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Best Android launchers for your phone 2021

Want to upgrade your Android experience? Try upgrading your launcher.

The way we arrange, organize, and interact with our apps on Android is called the launcher. Launchers usually consist of a series of home screens, where we can arrange app shortcuts and widgets while the rest of our apps sit in an app drawer. From the best Android phones to the most basic budget smartphone, every phone comes with a launcher. Some built-in launchers are great, but when they drop the ball, there are endless third-party launchers that not only pick it up again but knock it clear out of the park. Everyone has their perfect launcher, but if you haven't found your favorite yet, then here are the best Android launchers that we at Android Central have used and loved for years.

The best launchers

Best Overall: Smart Launcher 5

AC
Score
5

Smart Launcher has been around for years and years, but it really kicked things up a notch with Smart Launcher 5. The home screen features a grid-less widget placement system and modular page system, but the real star of the show here is still the app drawer. Smart Launcher 5 automatically sorts your apps into several categories, and if you pay for Smart Launcher Pro, you can add your own custom categories and sort your various drawer tabs in a variety of ways, from most-used to install time to icon color.

From a responsive and comprehensive categorical app drawer to some of the most precise widget placement on Android to the most diverse icon options of any smartphone, Smart Launcher 5 has a lot to love. Its gestures are top-notch, too, especially the double-tap shortcuts for dock apps, which work worlds better than the swipe app shortcuts Nova and Action use.

Smart Launcher is also part of the holy trinity of quick home screen theming I've used for the last three years, and it's been used in our dead awesome Deadpool theme, NBA Finals themes, revamped MrMobile theme, and more. You can event combine it with Android 12's Material You and Smart Launcher's Icon Pack Studio to build a home screen experience that will automatically mesh with any and every wallpaper you set on the phone.

Pros:

  • Easy setup with simplified layout
  • Tabbed app drawer is wonderful
  • Quickest launcher to theme
  • Best home screen app gestures

Cons:

  • You can't place icons at the top of the home screen
  • Premium system can be confusing

Best Overall

Smart Launcher 5

Free at Google Play

Simple setup and wonderful widget pages

With a smart, widely adaptable app drawer, insane icon options through Icon Pack Studio, and a drop-dead simple home screen, Smart Launcher 5 has won my heart and my home screen.

Resurging Legacy: Nova Launcher

AC
Score
5

Nova Launcher has been a major player in the home screen market longer than most of us have even used Android. The reason for this continued dominance is simple. Nova's mix of customization, convenience, and cunning is unparalleled. Nova lets your phone look more Pixel-y than a Pixel and more TouchWiz-zy than a Galaxy and does it all with ease and grace. It also lets you build a home screen that is unique, stable, and solid while being as plain or beautiful as you'd like.

A wide feature set allows Nova to achieve all these wonderful themes and let users build exactly the home screen they want, with small but infinitely useful features like subgrid positioning and a robust backup system. For users just getting used to third-party launchers, the "import from other launchers" feature is the most consistent and reliable on Nova than just about every other launcher I've tried in previous years. If you want to ease yourself from the basic launcher to a custom experience, Nova can help you get comfortable with launcher layouts and themes.

The launcher also recently took Nova Launcher 7 to the stable channel where everyone could enjoy the overhaul to settings and launcher look that has been in beta for a year. Nova had been starting to feel a little bloated, but the Nova 7 update has refreshed things so it's easier for new users to jump in while still being as flexible as ever for those of us who are ridiculously picky when it comes to theming our home screens.

Pros:

  • Easy to import previous launcher layout
  • Tons of customization options
  • Great support and stability
  • Buy Prime once and you're set for life

Cons:

  • All the options can be overwhelming
  • Theming can take a while

Resurging Legacy

Nova Launcher

Free at Google Play

Good ol' reliable launcher for the masses

Whether you want to build complex themes or you just want a smartly laid out launcher with excellent gesture controls, Nova is for you and your style.

