4 methods to customize Android phones and tablets

One of the strengths of the Android platform is the level of customization that owners can use to tailor the user experience in every way. Here are my top customizations for Android devices.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

One of the strengths of the Android platform is the level of customization that owners can use to tailor the user experience in every way. These customizations can be as extensive as installing a custom ROM that completely changes the way the phone works, to the simple method of installing apps and widgets that change the look and feel of the home screens. I admit I am constantly changing the look and feel of my Android devices, not only to customize the appearance of my screens but to add functionality. Here are my top methods to customize Android devices. Note that most of these methods require Froyo (Android 2.2) and above to take full advantage of the methods.

Check out the screen shot tour of Android customizations.

Image Gallery: Check out the tour of Android customizations in screen shots
Image Gallery: Android customization

1. Custom ROMs. Almost all Android devices can be rooted to install custom ROMs, and it's up to the individual to decide if this method is the right one. ROMs can be found in many places on the web, with full instructions to apply them properly. Using a custom ROM is not without risk, and it certainly voids the device warranty so proceed with this at your own risk. I use the VaelPak ROM for my HTC EVO, and did a full review of it on this blog. VaelPak is only available for the HTC EVO but other ROMs can be found for most devices.

2. Launcher replacements. The stock Android launcher consists of the dock at the bottom of the home screen, and the application launcher. It is a solid launcher, but there are third party replacements that add quite a lot of functionality to the Android device. Some of the most common launcher apps are ADW, LauncherPro and Spb Shell 3D. Each of these apps brings different things to the device and which app is better is strictly personal preference. I use Spb Shell 3D (see my review here) on my HTC EVO, and LauncherPro on my Galaxy Tab. Both programs add a lot of functionality to the user experience while being totally configurable to personal taste. Since launchers work as typical apps, you can switch among different launchers at whim, with all customizations intact.

More customization options »

3. Widgets. Widgets are mini-apps that can be placed on any Android home screen to provide functionality and personalize the look and feel of using the device. There are lots of widgets in the Android Market, many of them free, that can put information of all types on the screen. There are weather widgets, calendar widgets and all types of messaging widgets to let the user see incoming messages (email, SMS, social networks) at a glance. Most widgets work on any device, independent of screen size or ROM in place.

The three launcher replacements I mentioned come with a slew of widgets that add features to the home screens, so that should be considered when choosing one. My favorite dedicated widget is Beautiful Widgets, which is actually a collection of widgets of all types and sizes. BW consists of clock, weather, and battery widgets to tailor the look of the home screens, and each of those has hundreds of free downloadable skins. You can put any face on your device you desire with Beautiful Widgets. Fancy Widgets is a similar set of widgets that is quite good.

4. Wallpaper. Android extends the age-old wallpaper methods with animated versions named Live Wallpapers. These can be simple screens with waving grass or sophisticated animations of just about anything. The Beautiful Widgets comes with a Live Wallpaper that is one of my favorites, as it depicts an animated sky scene that accurately reflects the weather and the time of day. The sun/ moon rises and sets on the home screen using this wallpaper. It's a great example of what artists can do with Live Wallpapers.

The old school static wallpaper can be used on Android devices, and these can be found in many places on the web. I use the Flikie Wallpaper app on my devices which includes hundreds of great wallpapers that can be previewed and applied in the app. There are wallpapers to appeal to everyone, organized by category and searchable.

These are by no means the only options to customize the Android device. They have worked well for me and my current favorites. Check out the Android Market and you'll find no shortage of apps and widgets that will make your Android device uniquely yours. Share your own favorite apps and widgets in the TalkBack.

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