Last week we held our first ever Android Launcher Roundup/Showdown where we compared 4 of the most popular Android home screen replacement applications and crowned one winner: Go Launcher EX
Sorry LeBron, even GO Launcher wins a ring
Go Launcher EX was by far the best choice out of the pack with its astonishing list of features—many of them unique to its platform—combined with the fact that is was very polished and wait for it… FREE! I did however note that it lacked certain features like the ability to hide apps in the drawer or expand the homescreen grid to more than 5 x 5. They then immediately noted that I should stop complaining and promptly added these features over the weekend. Touché.
Up to 10 x 10 grid size: even 5 x 7 is pushing it
Today I will be demonstrating how I have setup my Samsung Infuse 4G, but the principles learned in today’s class can be applied to the Galaxy S and Galaxy S II as well. There are many ways to customize your phone; some people may prefer a barebones setup, while others may like a jam packed interface. Some users may want to apply settings that maximize battery life, while others may want the most aesthetically pleasing layout. The features that I will be demonstrating fit my goals of convenience/efficiency [maximizing gesture use] and reducing clutter [displaying only things that I choose].
For my overall theme I have chosen the Honeycomb skin for Go Launcher; sometimes I like putting personal pictures and what not as the background, but for this demo I have gone for the utilitarian rather than aesthetic approach to UI design. I have split this How To into sections based on what area is being customized. Enjoy! [Skip to the Wrap Up for the video guide and QR codes used in this article]
The Default Home Screen
I want my default home screen to give me quick access to information and frequently used apps without being cluttered. I also wanted to maintain the default Honeycomb color scheme. To achieve this I have removed the default Android notification bar (don’t worry we still have access to it, refer to the gestures section) and replaced any information displayed with widgets. Using GO Weather Widget and the HTC Sense skin, I display the time, weather and date prominently across the top of the screen.
Using Empirical’s Mobile Signal Widget and Simmo Publication’s Battery Monitor Free, I can see a lot more information about my signal and battery than the default display. Battery temperature and voltage is displayed in addition to remaining life, and signal strength is displayed in dBm along a more precise 10 bar scale; carrier and WiFi/data connection is also displayed.
Brightness level widget with Flashlight widget running; volume controls can be seen above the dock
The three other widgets are used to save (or heavily deplete) battery life: CurveFish’s Brightness Level, CoffeeBreak Apps’ Volume Control+, and a flashlight app that no longer exists on Android Market. You can replace the flashlight with one of many other widgets. Both Brightness Level and Volume Control give on-the-fly access to the Android settings which would other take many keystrokes: I like to leave all my settings on low and then ramp them up if I am playing a game or viewing multimedia content.
GO Launcher’s app dock allows you have up to 15 shortcuts, each with a customizable icon and a custom gesture function; this in practice gives your app dock the ability to launch 30 different functions. This means that rather than having 2 docks with 5 apps each, I could save my self the trouble of swiping to the other dock and selecting a shortcut by combining two related applications. For example, I could have the shortcut for Facebook in my dock and set the gesture response to open up Twitter, allowing me to effectively kill two birds [one bird and a book?] with one shortcut.
To enable these functions, simply longpress a slot in the dock and add a shortcut repeat the process to add a gesture command. Although I do enjoy having the ease of drag and dropping icons via long pressing, this method although slower for frequently adding/changing shortcuts, is much more effective when it comes to productivity.
GO Launcher’s application drawer is by far the best app drawer out there not only because of its customizability, but also its functionality.
While the default Gingerbread app drawer is limited to launching an app or going back to the homescreen, GO Launcher’s app drawer is categorized into 3 sections that combine the recent/task manager into the drawer as well. These options categorize wonderfully allowing a number of commands to be executed using only 1 keystroke/longpress:
- Move to desktop
- Create and move to folder
- End specific process
- End all processes (2 keystrokes)
- Lock (2)
- Goto running (2)
- View info (2)
Long pressing an icon makes them oscillate like on iOS: they can be moved or uninstalled in this state
In addition, hitting the menu button allows you to:
- Sort chronologically or alphabetically
- Create new folders and add multiple apps simultaneously
- Hide apps from being displayed
- Select multiple locked apps
Execute an Armageddon on those memory hogging apps while granting immunity to a select few
Another great feature of the drawer is that ability to choose paginated or scrolling displays: either vertical continuous or horizontal paginated. GO launcher also gives us the ability to choose the grid size, toggle icon labeling, and personalize the drawer via enter/exit transitions as well as custom backgrounds. When in the horizontal page-by-page mode, the icon transitions can be customized so that each icon changes to the corresponding icon on the next page via an animation (take a look at the video). To customize, go to app drawer > menu > settings , and experiment to find which settings best suit your preferences.
