We list the 10 best Custom Launchers for your Android smartphone or Android tablet. Best Custom Launchers for speed, best Custom Launchers for customisation, best free Custom Launchers, and best-looking Custom Launchers. (See also: 200 best Android apps for everything.)
The 10 best Custom Launchers for Android: What is a Custom Launcher?
You are a sensible human, so you own and love an Android smartphone or tablet. But Android comes in many forms: only a few devices come with stock Android. Most have a manufacturer's idea of what Android you will want. And even those with stock Android offer only limited customisation. Finally, you may have an older version of Android and what an upgrade. Custom Launchers are your friend. (See also: 42 best kids' apps.)
A Custom Launcher allows you to customise your Android's homescreens. It is an app that lets you change how your Android homescreens look and work. You can, for instance, remove Google Search bar from Android homescreen. Frankly, it is this kind of tweakery that makes Android superior to iPhone or Windows Phone. All you have to do is install the Custom Launcher as you would an app, and let the fun commence.
Not all Custom Launchers are made equal, however. So here is our list of the best Custom Launchers for Android. I've listed them alphabetically, as each is best for a specific reason. My personal choice is Nova Launcher. But depending on whether you want speed, customisation or specific features, each offers something different. (See also: Best smartphones of 2015: 49 best phones you can buy in the UK.)
The 10 best Custom Launchers for Android
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Action Launcher 3
The latest version of Action Launcher offers great customisation, but within the bounds of Android's Material Design concept: it lets you tweak, without ruining the look or the user journey. It is free, but with a 'Plus' in-app purchase offering icon packs, or the ability to change individual icons. It plays nicely with both smartphone- and tablet installs, and allows you to theme your entire device based on your background wallpaper. A great, full-featured Custom Launcher: just watch out for that in-app purchase.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Apex Launcher / Apex Launcher Pro (£2.49)
Apex Launcher is free, Apex Launcher Pro will set you back just a couple of quid. Even the free version offers you the opportunity to customise your homescreen grid size, and create up to nine distinct homescreens. You get a scrollable dock with up to seven icons per page over five pages. If fancy transition effects are your thing, this is a good choice for you. And what I particularly like is the ability to hid the Search Bar. I never use that, and yet it is always there. A good selection of customisation, Apex Launcher is a solid choice.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: GO Launcher EX 5 / GO Launcher Prime 5 (£3.85)
Another mixture of free and paid-for, GO Launcher offers a better specific experience over extreme customisation. You can tweak, of course, and indeed there are at the time of writing more than 10,000 free themes created by other users. But Go Launcher's major claim to fame is that it is the simplified homepage and navigation experience beloved of its users. And there is a lot to like here. Additional widgets and transition effects are beautifully coded to offer a liquid smooth experience, and the UI itself is simple and intuitive. More than (a claimed) 200,000,000 users can't be wrong!
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Google Now Launcher
So committed is Google to allowing customisation of Android, that it has created its own Custom Launcher. It's free, of course, and - glory be - it is really good. Available on all devices with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or later, Google Now Launcher is limited: in truth it is a means of making Google Now central to your usage of your device. But if you like to Ok Google, this could be the launcher for you. And as it is free and guaranteed not to mess with your Android, why not give it a whirl?
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Hola Launcher
The free Hola's major claim to fame is that it is light: not light on features, but light on your hardware. The installation itself should take up only around 1MB of your phone's space and, so Hola claims, will use significantly less system overhead than other Custom Launchers. There's also a speed-boosting feature. It's almost impossible to test that, but suffice to say that in our experience Hola doesn't slow down an Android, so it is at least worth trying if you have a hankering for a launcher, but a low-spec phone. What is easy to verify is that Hola Launcher asks for relatively little in the way of privacy permissions, and that it offers a good range of customisation features. (See also: Best Android smartphones of 2015: The 49 best Android phones you can buy.)
Best Custom Launchers for Android: iLauncher (£1.76)
So, this is awkward.You have an Android. Android is great. But some people choose to make their Android look and work like an iPhone. Why, I have no idea. But such people exist, unashamedly, in the actual world. And what is more they are prepared to pay 176 pence for the privilege of messing up their Android with iOS nonsense. If you want your Android to look and work like an iPhone, iLauncher is your friend. I, however, am not.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Nova Launcher / Nova Launcher Prime (£2.50)
This is my personal favourite, and one of the most popular launchers there is. Nova Launcher claims to be the original Custom Launcher for Android. It is certainly the most polished, and offers a huge array of customisation options. it's easy to use, and has no discernible impact on performance - at least not in my use. For just a couple of quid more than free you can get Nova Launcher Prime, which offers additional functionality such as gestures and the ability to hide apps. But there is nothing to be lost with starting out with the free Nova Launcher. A great Custom Launcher.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Smart Launcher 2 / Smart Launcher Pro 2 (£2.99)
Smart Launcher is the Custom Launcher for you if you like your interface subtle and minimal. It is nice to look at, and reduces your clicking to a minimal, by taking steps out of regular user journies. Features such as 'The Flower' and 'The Drawer' tuck away and organise apps so that you see only the apps you wish to use, or those you use regulaly. Simple, beautiful, and restful for your digits.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Turbo Launcher Ex
The updated Turbo Launcher has a crisp, clean look, and offers sparkling performance as well as an array of options and effects. One of the best free Custom Launchers. An Ex you are going to want to see.
Best Custom Launchers for Android: Yahoo Aviate Launcher
Aviate Launcher aims to make your Android phone adapt to your needs. It automatically organises your apps and shows you the information you need, at the moment it's useful. It's like a limited visual Cortana, in principle, offering semantic information when you need it. Traffic data on your commute, music apps when you put in your headphones, Calender apps when you are at work. Whatever you are doing, and wherever you are, Aviate aims to put the apps and widgets you need front and centre. (See also: What's the fastest smartphone 2015 UK?)