Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


5 great Android home screen launchers you should check out (and why)

Android is a flexible mobile operating system that allows you to customize your device, including the home screen launcher.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
A portion of the Square Home home screen launcher.

The Square Home launcher is becoming one of my favorites.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

One of the main reasons I started using Android (version 1.5 with an HTC Hero phone) was because it ran a version of the Linux kernel. I knew that fact would lead to a thing I value: flexibility. 

Also: How to create Android Routines

Although the steps towards flexibility weren't exactly graceful, the platform came into its own within a few releases. As Android evolved, so too did its flexibility -- and one area where that capability is perfectly illustrated is the home screen launcher.

What is a home screen launcher?

Essentially, a home screen launcher is akin to a desktop on a computer. It's a user interface that allows you to access and run applications, view notifications, and keep everything organized. 

I like to think of Android home screen launchers as the equivalent of the Linux desktop environment. And that's a fairly apt comparison, because, as with Linux, if you don't like the home launcher that ships with your phone, you can install a different one from the Google Play Store.

Also: How to add reading mode to your Android devices

Without a home screen launcher, your Android phone would be fairly useless. There would be no way to launch or view apps, personalize your home screen, access the app drawer, pull down the notification shade, or do anything on your handset. In short, the Android home screen launcher is essential.

Which home screen launcher do Android phones ship with? This is where things get confusing because not every Android phone uses the same home screen launcher. For example, Pixel phones use the Pixel Launcher, One UI is Samsung's default home screen launcher, OnePlus phones use the One Plus Launcher, and Nothing Phones ship with the Nothing Launcher. 

But just because your phone ships with a specific home screen launcher doesn't mean you're stuck with it. Every Android phone can use different launchers. The one catch is you can't install the likes of One UI on a Pixel Phone. Why is that? Some launchers are device-specific and they won't run on other phones. For example, Nothing Launcher is only available to Nothing OS (which is Nothing's take on Android). 

That doesn't mean, however, that you're stuck with the home screen launcher that shipped with your phone. Several home screen launchers can be installed from the Google Play Store, and each one offers different features, looks, and behaviors. 

Most home screen launchers found on the Google Play Store are device agnostic, which means they can be installed on almost any Android phone. You can install and remove as many home screen launchers as you like. 

The only limitation is that you do not want to remove the home screen launcher that shipped with your device (so you'll always have one to fall back on). Of course, the number of home screen launchers you can install will be dictated by the internal storage available on your phone.

Also: How to find out which apps are draining your Android battery

My approach is to install a home screen launcher, test it, and immediately remove it if I don't like it. 

As I mentioned, several home screen launchers can be installed from the Google Play Store. Some of the better options are:

  • Nova Launcher/Nova Launcher Prime - This has been one of my favorite launchers over the years because it's not only customizable, it's lightweight and very user-friendly. Nova Launcher is free to use, but you get more features -- gestures, notification badges, and drawer folders -- with the paid version, Nova Launcher Prime. Nova Launcher Prime requires a one-time fee of $4.99 and transfers from device to device.
  • Niagara Launcher/Niagara Pro - This is a modern, minimalist home screen launcher for Android. Instead of interacting with your applications via the App Drawer, you get a customizable and adaptive list placed front and center to launch apps quickly. Niagara also includes appointments at a glance and embedded notifications. With Niagara Pro, you can add integrated calendars and weather widgets, more icon packs, widget stacks, home screen popups, Niagara Dots (a minimalist icon pack), Icon Assistant, custom fonts, and more. The Pro version costs $9.99/year or a lifetime purchase is $29.99.
  • Microsoft Launcher - This is another highly customizable launcher that includes features such as pinned contacts, personalized feed (which includes information like news, calendar events, docs, contacts, and more), Continue on PC (snap a photo on your phone and it is automatically synced with your Windows PC), global search, and gesture customization. Microsoft Launcher is free.
  • Square Home - This launcher turns your home screen into interactive tiles. Square Home is one of the more unique home screen launchers on the market and it does take some time to get used to. But once you get the hang of Square Launcher, it's fun. Square Home offers a free trial, but once the trial is up, the launcher will cost you $1.99/year or $5.00/lifetime.
  • Lynx Launcher - This home screen launcher is inspired by the GNOME desktop. In fact, when you use Lynx Launcher, you almost feel like you're using something more akin to a desktop interface. Lynx Launcher includes a dock for your most used applications, an alphabetically grouped app list (accessed via a right swipe), and plenty of customizations. You can purchase the Pro version, which adds several enhanced features, such as screen transitions, more desktop pages, individual icons for apps and folders, advanced theme and dark mode settings, new icon shapes, and more, as an in-app purchase for $3.99.

You'll find more home screen launchers on the Google Play Store. Search through the listings and see if you can find one that best suits your needs and personality.

The Android home screen launcher is required so you can interact with your phone. But if you don't like the default launcher, you can always install a different one from the Google Play Store. When you make a change, it will almost feel like you've purchased a brand-new phone. If you don't like how your Android phone behaves, change it up, and enjoy something fresh and new.

Editorial standards