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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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09 May 12 How to reclaim your Android UI from OEM skins like TouchWiz, Sense, and Blur

Android Skins

There are a scant few Android devices on the market that ship with the stock user interface Google designed. In the distant past, that was a good thing. Android really needed that help back in 2009, and even into the early part of 2010. However, OEMs have continued to skin the OS long past the point it was warranted, but don’t count on it stopping anytime soon. Instead, why not take your phone back to the stock Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich experience with a few easy-to-install apps? Without so much as rooting your phone, you can sweep most of the OEM chrome under the rug with some great third-party apps.

Home screen

The most heavy-handed OEM modification of Android tends to come on the home screen. Android 4.0 in particular has made the home screen much cleaner and easier to use, but OEMs often add features and tweak icons until we’re right back in mid-2010 as far as usability and attractiveness go. If you want to really skip the skin, it’s time for a home screen replacement.

Apex LauncherAnyone on an Android 4.0 device would do well to take a look at Apex Launcher. The real value with this app is that is looks and works almost exactly like the stock Android 4.0 home screen, which is fabulous. Folders, the app drawer, and widgets work like they are supposed to, but there are some handy extras that fit in extremely well.

With Apex Launcher, you can customize the scrolling animation, keep more apps in the dock, and customize apps icons and folders. That last one is great if your device uses obnoxious redesigned app icons. A paid version of Apex comes with multitouch gestures, widgets in the dock, better folder management, and more. The only drawback is that you have to be rooted to have widgets in the app drawer like the stock home screen.

Those not on Android 4.0 or later should take a look at ADW Launcher EX. This home screen moves a little bit further from the Android 4.0 aesthetic, but has a lot of excellent features. You can tweak the way the home screen scrolls, how widgets are sized, and how many home screens you have. ADW EX has a solid tablet UI in addition to the phone layout as well. It also saves presets so you can change the look of the home screen instantly.

The paid version of Apex is $3.99, and ADW EX is $3 in the Play Store. Both are worlds better than what you get with TouchWiz, Sense, or Blur, but your taste and affinity for customization will dictate which one you prefer.


Chrome BetaSo the stock Android browser is probably not long for this world. Google is testing the Chrome Beta right now, and that will almost certainly end up being the default browser in the future. But for now, OEMs are free to tweak and skin the browser as they like — sometimes with more or less success. If you don’t like the dark gradient in Sense, or that bright blue in the new TouchWiz on the Galaxy S3, there are a few options.

If you have an Android 4.0 device, you should definitely get the aforementioned Chrome Beta for Android. This browser has a ton in common with the desktop version of Chrome. Being a beta, there are still some stability issues, but I’ve found most problems to be cropping up on tablets. Chrome on phones seems to be extremely stable. Chrome has excellent search, incognito mode, tab sync, bookmark sync, and it’s very fast.

If your phone is not compatible with Chrome, or you just don’t care for it, Dolphin Browser HD is your friend. Dolphin isn’t quite as refined as Chrome for Android is, but it has more features than you’ll know what to do with. There are true tabs, voice control, on-screen gestures, add-ons, and bookmark sync.

Both Chrome and Dolphin HD have better interfaces than some of the OEM options, and I’ve always found them to be very snappy. Both browsers are also entirely free.

Next page: Replacing the Camera, Gallery, and Music apps

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