ZenUI is a launcher which bridges the gap between the bloatware-heavy low-end launchers, brimming with ads and unwanted apps, and the more intricate, enthusiast launchers.
ZenUI not only has a pool of high-quality themes – and the expected dearth of shabby ones – to choose from, but it also includes advanced customization features for those who want to refine their Android experience.
Developed by Asus, this Launcher does feature some of the trappings of the more spam-y, bloatware-y launchers, such as the awkward search menu, accessed with an upward swipe, setup by default with trending search suggestions. But, like the three Zen-specific shortcuts it adds to the homescreen, this can easily be removed.
You can adjust the homescreen grid size, transitional animations for moving between homescreens (the ‘accordion’ one is particularly nice) – you can even theme the folders.
What’s more, ZenUI includes a security tool for apps, CM Applock for Asus (provided byClean Master developer Cheetah Mobile) to prevent unwanted users from accessing certain content
The applock works much the same as a screenlock. However, this component can be used with an ‘intruder-selfie’ function which employs your phone’s front-facing camera to snap a picture of a person trying to enter the app. This only works if the person has a failed attempt at opening the app first, before getting inside. It would be far more interesting if it just snapped users trying to access your apps. Still, it might be fun to show a few friends.
Finally, ZenUI supplies an ‘unread counts badge’ so you can see how many unread messages or notifications you have for each app: it’s considered a premium feature in some launchers. It’s functional, and support for this does extend to WhatsApp, which is probably where most people would want it.
It’s intuitive, customizable and has possibly the most impressive selection of icon packs and themes of any product on the list. This could be your best entry point into the world of launchers.
Price: FreeSize: 22 MBAndroid requirement: 4.3 and aboveVersion tested: 22.214.171.124_16051ZenUI Launcher-Theme,Wallpaper
Smart Launcher Pro 3
Smart Launcher Pro 3 has its own distinct flavor and is unlike any launcher on the list. It begins with a short setup procedure where you are asked for your preferred dialer app, music app, and photo app from those you have installed (if you have any installed).
Select them, hit start, and you’ll be dropped into a single homescreen populated by six apps, some of which were determined in the previous steps. A swipe left brings up an organized app drawer (smartlock organizes it automatically, you can’t change the order) and swiping to the right brings up several screens designed for widgets.
That’s it. A single homescreen with six apps. You can increase the number of these apps or remove existing ones, as well as customize what they do. But, crucially, you can’t add more homescreens.
It’s a minimalist setup and an interesting design decision. One might ask why there is only one homescreen for apps but three screens for widgets when they’re typically fewer in number?
This, I presume, is to force users to create a manageable single space. If you’re aiming for a less cluttered homescreen, Smart Launcher Pro 3 necessitates it.
Smart Launcher Pro 3 implements a handful of functions to make single homescreen usage easier. Chief among these is the extra function that each app button can make use of. You can use a single tap for one action or a double tap for another. This is a great way to save space on the homescreen because each app button has the potential to open two apps.
How about making your dialer app open in one tap, and making contacts appear with a double tap? Or you might consider launching WhatsApp with one tap, and Facebook Messenger with a double? Maybe a single touch on the camera icon will launch your camera app, while tapping twice could start Instagram?
You don’t have to make use of this feature, but it works, and highlights what the developers have done to support the core goal of singular homescreen use, rather than spammed the app with hundreds of incongruous features.
You can also customize how the app drawer looks in several interesting ways. It defaults to a flower-petal setup: six apps in a circle. But you can change it to a simple grid, like on a standard homescreen, Honeycomb style, or – my favorite – Arch. This gathers apps in a non-linear format which climbs up the side of your display. It looks organic and very cool.
Smart Launcher Pro 3 supports free and premium themes that compliment its already sophisticated look. But I’d say its focus is more on usability than style. If you want to redefine the way you use your phone and optimize for ease-of-use, give this one a try.
Price: $3.99Size: Varies with device
Android requirement: Varies with device
Version tested: 3.16Smart Launcher Pro 3
The undisputed king of alternate Android launchers, Nova Launcher, holds a spot on nearly everyone’s smartphone. With over five million Play Store downloads, its fans can’t be wrong. It offers an accessible and functional entry point into the world of launchers.
A new feature called ‘icon normalization’ has become a fan-favorite, and uses surprisingly complex algorithms to make sure all your icons cover a consistent area of the screen. What this means is that rather than simply fitting the icons within equally sized frames, they are scaled to cover the same area, regardless of shape, making them far more appealing to look at.
Nova Launcher has a vast array of options, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. / © ANDROIDPIT
An alternate name for the Google Now launcher could be ’search now’. That’s because it makes searching faster. Instead of opening Chrome or another web browser for a query, Google Now gives you a search box at the top of your home screen. You can either type or use voice commands to get started
Besides getting faster searches from the Google Now launcher, you get a clean, uncluttered experience. The icons are spaced apart well, your apps can be sorted into logical categories and the home screen can be changed by pressing down on the ample blank space.
If you swipe right from your home screen you can see Google Now cards. You can customize these cards to get movie times, sport scores, news or the weather. Enabling location services will make these cards even more effective, although you will lose some of your privacy.
Google Now lets you search at the top of your home screen. / © ANDROIDPITGoogle Now Launcher
Action Launcher 3
This theme has fully embraced Android Lollipop and works brilliantly with devices that have received the covetedupdate. One of its best features is a bar, similar to the Windows Start Menu, that pops up on the left side of your screen, and lets you launch your favorite apps without having them cluttering up your home screen. You can completely customize your All Apps list, as well as tweak the layout, icons and colors to your heart’s content.
Action Launcher 3 takes a leaf out of the Windows Start Menu’s book, and works brilliantly with Lollipop. / © ANDROIDPITAction Launcher 3
Buzz Launcher offers some of the inventive themes we’ve seen on Android. Its community has come up with a whole range of professional-looking ideas to suit all tastes. Buzz is unbeatable if you want a bold new look on your Android without the effort of creating it yourself, but you will need to download the additional Buzz Widget app to get the most from it.
Just one of the themes you can get with Buzz Launcher. / © ANDROIDPIT
With over 10 million installs and support for thousands of free themes, dodol Launcher keeps it simple and does themes just right. It isn’t a complete reworking of the Android system, but it is a lightweight, effective launcher, and it won’t destroy your battery life with crazy effects and animations. It’s another less-is-more kind of launcher, and could be a great place to start if you’re new to Android customization.
This neon-colored theme for dodol Launcher is a minimalist delight. / © ANDROIDPIT
APUS is currently one of the most popular launchers on Android, largely thanks to its gorgeous Pinko theme. This launcher combines themes, custom icons, and some APUS own-brand features to make it one of the most comprehensive launchers to date. It’s free, so you should definitely check this one out; APUS’ animations are top-notch.
The APUS Launcher is feature-packed and tightly designed: its Pinko theme (above) is one of the most popular. / © ANDROIDPITAPUS Launcher – Fast & Smart
Hola Launcher has made a name for itself, largely thanks to how economical it is. The initial download comes in at just over 1 MB, and with that comes a reorganized interface, new app icons and some gorgeous themes. But it’s not just its file size that is slim, Hola is also hard to beat on its use of processing power – it requires less RAM than even some of the quickest Android Launchers.
Some of the Hola Launcher themes are minimalist delights. / © ANDROIDPITHola Launcher – Simple, Fast
Apex Launcher is one of the most popular custom launchers available right now, with more than million downloads from the Play Store and an average rating of 4.3 stars. It offers near-endless customization options, complete home screen and app drawer control, gesture settings, and tons of icons, themes, launch animations and transition effects. There’s also a paid version, which adds even more features to the already-formidable free launcher.
This is my current Apex Launcher setup – exactly how I like it. / © ANDROIDPITApex Launcher
Are you rocking a custom launcher that we’ve missed? What do you think is the best Android launcher? Let us know in the comments.
Best Android Launchers 2016