Smartphones start to blend together after a while, but luckily, if you’ve got Android phone, there’s a lot of opportunity for customization. We’ve put together a list of ways to customize your Android experience, including our 13 favorite launchers, apps for changing your lock screen, widgets, live wallpapers, and custom ROMs
At the core of Android’s user experience is the launcher. The launcher is basically what unifies your Android experience with your app menu, widget options, and of course the home screen. There are a number of launchers out there that offer unique ways to customize your visual experience with unique features, color options, and even entirely new ways to get content to your home screen.
Here are 13 of our favorite launchers that you can download right now.
The best Android launchers
As its name implies, the free ASAP Launcher is all about helping you navigate your mobile device as quickly and with as few taps as possible. You can “swipe left” to bring up a vertical, alphabetized list of all your apps, or “swipe right” to access quick settings like Airplane Mode. Finally, you can “swipe up” to open a drawer of your most frequently used apps. If you want more control over the launcher’s look and advanced features, you will need to upgrade to ASAP Prime.
Got an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean device that won’t be getting the coveted Nougat update? You can actually enjoy some of the sweet Nougat touches through the N-inspired New Launcher. The free app brings split screen multitasking, long-press menu button control, and a simplified quick settings toolbar in the spirit of Android 7.0. It also includes a RAM booster and a CPU Monitor to keep your device running in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, most of the special gesture controls are locked for the $3.87 Prime edition.
Rather than bring new features to your mobile device, the Hola Launcher optimizes from the inside-out to ensure the best possible user experience. Not only does Hola Boost clean up your system’s RAM usage to improve performance, App Manager also makes it easy to identify bloatware and uninstall useless apps to improve battery life. Best of all, its rotary-style UI elegantly switches between your favorite apps and quick access shortcuts, making it possible to handle phablets with just one hand.
Why waste time scrolling through an endless list of apps or tap out the name of the app you’re looking for, when there is an even more intuitive way to search through your mobile device? Simply draw the first letter of your desired app with your finger, and Z Launcher will figure out a list of apps that matches your on-screen scribble. Besides simplifying search, this Nokia-developed launcher will also learns your most often used apps and bring them to your home screen.
Sometimes, a mobile launcher just brings a new way of interacting with apps that makes it awesome. Unlike other launchers that try to limit your home screen clutter by showing as few apps and shortcuts as possible, Lens Launcher takes the opposite approach by displaying all your apps on your home screen, without any scrolling. Rather than rely on search to find a specific app, you use the customizable Fisheye lens to magnify and navigate all the tiny icons.
More great Android launchers
Don’t have the budget for a new Google Pixel or want the hassle of rooting your device to upgrade to Android Nougat? For $5, you can enjoy most of the Android 7.0 and Pixel perks with the latest Action 3 Plus launcher. Not only does it include elements of the exclusive Pixel Launcher like the Google Pill (not connected to Google Assistant) and round icons, the app also offers gesture controls and app shortcuts unique to the N update.
The Go Launcher is another extremely popular, highly customizable launcher that lets you revamp almost every aspect of the home screen. Go Launcher offers not only a bare-bones Android-style launcher, but also an extremely popular theme system that users can download new themes from. There are hundreds of these themes available on the Play Store, and they come in all sorts of styles.
Laucher 8 WP Style is good if you’re a fan of the vertical style and block-based nature of Windows 10. It gives the look of the tile-based Windows Modern UI, but without losing all the functionality of Android. They can be customized by the standard Windows Modern UI color pallet, or you can add your own custom colors into the mix.
The Nova Launcher offers a very clean experience similar to the standard launcher found on bare-bones Android devices, but with way more customization. It can also be fine tuned to modify even minor aspects of the launcher to give it whatever style you desire. It does cost $5 for the prime version, though.
More a caring assistant than a traditional mobile launcher, Yahoo Aviate is all about anticipating your needs over the course of a day. The launcher automatically reorganizes your home screen to put your most used apps at different times and in different locations, right at your fingertips when you need them.
Apex Launcher is for control freaks that love tweaks and customizations. Mess with the size of just about everything and the gesture commands to get your ideal experience. A power user’s dream, Apex isn’t just easy to modify, it runs extremely smooth as well.
Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher offers a simple and beautiful way to customize your Android experience. The launcher has three home pages: a People page with contacts, an Apps page with frequent and new apps, and a Notes page with all your reminders. Arrow will also change your wallpaper automatically if you want.
