Google’s working on a new launcher for Android, one that seamlessly integrates Google Now. The Google Experience Launcher is officially exclusive to the Nexus 5, but you can easily use it on any other Android smartphone or tablet.

Surprisingly, the new launcher isn’t even officially available for Google’s own Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10 devices yet. Read on for a look at what makes the new Google Experience Launcher special.

How to Install the Google Experience Launcher

Whatever Android phone or tablet you’re using, your device probably already has the Google Experience Launcher installed. This is surprising, but true. Like Google Now itself, the Google Experience Launcher’s code is contained almost entirely in the official Google Search app. The Google Search app is included on all Google-certified Android devices and is configured to automatically update from the Play Store by default.

The Google Experience Launcher’s code is buried in the Google Search app. As of Google Search version 3.1.8, the Google Experience Launcher is capable of running on devices running Android 4.1 or newer. Android devices without Google Play or the Google Search app, like cheap $50 tablets direct from factories in China, won’t be able to use this.

There’s just one missing piece on most Android devices. The Nexus 5 contains a special little app that makes the Google Experience Launcher active, allowing you to launch it and select it as your home screen. To do this on any other device — Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, anything running Android 4.1 or newer, or even an Android tablet — all you’ll need to do is download the enabler app from the Nexus 5 and sideload it onto your Android device.

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To get the app, visit Android Police’s site and download the file from one of their mirrors. Either download it on your device or download it to your computer and copy it over. Enable the “Unknown Sources” option in the Security screen and sideload the app. You may want to disable the Unknown Sources option later for security purposes.

After sideloading the APK file, tap your device’s home button and you’ll be able to choose the Google Search Launcher as your new launcher.

Bear in mind that the launcher may not work perfectly on all devices. However, Google has been releasing bug fixes that improve the way it works on “unsupported” devices, like the Nexus 7. Updates for the Google Search app will improve the Google Experience Launcher over time.

Using the Google Experience Launcher

This new launcher makes Google’s home screen experience available on any device. For example, Samsung Galaxy S4 users currently have to install a custom ROM or use an imitation launcher like Apex or Nova launcher to get a “stock Android” home screen.

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The Google Experience Launcher is “always listening,” so you can simply say “OK Google” and start talking to search or perform a voice action. This only works when you’re using your home screen, so it’s only “always listening” when your phone is on and you’re at your home screen. Your phone won’t send any voice data to Google while it’s listening; all the voice processing happens on your device only when you actually start a search or voice action.

RELATED: How to Configure and Use Google Now on Android

Google’s new launcher also integrates Google Now. Rather than requiring a swipe up from the home button (or a long-press on some devices) and a moment’s wait before Google Now appears, Google Now will be available with a quick swipe to the left from the home screen — no waiting for the Google Search app to load. The Google Search app is drawing the entire home screen. This also means that the Google Search app will open faster when you tap the search bar at the top of your home screen.

The look has been overhauled and now offers a cleaner experience. The app drawer now displays your installed apps over your home screen background instead of a black background. The tabs cluttering the top of the app drawer have also been eliminated. The launcher supports transparent status and navigation bars, but this only works if you’re using Android 4.4 KitKat.

Widgets are still available, but only by long-pressing the home screen background. The launcher’s animations also seem much faster, at least compared to the stock Android launcher included with Android 4.3 on the Nexus 4.

Google is clearly taking their time here and walking carefully. It looks like the end goal is for the Google Experience Launcher to be available as an option on every Android device. Currently, devices from Samsung run TouchWiz and there’s no way to use Android’s default launcher without installing a custom ROM. Someday soon, it should hopefully be possible for average Android users to download an app from the Google Play Store and enable the Google Experience Launcher to easily get a Google-designed Android home screen.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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