Here we can see the ‘Chariot’ transition effect
I remember way back when had my HTC G1 I was green with envy because the iPhone 2G had multitouch and pinch to zoom capabilities. Look who’s laughing now. Me. At all the hardcore Apple fanboys that will never experience the glory of Android’s platform. GO Launcher and SwipePad bring a new level of control over your phone via gestures executed on the display. One of my aforementioned goals was to remove clutter from my homescreens. Although removing certain functions clears up space, it also removes those functions. So how do we assign functionality to a non-existent shortcut? Simple: reinvent the shortcut.
SwipePad gives access to 12 apps within 1 keystroke
Much like human-to-human communication, human-to-phone communication can be executed in more than one way. Although verbal communication is what we normally default to, we can augment or replace certain messages with gestures: a nod or a wave, facial expressions and body language. The same can be said about phones; we don’t have to point and click every time we want it to do something. Rather than navigating a bunch of menus and clicking buttons/icons we can simply perform a gesture and be where we need to be.
Even my fat fingers didn’t have trouble hitting the x’s and home icons
With GO Launcher and SwipePad, I can open four menus from the homescreen in one single maneuver:
- Swiping up presents the app drawer
- Swiping down drops the notification bar
- Pinching to zoom previews all the home pages
- Touching the top right edge and dragging towards the middle brings up the SwipePad drawer
From those screens I can perform the plethora of functions available within each screen: all the functionality without any of the mess.
Although there are plenty of headliners to be showcased with GO Launcher EX, there are some more nuanced features as well that are simple but very useful.
GO Launcher’s homescreen preview is powerful, intuitive and easy to use. After pinching to zoom out, we are presented with the tiled display of our homescreens: from here we can add (simply select the [+]), remove (hit the [x]), select default (hit the little house), rearrange (long press) or jump to a specific screen. It even allows 27+ homescreens (I stopped adding more after I got to the third page :P). Absolutely unparalleled and unprecedented control over your homescreens
Application and Widget Placement
Rather than moving one application at a time from the app drawer to the desktop, GO Launcher allows you to select multiple applications and it also enables a draggable scroll bar which greatly speeds up the process. It also lists the number of slots available on a given screen.
In addition, when you drag a shortcut or widget to the side of the screen, rather than just moving one screen over, it zooms out to the screen preview so it can be dropped onto any screen available. No more recreating widgets or dragging a widget over 7 screens. Did I mention they are resizeable?
Launcher Pro Plus has this feature, but it ain’t free.99
I find that people don’t really use the default folder system because 1) it takes too much work to create and manage and 2) it’s ugly. GO Launcher’s take on folders remedies both these issues. Folders can be created on the homescreens as well as the app drawer; folders created in the app drawer can be dropped onto the desktop as well. It couldn’t be easier either: while in the app drawer, simply long press an app and drag it over to another app you would like to group it with; this will put the two in a folder which can then be placed on the desktop. Cool thing about the folders is that they show their contents:
It’s not that pixel-ly, I swear! Read our Display Size and Pixel Density article
GO Launcher can even further extend its utility with its GO Widgets and GO Launcher Themes. Although I won’t go over all of them, I have installed the GO Weather widget, which is also the clock you can see at the start of this article, and the GO Task Manager. The task manager widget displays icons of 10 running process, the amount of memory being used and give you the ability to end them individually or all at once.
Well there you have it, a comprehensive guide to the most comprehensive launcher. For those of you who don’t like to read,
we will be releasing a video shortly.
If you are ready to customize your phone right now, here are QR codes for all of the different applications and widgets used in this guide: