Android phone showing custom launcher

Android’s customizability is one reason many people prefer it. You can change the look, feel, and function of basically any Android phone with themes, custom launchers, and icon packs. Here’s how to get started.

Some phones allow you to install themes, while all Android phones let you install custom launchers and icon packs. These go a long way to making your phone unique, thanks to the nearly infinite launcher and icon pack customizations.

Step One: Choose a Theme (Some Phones Only)

themes on the play store

Some Android phones let you choose a theme for the phone dialer, messenger, Settings app, and other built-in applications. These are usually as simple as choices between light and dark backgrounds, but it may not be an all-or-nothing affair. For example, the Pixel line doesn’t let users choose between a light and dark theme for the Settings menu, but the Quick Settings menu, phone dialer, messenger, and some (but not all) of Google’s other applications can be individually toggled between light and dark mode.

If you use a flagship Galaxy phone, you get access to Samsung’s awesome theme store. This lets you change the icons used in Samsung’s launcher, the color of the Settings and Quick Settings menus, Samsung’s messaging app, phone dialer, and other built-in applications. It also lets you change the look of the navigation buttons. For example, the theme I’m using (called Material Dark) makes the navigation buttons look like those on vanilla Android phones. Finally, Samsung Themes lets you download different designs for your Always-on-Display, so even if your phone is just sitting on a table, you can show off a little personal flair.

details page for a theme

If you don’t get theming options with your phone manufacturer’s built-in apps, you can always use a different app from the Play Store. You can use Google Messages to send SMS, and Solid Explorer to browse files, and change between dark and light theme inside of those apps.

Step Two: Choose a Launcher

The launcher is where you’ll notice the biggest opportunity to customize your phone. The launcher is the first thing you’ll see when you unlock your phone, and where you’ll go when you’re not using an app. Besides giving you an aesthetic choice, launchers also let you navigate the phone faster with gestures.

custom launcher shown on Android screen

Nova Launcher is ever popular. It has a free version that lets you use icon packs, change icon sizes, choose between folder and font options, use app shortcuts, and more. The free version will likely be more customizable than the launcher that shipped on your phone, but the paid version gives you even more options for only $5. My favorite features of the paid version are gestures and the ability to hide apps from your app drawer. My app drawer has a total of four apps visible because I’ve hidden all the apps that are in my home screen folder and those that I just don’t use frequently.

app & widget drawers screen

You can also add a gesture to your home screen by opening Nova Settings again. Then, select “Gestures & Inputs” to change the gestures settings, and use the home button to go back to your launcher and test the gestures out.

nova setting screen

These are, of course, just a few of Nova’s features. You can do a lot more with it.

RELATED: The Five Most Useful Features in Nova Launcher for Android

Action Launcher is also popular. It brings the best features of Google’s Pixel Launcher to any Android device, even those stuck on old versions of Android. You get full support for icon packs, as well as the ability to resize icons automatically to make them more uniform. One of the more unique features is Shutters: swipe up on an app icon to see its widget (if it has one). You also get Action Launcher’s famous Quickdrawer, which lets you swipe from the left side of the screen to see all apps, rather than swiping up or pressing a button on your home screen.

quickdrawer showing on screen

If neither of these strikes your fancy—or if you just want to go down the launcher rabbit hole—there are plenty more options on the Play Store. Give a few a try, then pick one that’s the best fit for you.

Step Three: Download an Icon Pack and Wallpapers

icons on the play store

Icon Packs are the icing on top of the customization cake. There are thousands of icon packs to choose from, so you’re bound to find one you love. I go back and forth between Whicons and Moonshine Pro, depending on how much color I want to see. Most icon packs cost less than a dollar—if the developer charges anything at all—so you can try several packs without breaking the bank. Keep in mind, you’ll likely need a custom launcher before you can use an icon pack.

wallpapers on play store

Wallpapers are also a great way to make your phone stand out. Your phone likely includes a few wallpapers to get you started, but apps like Backdrops have even more choices. You can also always set a photo of your children, significant other, or favorite pet as your wallpaper.

You don’t have to use all of these on your phone; even just a new wallpaper will make your phone stand out from the crowd. No matter which launcher or icons you use, your phone will truly be yours.

Tom Westrick Tom Westrick
Tom Westrick writes for How-To Geek and its sister sites. He's been writing about technology professionally since 2014, but started poking and prodding at electronics as a teenager. When he's not writing, Tom is a Tier-1 Help Desk Technician, songwriter, and guitar player.
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