Third party launchers are one of the most fundamental aspects of Android’s ever growing customization landscape. Year after year, developers have tried to fabricate a unique and smarter experience for users by embedding a ton of personalization tools. However, in some cases, these applications can feel a bit challenging due to an overload of features or if you aren’t particularly used to messing around. Coming across a genuinely new launcher interface and paradigm on Android is rare. Most third-party clients try to emulate the default Android launcher and add some customizations and improvements here and there.
Not to undermine the power of something like Nova Launcher, but there’s only so many times you can swipe left and right between homescreens or tap to open and close an app drawer before you wonder what that new launcher you installed does differently. If you’re like me you probably have googled several times looking for some new launchers that may be your next launcher, convince you to move over Nova or Google Now or Action Launcher but we all know how that google search brings up a ton of websites repeating the same story and the same launchers we already use and love. But here we have not one but three innovative launchers if you feel a little bored with the default android way of things.
There’s a new launcher in town titled “ASAP Launcher” and it focuses mainly on providing a much simpler home than most of us are accustomed to.
ASAP Launcher does things in a bit quirkier way – There are no widgets, wave goodbye to expandable homepages, not even folders and there aren’t even icons on the home screen itself. On the contrary, ASAP launcher tucks everything away on the edges with a quick access drawer on the left, toggles for settings on the right and an array of most used applications are accessible from the bottom dock. That’s not it, there are interactive pages for basic necessities like weather, frequent contacts, calendar entries and a todo list. On the landing screen, there’s a material-themed card on top displaying the time, date, weather, Google voice button and music controls.
If you swipe from the left edge of the home page, you reveal the app drawer, which is a scrolling list à la Action Launcher. You can search through the list or use the letters to quickly jump to any app you’re looking for.
If you swipe from the right edge of the screen, you’ll get the quick settings pane, which is a bit redundant in my opinion. It has shortcuts to the phone’s settings and plenty of toggles for WiFi, flashlight, screen rotation, and so on that you can already get on most phones from the notification dropdown. There’s also an overflow button in the main card that lets you access Search (ie Google Now), ASAP’s settings, and your phone’s settings.
There are no multiple homescreens in ASAP, but there are cards decked to the left and right of the home page. By default, on the right, you have a Calendar card that shows all of your upcoming events and lets you add an event right away, and a Todo list card that manages your tasks. The latter doesn’t integrate with Google Now’s reminders, which made it completely useless to me.
My last few days with ASAP have made me appreciate some of its features like the quick access to the calendar and weather. Unlike third-party widgets, they fit well with the design of the launcher and are hidden away from view but still easily reachable. I could do without the music widget, mostly because I use the notification but I will admit that I do like it siting there and looking cool.
I’d rather though have that entire card be available to me on a swipe in one of the panes to sit there and look cool. ASAP Launcher is definitely worth a shot so go check it out.
If you seek the novelty of a new welcoming interface each time you unlock your phone, choices are somewhat more limited especially if you want a reliable and simple app, not one that has been built for the sake of difference more than usability.
HomeUX walks that thin line with aplomb. It’s a bit unique in the way it organizes your homescreen, but it remains simple and usable over the long run. The app has been in development in closed beta for many months and has recently been released to the public as a version 1.0 beta. I’ve had it installed on my G4 since its earliest days and it has been on and off my default launcher, battling it out with Nova Launcher over homescreen supremacy.
Your HomeUX screen is divided between two distinct areas: the top is the Action Panel and the bottom is whatever folder you happen to be browsing. Swiping vertically switches folders, which in turn changes the background image and accent color of the Action Panel. By default, you have one folder — All — which hosts all of your apps’ icons.
Swiping horizontally can be done on both the top Action Panel and the bottom folder. Let’s focus on the latter for now. This gesture allows you to have multiple pages inside the same folder. For example, my Installed folder houses two other screens for a few widgets as seen below. That keeps them accessible, but hides them away from my main layout so they don’t ruin whatever simple design I was trying to achieve.
You may have noticed that the Action Panel is somewhat static throughout all of this swiping. Aside from changing backgrounds and colors, it keeps the same clock and date, the same shortcuts to my 5 most-used apps (QuickApps), and the same action button (floating QuickApp). That’s because it’s meant to be an easy way to reach your frequent apps. Think of it as a dock, except it’s placed higher on the screen.
HomeUX is a really innovative launcher and intends to change the way you interact with your device. However, HomeUX isn’t free of frustrations. Choosing an icon for a folder or a QuickApp is a matter of scrolling through a never-ending list of small black icons, most of which are useless. There isn’t even a lower or upper case G for a Google folder. There’s no logic and no order to the way the icons are listed, so you’ll have to just go through them one by one and hope to find something that fits.
Give it a try. Its worth it.
Before we start evaluating Atom Launcher, we’d best know what to look at. What does it say it can do? Here’s an official video showcasing it:
So, to summarize:
- You can import your homescreen from a previous launcher (“home copy function”)
- Features unique resizable folders, which let you flip through apps
- Has “awesome” widgets that are “very simple”
- Features a hidden dock for quickly adjusting visual settings
That’s not all Atom can do, but those are the main selling points according to the video. So let’s run through these one by one and see if Atom really delivers.
The default theme is nothing terribly special, but making a quick-change to the theme is simple.
One of the first things you’ll want to examine is the Atom Bar. This is a quick-access hiding toolbar that resides at the top of your screen (for smartphones) or the left edge of your screen (for tablets). The Atom Bar does not replace your notification bar. Instead, it gives you quick access to:
- Theme settings
- Add-to home (shortcuts, widgets, Atom Widgets, Atom Action, folders, wallpapers)
- Atom Launcher settings
- Android settings
Editing the Atom Bar is simple. You can add/remove items to/from the Atom Bar, add/remove items to/from the All Apps menu (shown when the app drawer is open), and add/remove items to/from the home screen popup menu.
Creating folders on your home screen is also simple. But these aren’t just standard folders that group launchers together. With Atom Launcher Smart Folders, you can resize and turn them into an interactive launcher. Say, for example, that you want to group all of your Google-related launchers together, and you want to be able to quickly choose which app to launch from that collection. Swipe to the right or left to change the active launcher, and tap the launcher to open the app. You can cycle through all the apps until you find the one you want to open. You can also enlarge that Smart Folder to be any width you like. The larger the folder, the more active launchers will be visible.
Atom Launcher has quite a bit more to offer. Play around with this wonderful launcher, and see if it doesn’t turn into your new default.
All that said and done, Atom Launcher is the least favorite on this list which the Sherlocks among you may have already guessed by its placement at the last and the lack of any screenshots. Here’s why :
It’s all about rough-edges and chunky icons with this app. Upon launching it gives a dated feel, but when you look closer you see that some icons are gray because they mimic crayon drawings. But for the sake of consistency, all icons should come in the same style if you check the setting from the menu.
The launcher comes with one installed themes and plenty of others to download, some are free others must be purchased. While the launcher itself isn’t confusing, you might feel overwhelmed by the multitude of settings and changes you can do to the interface. In fact, a tutorial would have been useful especially for new users but there isn’t one.
Have you found the ideal home launcher for Android? If so, which one — and what makes it perfect for you? Let us know in the discussion thread below.