One of the best things about Android is the fact you can customise not only the way it looks but also how it behaves. One way to do this is by downloading a new launcher, an app that changes the stock interface with a shiny, new alternative. But, with so many to choose from, how do you decide which one to use? Well, dear reader, we've rounded up the best Android launchers for 2018.
Another way to change how your phone looks is to replace the whole thing! If you’re considering an upgrade then be sure to also read our Best Android Phones 2018 guide to ensure you buy one that makes the step up worthwhile.
What is an Android Launcher?
When you use an Android phone or tablet the part that you interact with - the icons, navigations buttons and some settings - are all part of the user interface that sits on top of the operating system.
Unlike with iPhones, on Android this can be replaced really easily by downloading a launcher app that opens up new visual styles, offers additional features, and allows you to tailor the look and feel of the layout to your own personal preference.
One of the real advantages of launchers is that they give you the ability to keep your phone the same even if you move between different manufacturers. Many offer free versions with limited functionality but premium upgrades are usually cheap, plus they are non-destructive.
So, if you don’t like what they do, you can easily swap back to the original launcher by visiting the Settings menu.
Google Now Launcher
If simplicity is your goal, then the Google Launcher is one we’d recommend. Eschewing some of the fancier features you’ll find in its rivals, this app gives you the pure, stock Android layout, just like you’d find on a Pixel, or the older Nexus handsets.
The main Home screen has a central button in the dock to open the app tray. Swiping right will open up the Google Now / Google Assistant page that holds various news items, appointments, sports scores, plus other information that you can specify, and the Google search bar is a resident feature on each screen.
It’s free, quick, and easy to use.
Cost: Free (£3.99/$4.99 for Prime Upgrade)
Nova has long been the refuge of many an Android user that wants to customise almost every aspect of their interface. The app has an enviable reputation and supports a huge number of icon packs that are available on the Play Store.
In the free version you can alter the general colour schemes, decide which way the app drawer moves, customise the dock to be scrollable or even contain widgets, and plenty more besides.
Upgrading to Prime unlocks various gesture controls, tabs and folders in the app drawer, plus animation effects when scrolling between screens and other useful features.
For all its options, Nova remains a well-designed and clean app that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse. It’s pretty nippy too.
Another popular app is Evie. Much like Nova, it allows you to make wholesale changes to the arrangement of icons on the home screens, tailor the dock to your requirements, create folders, and plenty of other standard stuff.
A universal search makes it easy to find numbers, contacts, apps, and pretty much anything else on your phone, plus there’s the incredible useful ability to create shortcuts to them by long-pressing on the results and dragging them to one of your home screens.
Best of all, Evie is free and regularly updated.
With Windows Mobile now consigned to the rubbish bin of technological history, you would be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft no longer has a horse in this race. Thankfully, that’s not the case, as its new launcher is rather excellent.
A Bing daily wallpaper gives your device a fresh look each morning, and there’s a screen to the left of the main home screen that contains various calendar, news, weather, and other information cards just as in the Google Now launcher.
As you’d expect, there are settings for the dock, app drawer, and home screen that allow you to define how many things appear and the way they behave. It’s not as customisable as Nova or Evie, but the design is so elegant that you don’t find you want to change too much.
If you have a Microsoft account, and ideally a PC, you will find a number of cool and handy additional features in this app. These include being able to start reading a webpage on your phone and then automatically continue on your PC (so long as you’re running the Creators Update version of Windows), plus integration with a number of Microsoft apps, including Cortana.
For more on how to use some of these features, read our How to use Cortana on Android feature.
Cost: Free (ad-supported)
The tagline for Hola is ‘smaller, but bigger’ and in many ways this is true. The launcher is quick, has plenty of character, and is somewhat quirky when compared to the others on this list.
On the lock screen for example there is a performance monitor that lets you know the current charge of the battery, RAM that is being used, and how much storage is available. These can be optimised by a Hola Boost, which kills idle apps and those draining the battery unnecessarily.
The news feed is very nicely designed, and makes it easy to select the sources you prefer, while blocking certain less desirable outlets. There are plenty of interface adjustments that can be made, with icon sizes and labels, lock screen content, gesture controls, and other general tweaks.
Hola offers additional apps that can further enhance gestures, lock screens, and notifications, and the launcher does arrive with a few apps pre-installed.
The only real fly in the ointment are the ads that appear at various times. They’re not horrible, but can feel jarring when you’re moving from one function to another.
Hola isn’t for everyone, but it could certainly be fun to try if you’re getting bored with your current choice.