One of the best things about Android is being able to customise everything about your home screen, which you do with a third-party application launcher. Android has more than one great launcher, but our favourite is LauncherPro, which finds the perfect balance between incredible performance and high customisability.
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- Super-smooth scrolling
- Animated screen previews
- 2D and 3D app drawer with super-smooth scrolling
- Up to seven home screens
- Scrollable shortcut dock
- Customisable icons via icon packs, downloadable from the Market
- Hide apps from the app drawer without installing them
- Uninstall apps directly from the home screen or app drawer
- Transition effects between home screens
- Ability to adjust the number of columns and rows for both the home screen and app drawers, so you can fit more icons
- Unread SMS, Gmail, and missed call badges in the dock icons
- Swipable shortcuts for the dock icons, so you get double the shortcuts per icon
- Loads of memory tweaking settings so you can optimise it for older phones
- HTC Sense-like widgets for contacts, bookmarks, calendar, messaging, Twitter, Facebook and Gmail (Pro only)
- Widget resizing for any widget, not just LauncherPro widgets (Pro only)
LauncherPro's performance is what sets it apart from other launchers. Scrolling between home screens and through the app drawer is insanely smooth, even on older phones. The memory settings are really useful for speeding it up on low-powered devices, too, so no one gets left out of the fun.
LauncherPro isn't short on features, though. From fitting more icons onto the home screen to the supercharged scrollable dock to uninstalling apps from the home screen, LauncherPro just makes Android easier to use. It aims to solve a ton of annoyances with the default Android launcher, and it does it well. Furthermore, it's even got some really nice customisation options, like a fantastic suite of widgets and the ability to download icon packs from the Market and apply them in one fell swoop. It isn't quite as customisable as other launchers out there, but it's got quite a bit going for it, and has the great performance to tip the scales in its favour.
Honestly, there are very few downsides to LauncherPro. It could be a tad more customisable, like ADWLauncher, but unless you're a customisation nut, you're unlikely to be disappointed by anything LauncherPro has to offer.
Despite how great LauncherPro is, the competition is still pretty heated, which should tell you how great the launcher scene is on Android. ADW.Launcher (and its paid brother, ADWLauncher EX) are very similar to LauncherPro, though with an added bit of customisation. ADW EX has more home screen transitions and other graphical niceties than LauncherPro, though its performance isn't quite as stellar. If you're on a newer, high-powered phone, you might not notice a huge difference, but older phones might find ADW to be a bit slower. In addition, having been in the customisation game a bit longer than LauncherPro, it has more "themes" available in the Market, which include both icon packs and wallpapers that go with them. It isn't quite as easy to use, sometimes, and offers fewer convenience features (like dock gestures), instead focusing on graphical eye candy. Honestly, it's probably just as good as LauncherPro, and you should check them both out if you're in the market for a new launcher.
GO Launcher EX is for customising maniacs. Its Market themes change more than just icons: they also tweak the wallpaper, the app drawer, widgets and much more. It also has more fancy transitions than you can shake a stick at. Of course, all this comes at the cost of performance. We wouldn't say its performance is bad or unstable, but it doesn't quite wow you like LauncherPro does, especially if you use the fancy transitions (which is to be expected). That said, if you like customising your phone, it's probably worth a slight drop in smoothness.
Zeam is just about the fastest launcher on the Market, and perfect for old phones that need something lightweight and simple. It isn't nearly as feature-filled as other launchers, but it'll get the job done and get it done fast. It does still add a few other improvements, like a scrollable dock and animated screen previews, but if you're looking for customisation, this isn't the launcher to use. If you're looking for blinding speed, you've come to the right place.
Lastly, Launcher 7 deserves a mention, merely for its ability to go in a drastically different direction while still being good. Launcher 7 turns your home screen into a Windows Phone 7-style scrolling set of tiles, which you can customise to your heart's content. It won't give you quite as many features as the typical Android launcher, but if you prefer a simpler experience without actually switching to Windows Phone, it's actually a really nice change of pace — plus it can still create some pretty great-looking home screens.
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