Review: Best Android Launcher and Homescreen Replacement

Posted on Jun 10 2011 - 6:36pm by Brian

[Spoiler Alert: If you want to skip to our article on How To customize your Infuse or Galaxy S device with the winner of this roundup, go here. If you are too lazy to read, watch my in-depth video guide!]

Samsung’s flagship Android phones have all been rampant successes; the Galaxy S, Galaxy S II, and Infuse 4G have all received positive critic reviews in almost every aspect. From their gorgeous Gorilla Glass enshrined SAMOLED Plus displays to their 1GHz, 1.2GHz, and Dual Core Exynos processors, Samsung’s top tier Android devices are a pleasure to use.

To complement all these great hardware specs we are graced with the glory of Google’s Android operating system. Although that by itself is a great platform (many reviewers enjoy the stock 2.3 interface over OEM UXs), the great thing about Android is its ability to be customized according to the user’s needs and desires. Android’s pairing with OEM interfaces has been a hit with the masses of general consumer as seen in Google’s ascension to of the smartphone OS ladder.

But if you are reading this you probably aren’t a general consumer. You are a part of an elite special forces team known as the prosumers. Actually you are probably just a normal guy with a knack for electronics. Or maybe you are an 84 year old grandma. The bottom line is that you can benefit from the data that I have collected and now bestow upon you.

The Contenders


Today’s main event will feature a head-to-head-to-head-to-head, 4-way cage fight where only 1 launcher can come out alive. Winner of this grand battle will be crowned with the CareAce Commissioner’s Cup, signifying excellence in desktop launching:

Sorry Baseball, the other trophies are so much cooler

With no further adieu, here are today’s combatants:

With an Android Market rating of 4.5 stars based on 55k votes, weighing in at 1.1MB and fighting out of jbthemes.com: ADW Launcher

With an Android Market rating of 4.5 stars based on a whopping 192k votes, weighing in at 2.1MB and fighting out of Sydney, Australia: Federico “Launcher Pro” Carnales

With an Android Market rating of 4.5 stars based on 12k votes, weighing in at a scant 383kb and fighting out Johannesburg, South Africa: Michael “ZEAM” Bentz

With an Android Market rating of 4.5 stars based on 67k votes, weighing in at 2.6MB and fighting out of Guangzhou, China: GO Launcher EX

Fight!


The rules are simple, a 22 round deathmatch with the winner claiming the title and the losers being fed to Jabba’s rancor.

Feature Go Launcher Launcher Pro ADW Launcher Zeam
Max Home Screens 20+ 7 7 7
Add/Remove Screens On-The-Fly Yes No Yes No
Choose Default Home Screen O-T-F Yes No Yes No
Hide Notification Bar Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hide Icon Labels Yes Yes Yes Yes
Home Dock Size 5 x 3 5 x 3 5 20+
O-T-F App switching No Yes Yes
Max Screen Grid 5 x 5 10 x 10 8 x 8 8 x 8
Wallpaper Scrolling 

Animation

Yes: 11 options Yes: 6 No No
Customizable App Drawer Yes No Yes Yes
Orientation Options Portrait & Landscape Scrolling & Paginated Portrait and Landscape Scrolling Portrait & Landscape Scrolling & Paginated Portrait & Landscape Scrolling
Custom BG Yes No No No
Max Grid Size 5 x 5 4 x 5 6 x 6 or 8 x 5 6 x 5 or 3 x 8
Custom Animation Yes No Yes Yes
Custom Gesture Functions Yes Yes Yes Yes
Swipe up Yes: 10 Options No Yes: 10 Yes
Swipe down Yes: 10 Options No Yes: 10 Yes
Pinch Zoom Out Yes: O-T-F Homescreen Customization Yes Yes Yes
Home Button Binding Yes: 10 Options Yes: 5 Yes: 7 Yes: 7
Auto Rotate Yes Yes Yes Yes
Theme/Skinnable Yes Yes Yes No

Judge’s scorecard (1 point awarded per feature, 1 point awarded for best in class):

  1. GO Launcher EX: 23
  2. ADW Launcher: 19
  3. Zeam: 16
  4. Launcher Pro: 12

Post-Game Analysis


The table alone cannot account for the nuances of each launcher so I will break down each launcher’s performance one by one.

