A theme for every reason

Whether you're looking for better performance or want a particular look, Android launchers let you tweak your phone to perfection

Facebook Home generated a lot of buzz, though the reaction of users who downloaded the app wasn’t very positive. Home wasn’t the dramatic change of Android some people were expecting; it essentially works as a launcher replacement.

This is actually one of the more impressive facets of Android—users can change the way their phone looks and works in great detail, with very little effort. Just about everything can be tweaked, and launchers are a great tool to do so.

Some, like Nova, Go and Apex, are already well-known and have been around for a long time now, but we’ve collected six free launchers which came out with new versions recently that are great but not that well-known. Try them out on the Google Play store.

Atom Launcher

The developers say it reflects the “art of minimalism" and it lives up to the tag. Instead of giving you too many bells and whistles, Atom focuses on getting the basics right.

You have customizable homescreens, extra widgets and screen transitions between homescreens. There are some custom gestures, so you can pinch the homescreen to see all the screens at the same time, or change the number of apps in the dock. The best part is that the minimal design runs crisply, so even if you’re running a slightly older, Android 4.0 device, you should have a smooth experience.

Vire Launcher

Vire is a stylish launcher that tries to add a lot of effects, and is great if you want to make your phone look stylish without having to spend too much time customizing things. There are transparent icons for different apps, and a special widget collection that comes with the launcher, along with a “revolving door" transition between different homescreens.

The tweaks to the clock are what make Vire really stand out; it functions as a quick clock display, which can be swiped down to show widgets and short-cuts, which can be any widget you like. It’s great use of space, and clever customization. Best of all, perhaps, Vire supports a wide array of devices, running Android 2.2 and above.

Smart Launcher

If speed is your top concern, then you should get the Smart Launcher. It’s small (1.6 MB) and runs on almost every Android device (the minimum requirement is Android 2.1). Instead of letting you set up multiple homescreens like every other launcher, Smart Launcher lays out your apps in a circular carousel. There is only one homescreen, allowing a limited number of icons to be displayed. It also sorts apps in the app drawer into different categories—communication, Internet, games, media, utility and settings—which is very handy (you can switch between apps for different categories if you wish).

You can navigate between different categories using a toolbar on the left which contains the icons of different categories. It does not get simpler or faster than this.

HomeBase Lock Screen

While not a full launcher (it doesn’t change the entire interface, only the lockscreen), HomeBase is extremely useful, and makes it possible to make the most of your phone without having to even unlock the device.

The HomeBase Lock Screen can work together with any launcher you like, and lets you get information without having to unlock the screen. You can customize the information you want to see by simply powering on the display of the handset. Your options include weather, news headlines, missed call details, contacts, and widgets.

It is a bit like Facebook Home actually, only here you have the control to put pretty much what you like on your homescreen, letting you access information without having to get into the apps themselves or even unlock the phone. Incidentally, for those wanting an experience like Facebook Home, HomeBase also has a Facebook lock screen app.

Buzz Launcher Beta

If you want to totally rearrange the look and feel of your device, then the Buzz Launcher (available now in a beta version) is the best option, but be warned—cutomizing it is no simple task, you’ve got to be prepared to spend a lot of time getting things set up to your satisfaction. Thankfully, it’s possible to download homescreens that other people have created (widgets and all), and you can also upload your own homescreen if you’re particularly proud of it.

The Buzz Launcher Beta gives you just three homescreens, but lets you have a different wallpaper for each screen, which is already pretty different from the norm. There are some very slick widgets for you to play around with as well, which should make it easy to make a great-looking homescreen, while gesture settings will make power users happy. For example, swipe down anywhere on the homescreen to check the notifications bar, and double-tap anywhere to open the Buzz menu, to tweak its settings.

This is one of the most versatile launchers available but as a beta, it’s prone to the odd crash.

Everything.me beta

Although this launcher is not officially available for Indian users as yet, but the installation files have been doing the round of the Web. What marks this launcher out as different from others is the fact that it claims to “adapt" to the way you are feeling. Yes, it actually changes the look and feel of the homescreen of your device based on a term or word you enter in the prominent “What’s on your mind?" box at the top of the landing screen. So if you enter, for instance, “Iron Man", the app will park an Iron Man wallpaper on the main landing screen, as well as add short-cuts to related information (trailers, Wikipedia articles, Twitter mentions, and so on).

The developers call it the “dynamic phone" concept as the look of the homescreen changes depending on what you say is on your mind. The theme also arranges your apps automatically into “smart folders" and places these on other homescreens, complete with suggestions of other apps you can add to it. Your regular app arrangement behind the homescreen however, remains unchanged. The landing screen is the real magic element here, though.