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Swiss Army Launcher: Action Launcher

AC
Score
5

The watchword of both Action Launcher and its users is quickQuicktheme, Quickdrawer, Quickpage, Quickbar. To ensure it can be the quickest and best launcher for users who want to set everything up just so, Action Launcher has taken it upon itself to be one of the most customizable launchers on the market.

From its robust gesture controls to its ubiquitous Covers and Shutters to hide folders and widgets under app icons, Action Launcher makes it easy to get the home screen you want. If Quicktheme's color palette misses the mark, you can now set Material palette colors or custom hex code colors to get a more cohesive look! This was a long-awaited feature and it makes Action Launcher much more useful to live wallpaper users and themers.

Action Launcher is also quick to support features from the newest versions of Android, or as much as can be replicated on a third-party launcher. Action Launcher's developer Chris Lacy is devoted, dedicated, and is quick to jump in on Android issues that impact third-party launchers — and even iOS features, adding widget stacks from iOS 15. While the actual theme-building power here isn't quite as adaptable as Nova Launcher, it's a launcher that works incredibly, well, quick about getting you set up and on your way.

Pros:

  • Customize almost everything
  • Great gesture options
  • Robust support

Cons:

  • Not quite as flexible as Nova Launcher
  • Premium/Plus system can get confusing

Swiss Army Launcher

Action Launcher

Free at Google Play

Quick's the word and sharp's the gesture

Whether you want a launcher that's the peak of productivity or the height of sophistication, Action Launcher and its many quick features can help you realize your dream setup.

Best Productivity: Microsoft Launcher

AC
Score
4.5

You'd think that if Microsoft was going to bring a launcher to Android, it'd match Windows 10 or maybe the old Windows Phone look — and you'd be wrong. Not only is Microsoft Launcher a completely Android-native experience, but it's a top-quality, ever-updating launcher. It's one of few outside Nova Launcher to offer edge-to-edge widgets and subgrid positioning.

Microsoft Launcher's experience centers around a clean home screen and a smart page to the left fed by your Microsoft account, your daily phone use, and any Android widgets you wish to add. Even if you're not immersed in the Microsoft ecosystem, having a scrolling page of widgets beats having to space them out over 3-4 pages. While this launcher's settings are somewhat clunky, it has all the launcher options you'd want and then some.

While Microsoft Launcher is definitely not as simplistic as Smart Launcher 5 or Niagara Launcher, it is still a fairly lightweight launcher that's well-worth considering, especially if you have any sort of reliance on Microsoft's ecosystem for work, school, or personal use. And while the Microsoft Launcher is designed for the Microsoft Surface Duo 2, not the Z Fold series, it is yet another good option of foldable phone owners.

Pros:

  • Scrolling widget page
  • Good enterprise integration
  • Very active dev team

Cons:

  • Settings need refinement
  • Two-level dock is weird

Best Productivity

Microsoft Launcher

Free at Google Play

Integration and adaptability for the way you work

You can customize most aspects of this quite adaptable launcher, but it's also remarkably easy to have the launcher get out of your way and let you work.

Quick and Simple: Niagara Launcher

AC
Score
4.5

Niagara is still a shiny new-ish launcher that has only been around for a couple years — yes, that makes it new by launcher standards — but it's already got quite the following for being a lightning-fast launcher that's great for low-memory devices. It's also ridiculously simple to build themes around since it only has one layout. You can stick one or more widgets at the top, you have a Quicklist of your favorite apps, and the rest of your apps are a simple slide along the A-Z alphabet on the right (or left) side of the screen.

The feature set here has been steadily growing over the last year, and Niagara really hit its stride around the summer of 2021 when the Galaxy Z Fold 3 arrived and brought foldables mainstream. Niagara Launcher was very quick to adapt its minimal launcher into a big-screen-friendly launcher and in fact if you're looking for an all-business launcher for your Fold 3, Niagara has both one-column and two-column setups you can use to get to your next app and get back to work lickety-split.

