slight speed cost, and its dock isn’t as good as LauncherPro’s, even though it also supports gestures.
Speaking of themes, if you’re a sucker for bright colours and cute scenes, GO Launcher EX’s themes are like no others I’ve seen, and should appeal to those that love candy.
There are reports of it phoning home with your IMEI, however, so take that as you will.
If your phone is getting a little old, I would recommend you switch to Zeam Launcher, as it’s the fastest launcher out there. This speed comes at the price of customisability, but given the choice between smoothness and flashiness, I will always choose the silken road of sanity.
After installing a launcher and pressing the home key, you’ll be greeted with a pop-up asking you to choose your new launcher. Tick “launch as default”, to stop the pop-up appearing again (you can always un-install any launcher to go back to your old one). The App ‘Home Switcher’ will allow you to quickly switch between several launchers, if you can’t choose just one.