Android’s launcher is one of the most important parts of the user interface. It’s the first thing you see once the device is unlocked, and it’s the primary way you interact with the home screen. It’s where your widgets live, where the app drawer is found, and where you customize the look of your phone.
If you’re unhappy with the launcher your handset manufacturer provides out of the box, however, fret not—there are a slew of excellent third-party choices that can be installed from the Play Store. Today, we’re rounding up the best of the best.
The Best for Most People: Google Now Launcher
The Google Now Launcher—or GNL as it’s often called—is Google’s definitive launcher. It originally started as an exclusive-to-Nexus project, but was later released in the Play Store for all users to enjoy. It’s simple, stable, fast, and efficient, which is basically all you could ever ask for in a launcher. And best of all, it’s free.
What makes the Google Now Launcher most unique, however, is its nearly-instant access to Google Now. From the main home screen, a quick swipe to the right will immediately pull up Now, giving you quick access to recent news, weather, Google search, and more.
Past that, the Google Now Launcher is simple, and isn’t packed with a lot of fluff. It does what it does very well, and while this simplicity is nice most of the time, it may not be the best or most powerful option out there for those who want more out of their launcher.
The Best for Serious Customization: Nova Launcher
When it comes to getting the most out of your launcher, it’s really hard to go wrong with Nova. It’s insanely powerful and customizable, making this the favorite launcher among those who prefer power over simplicity.
With it, you can change and customize home screen icons or set a custom grid size for a unique home screen layout. You can make icons work as folders by adding a swipe gesture, set a custom action for the home button when you’re already on the home screen (like launching Google Now!), hide apps from the app drawer, and so much more.
If power and customization is what you’re after, Nova is one of the best out there. It also has an excellent developer team behind it, so it’s constantly updated with new features and bug fixes. You can try Nova for free, but you’ll have to shell out $4.99 to get everything the launcher has to offer.
The Best for Speed: Action Launcher 3
At first blush, Action Launcher 3 doesn’t appear to be all that different from the other launchers on our list. But once you actually start using it, it becomes pretty clear that this launcher has some features that you won’t find anywhere else, like a gesture to instantly launch a list of installed apps. Like Google Now Launcher’s swipe-right-for-Now gesture, the same action on Action Launcher 3 will bring up an alphabetical list of everything installed on the handset, along with a quick way to sort through them by dragging across the letter bar on the right side.
But that’s not all Action Launcher 3has going for it. It’s loaded with other gesture-based features, customizable shortcuts and folders, and a lot more. Like Nova, Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but you’ll have to shell out a five spot to get the most it has to offer. Also like Nova, it’s worth the cost.
Android’s customizable launchers are easily one of the best things about the operating system in general—you spend so much of your time looking at (and for) things housed on the home screens and in the app drawer, so making the most of that experience is definitely something you should do. At the end of the day, you can always go back to whatever you’re used to and comfortable with if you’re not into the third-party options. Choices, baby!