If you just want to find your apps quickly and get on with your day, Niagara Launcher is a pretty great answer. It reminds me a bit of the old Z Launcher from several years ago, if you remember Nokia's experimental launcher, but I think this one is going to be around for a good while.

Pros:

  • Ridiculously fast
  • Quick setup
  • Drop-dead easy interface
  • Works well on foldables

Cons:

  • Very limited layout options
  • Gestures can overlap at times

Quick and Simple

Niagara Launcher

Free at Google Play

One layout, one super-fast app drawer.

While you may not be able to spread out all your apps and widgets on five different screens, this vertically scrolling launcher is lightning quick and works well on phones that more bloated launchers start to lag on.

Bottom line

My first launcher love was Nova, but Smart Launcher 5 won over my heart in 2018 and I haven't found anything else that works quite as well for my theme-loving setup. The categorical app drawer is better than one big A-Z sort once you have your categories set the way you want them, and the double-tap app shortcuts don't interfere with gesture navigation or swiping between the app drawer and home screen screens the way they do on Nova, Action, and just about every other launcher in existence.

If you want a launcher that's more like the launcher that came with your phone, Nova Launcher is the best bet because it imports from other launchers more consistently than any other launcher I've tried, allowing you to start with the setup you already had and then ease yourself into more advanced features like shortcut gestures and customizing the look of your folders, icons, and search bars. Nova Launcher is what Nicholas Sutrich uses on all of his phones, including on his Galaxy Z Fold 3, because you just can't beat Nova's flexibility.

Whichever of these launchers you opt for, the beauty of testing a launcher is that these all have a free tier that allows you to get a really good feel for the launcher and how it performs before you unlock extra features with Pro upgrades. If you have a launcher you absolutely adore, you should absolutely buy the pro key or contribute to the developers so that they can keep updating that launcher and keep it alive. Developers need to eat, too!

What happened to my gesture navigation?

This is not the launcher's fault. It's Google's.

If you're on an Android 10 phone that isn't on the latest patches, using anything other than the default, manufacturer launcher on your phone will force you from the new Android 10 gesture nav back to ugly old three-button nav. This was an issue at Android 10's initial launch, one that made third-party launchers suffer for Google's incompetence.

This issue has since been fixed for many phones, first Pixels and then OnePlus phones and finally Samsung phones that have the One UI 2.5 and One UI 3.0 updates. If you can't use gesture nav with your new launcher, contact your manufacturer and ask what the holdup with the update is.

And once again, shame on Google for ever allowing a major release of Android to ship like this! SHAME!

What missed the cut

There are hundreds and hundreds of launchers out there, and while there are plenty of good ones, they can't all make the cut. Here are the launchers that couldn't make the cut:

  • Lawnchair was an honorable mention on this list for two years, but the launcher stalled out for a year and now they're working on Lawnchair 12, but it's still in a beta that's being run through a Telegram channel. When they get a version on Google Play that isn't from 2019, then we can revisit them, but we can't recommend it to new users or anyone looking for a simple, stable experience.
  • Evie Launcher was still a light, easy launcher, but it's not in active development anymore, which means that when bugs arise, there's no one to fix them. If you were/are using Evie, try either Smart Launcher 5, Niagara Launcher, or Pear Launcher if you're on a phone with limited RAM.
  • Hyperion Launcher keeps making progress, and it's actually pretty good these days. It's still not as stable as Action Launcher or Nova, though, and it's got a more confusing UI that will dissuade new users. If you're after a hyper-customizable launcher, Hyperion is for you.
  • BlackBerry Launcher hasn't seen any updates in a year and is just too expensive to recommend to anyone that isn't already an active BlackBerry Hub subscriber. If you're a business user, Microsoft Launcher is likely a better fit, and Microsoft Launcher's free.


Source: androidcentral

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