Launcher Pro

The most popular of the bunch, Launcher pro lacks the ability to recognize a swipe up and a swipe down. I noted in the table that although it has gesture commands, it has neither of the aforementioned. In Launcher Pro the option to have a gesture control is activated by hold down on the homescreen app dock and choosing ‘Change gesture reponse.’ After choosing a command, you can activate the action by swiping from the dock bar up. I prefer being able to swipe anywhere on the screen to have this feature; I don’t see any particular benefit of it having to start at the app dock. Also you can’t swipe down to bring down the notification bar… another feature that the rest of the launchers had.

I also had a compatibility issue with the Samsung Infuse as every setting I tried to save would revert to its default. However, one of Launcher Pro’s redeeming features is its ability to hide apps in the app tray; a feature that no other launcher in this roundup can claim to have. As for the “Theme settings,” it isn’t so much a theme as an icon pack. Even the default app dock icons remained unchanged. GO Launcher EX’s honeycomb theme changed the background as well as the icons in the app dock.

Besides the aforementioned lack of a down swipe command, Launcher Pro works admirably with the features that it did provide.

Zeam

Zeam was actually the first launcher I became familiar with, and for a minimalist it is the best launcher. If you aren’t interested in fancy animations, themes or widgets, Zeam offers most of the features of the other launchers but in a lightweight, easily navigable package

Zeam’s app dock is my personal favorite; rather than have 3 separate docks with 5 icons each, this dock continuously scrolls and can have more than 20 icons (I didn’t bother adding anymore). The app dock can be populated by drag and dropping as well versus having to add them through longpresses/menu settings.

ADW Launcher

Although ADW Launcher has the fewest slots in its ‘Action Bar,’ it unique in that you can add ‘Launcher Actions’ that allow you to view all the home screens, shode/hide the status bar, open and close notifications etc. Unfortunately since there are only 5 spots, none of these actions have any priority over apps. Also I would rather have all these actions as gestures as seen in GO Launcher EX. Another thing I found annoywing was that it required 3 actions to get the launcher settings: menu > more settings > ADWsettings. All of the other launcher did it in 2 steps.

ADW also experienced some bugginess and was unable to save settings on the Infuse as well. The themes on ADW did more than on Launcher Pro as well, it gave widgets and icons a new look while also changing the background.

GO Launcher EX

Yes I was saving the best for last. Let me say what I didn’t like about GO Launcher. Okay done.

Now there were two features that it lacked: drag and drop app drawer (only Zeam has this) and a more cutomizable grid (5 x 5 is max and it doesnt fit well). But other than that it covered all my bases. Lets take a look at its best features:

  1. Resizable widgets. This is awesome. Maybe gimmicky. But really really awesome. Launcher Pro can do this but you have to pay.
  2. By FAR the best homescreen preview/adder/default selector. Pinch to zoom out, and all the screens appear; from here you can add 20+ additional screens and select which one is your default home screen. Just hit the X to remove them.
  3. Recent & Running apps in the app tray. Another feature that no other launcher has, this give the function of long pressing home in your app tray; more intuitive and faster. Also you can kill all running apps really quickly.
  4. Lots of nice widgets; we will be writing a how to in the near future showing off the great widgets (which are also free)
  5. Tons of customization for the homescreen including 11 different scrolling animation options
  6. Caches apps and allows you to add more than 1 item at a time to your desktop; this is a godsend. Now if only you could delete more than 1 item at a time…

GO Launcher EX does those 6 things very well and for free, and also covers all the other standard launcher bases. It is for this reason that I award the CareAce Commisioner’s Cup to GO Launcher EX! Stay tuned for our How To Customize Your Phone article next week.

3 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Jhon February 20, 2012 at 5:36 am -

    Nice launchers suggestions i have also found some nice nice collection of launchers over here. do check it out http://enzag.com/technology/android/top-5-android-launchers-for-home-screen/

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.