The Best Android App Switchers

App switchers are a fast and flexible way to move between the app you have open and the one you want to use. No swiping through home screens, no endless scrolling through your app drawer. Here are some of the best, and how to pick the one that’s right for you.

Title image made using SarahTaylorr’s Cerberus App Icons and psdGraphics.

Why You Should Try An App Switcher

Switching apps in Android isn’t difficult, but it could be faster. Most phones let you long-press the home or search buttons to bring up a list of running or recently used apps, but if you want one not in the list, you have to find it on your home screen or dig through your app drawer. App switchers simplify that process by giving you a list of recently used apps and a customised list of your favourite apps, all one gesture away.

The challenge is that there are so many app switchers available that it’s tough to tell which ones work well and which ones aren’t worth your time. Here’s a look at the best ones for different types of users.

For The Speed Freak: Swipepad

If you just want the quickest possible way to get from the app you’re in to the app you want to use, Swipepad is the app for you. Swipepad sports a 12-button launcher that you can customise with your favourite apps, folders or shortcuts. When you need them, a simple swipe from the edge of your screen will open the grid on top of whatever app is currently running. Move your finger to the item you want to open, and it will launch. It’s simple, fast and free. The video here show you how the app works, but don’t blink: it’s fast.

Swipepad has come a long way since we last mentioned it. If you’re willing to spend extra, you can get more pads with the MoreSpace add-on ($1.99), launch widgets with the WidgetPad add-on ($1.49), or let Swipepad dynamically assign apps to the launcher based on your habits with the Dynamic Pads add-on ($1.66).

For The Minimalist: Sidebar

If you wish Android had a dock, you’re in luck. The panel at the bottom of your home screen already keeps a handful of app shortcuts ready. In Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, you can make app “folders” down there, and some ROMs let you expand or scroll the dock. The problem is that to use it you have to exit the app you’re running.

Previously mentioned Sidebar does away with that annoyance and puts a dock right on the side of your screen that opens on top of the app you’re using. It’s much faster and more flexible.

The video here shows you how Sidebar works. You can customise the shortcuts in the sidebar with your preferred apps, or get one-swipe access to your phone’s settings. Sidebar is free, but a $1.99 pro version unlocks more customisation features. Want more choices? Glovebox and previously mentioned HomeFlip both offer similar minimal, dock-style approaches to app switching, and they’re both also free.

For The Feature Freak: Swapps

If you refuse to install an app unless it’s packed with extras, Swapps is your best bet. Like Sidebar, it also gives you a side dock packed with apps you select, but Swapps is much more flexible in terms of the apps listed.

Swapps lets you “star” apps to mark them as favourites, so when you swipe open the sidebar, you’ll see those apps first. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see your recently used and running apps. Scroll a bit more and you’ll see all the apps installed on your phone. Don’t like the order of the shortcuts? Drag and drop them around. Swapps even lets you close running apps by long-pressing them in the “recent/running” list.

Swapps has more customisation options than other apps like it, but there’s a tradeoff: Swapps is a little slower and has some UI issues, even though we love its extra features. If you prefer minimalism, Sidebar works well, but if you want total control, Swapps is a better choice. It’s free, but ad-supported. A $2.50 in-app “upgrade” will strip them out.

For The Folder Fanatic: Wave Launcher

So far, all of the switchers we’ve looked at are sidebars, docks and grids. Wave Launcher is different. One swipe brings up a scrolling “wave” of apps across the centre of your screen that you can navigate like a rotary dialler. The tool can support hundreds of apps, and where it really shines is when you start making folders and packing shortcuts and widgets into those folders. With a little customisation, Wave Launcher can effectively replace your home screen or app drawer.

Wave Launcher also opens on top of the running app (or on top of the home screen, if you prefer), and you move your finger left or right on your screen to scroll the wave in that direction. Lift up your finger to open the app or folder at the top of the wave. If you like keeping all of your apps neatly organised into topical folders, Wave Launcher lets you add those folders to the wave, and from there it’s all downhill: the combinations of folders and shortcuts is almost endless. It’s probably one of the most customisable app switchers we’ve seen. Wave Launcher is $1.99. Check out the video here to see how it works.

Even if you’re comfortable just long-pressing the home or search button on your Android phone to get to recently used or running apps, an app switcher can make using your phone faster. And if you’re running an older version of Android that doesn’t support long-press, they’re an absolute boon. They also get you to the apps you want to use or the settings you want to toggle quickly. App switchers give you a fast and free way to make your phone work for you instead of the other way around.

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