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10 Jun 12 Customize Android with ‘skins’

One of the main ways Android still manages to differentiate itself from its rivals is the number of simple customization options it offers. Launchers are one of the easiest ways to add a personal touch to your Android device. You’ll find some absolutely great ones available from Google Play that can add great art and better functionality to your device.

What is a launcher?

Android launchers are effectively a skin that sits on top of the Android operating system to change its looks and performance. Unless you have a Nexus phone (known for using vanilla or untainted versions of Android), your phone or tablet already has a launcher on it courtesy of the hardware manufacturer.

Samsung’s launcher is known as TouchWiz. HTC has Sense, and Motorola has MotoBlur. These are all (generally) a good thing, since they add user-friendly features to Google’s basic Android OS. However, the great thing about Android is the choice it offers you. The ability to make your HTC One S or other Android device look and feel just right for you, rather than how Google and HTC think it should be, is a really attractive part of owning an Android device.

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What can a launcher do?

Some launchers are designed to be minimalist and speedy, with the graphics performance tweaked to help even older devices from feeling slow. Other, more feature-rich launchers come with well-designed widgets for Twitter, Facebook, the weather, your contacts, your calendar, and so much more. Launchers can change how your app drawer looks, increase or decrease the number of icons in the dock on your home screen, or even make the dock scrollable.

One of the best things about launchers are the theme packs that can completely change the look of your phone, with new icons, new wallpaper, and a new app drawer in just a few clicks. Art choices range from sleek metallic themes to dark themes with neon highlights, space travel, floral, or pirate ships. What’s even better, a lot of the themes are free! Your phone is one of the devices you interact with most all day as well as one of the most personal, so why not make it yours and make it work just the way you like?

1. ADW.Launcher

Price: Free for basic, $3.32 for EX

This is one of the oldest launchers on Google Play and offers tons of great features, even in the free version. While it already looks great out of the box, you can still change the number of home screens you have, edit the dock, and apply some really cool transition effects to your home screens, menus, and app drawers.

One of the things ADW.Launcher is best at is resizing and editing widgets and icons via super-intuitive menus with just a few clicks. As one of the oldest launchers on Google Play, ADW has built up an enormous number of themes to suit all styles and personalities.

2. Apex Launcher

Price: Free for basic, $3.99 for Pro

If you’re lucky enough to have Ice Cream Sandwich on your phone and want to try a launcher, then you might want to give Apex Launcher a try. As well as all the usual home screen replacement features like changing the number of icons in the dock and customizing your home screens, Apex Launcher comes with a couple of unusual features: dock widgets and deeply integrated gesture support.

3. Go Launcher EX

Price: Free

Go Launcher EX is one of the top 25 downloaded free apps on Google Play across all categories. Launcher and home screen replacements are no longer niche and geeky; they’re a simple way to tailor your phone to your needs.

Go Launcher EX works great on its own, but the Go team has also crafted tons of great plugins, widgets, and lock screen replacements to give you as much (or as little) customization as you want. The launcher looks great as soon as you install it, but its simple menus and theme browsers really make it come alive.

This story originally appeared on Tecca.

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