C Launcher is all about speed and optimization. It does everything it can to reduce battery drain on your device, monitoring performance and keeping everything streamlined. A built-in clean up feature eliminates clutter and unnecessary files that build up over time and start to lag the device, and an app installer makes deleting apps you long stopped using a breeze.
Custom lock screens
When you turn on your phone, the first thing you see is your lock screen. A quick and easy way to freshen up your smartphone is to change the lock screen, which can be done without even removing your favorite launcher, such as HTC Sense or TouchWiz. These are a few of the many lock screen apps out there.
For a lock screen that you wouldn’t mind your boss seeing on your device, you can’t go wrong with the Next Lock Screen. It helps that this Microsoft-developed app adorns your device with those beautiful Bing wallpapers. Plus, it offers a ton of options to tweak the lock screen to do exactly what you need — from the type of app notifications you want to see, to the type of lock (fingerprint, pattern or slide) you prefer to secure your device.
Not every lock screen app has to be “all work and no play”! LokLok definitely leans closer to a social sketching or memo app than hardcore security for your mobile device. It lets you and your friends create doodles and notes that will automatically appear as the lock screen on your mobile devices. Anyone in the group can update the sketch or note in real-time, which means no more excuses for forgetting to grab some soda at the grocery store.
AcDisplay is a simple lock screen cover that helps you whip through notifications faster. Since it’s so minimalistic, it consumes less battery, but you can activate it using your device’s sensors, which is cool. That way you don’t have to press the power button to wake your phone all the time.
If you’re interested in “smart” lock screens, you have to try Cover. While most offer you quick shortcuts to your favorite apps, Cover is smart, and will adjust its suggested apps based on the ones you use most. Cover also customizes the apps based on locale — work, home, or car – giving you easy access to the apps you need most when you want them.
Best Android wallpaper apps
Widgets and live wallpapers are a quick and easy way to give new life to an old home screen. As developers continue revamping their widget collections, the ability to customize and get high-quality widgets and wallpapers is easier than ever. There are tons of these simple apps to add to your home screen, but we picked out some of the ones that we think are great.
Love the Google Pixel live wallpapers but don’t want to bother sideloading the fancy images onto a non-supported device? The Earth View Wallpaper for Muzei extension for the Muzei Live Wallpaper app makes it easy to beam some gorgeous Google Earth photos to your device on the daily (and even on the hour). Unlike the the Pixel wallpapers that move with the phone, you have to manually pan each Muzei wallpaper. That said, the app automatically blurs out each image to ensure your icons are the stars on your home screen.
There is a story behind every picture, but most wallpaper apps don’t go beyond just delivering pretty photos to devices. The wallpapers from TapDeck actually help you discover new content, right on your mobile home screen. You get to curate your wallpaper feed from over 500 brands like the National Geographic and ESPN, as well as choose the topics and frequency your wallpaper is refreshed. When a photo catches your fancy, you simply “swipe up” to read the accompanying article.
If you’re wary of using up too much mobile data with a constantly updating live wallpaper, then you should try a wallpaper generator like Tapet. It uses math to create new Material Design-friendly patterns and color schemes on your device, so your home screen will continue to evolve even when you’re offline. All you have to do is choose the starter pattern, colors and interval between each new image, and the app will take it from there. For $4, you can even use these wallpapers as your lock screen if you’re running Android Nougat.
Who can resist a never-ending cartoon featuring your favorite pixel art hero(ine)? The Pixel Road Wallpaper turns real-time data like your current time and weather conditions into an action-packed adventure for your mobile desktop. You just have to pick your 8-bit character from Nyan Cat to Vehicle Cat, make some decisions on its environment, then sit back and enjoy the wild ride!
Best Android ROMs
If you’re seriously in need of a change in scenery, the ultimate way to freshen up your phone is to flash a brand new ROM. The ROM is a sort of “Operating System” update for Android that customizes the apps, the launcher, the lock screen, and even special mods to give the smartphone an especially unique flavor.
Note: Installing a ROM requires you to root your phone, wipe it, and install a custom recovery. If you have no idea how to do this or what these words mean, we recommend you do some reading on XDA-Developers first, or ask a friend who knows more about smartphones. Remember that installing a ROM is different for each smartphone and that we are not responsible if you accidentally brick your phone while trying to install a ROM!
If you’re a minimalist but like cool features, then be sure to give CyanogenMod a try if it’s available for your smartphone. CyanogenMod is a truly bare-bones (but in a good way) ROM for Android devices that offers a very clean and easy to use interface that focuses on speed, but also includes some unique features exclusive to CyanogenMod users, such as special customization options and backup support. There’s also a ton of support in the CyanogenMod community for those interested in running the ROM.
If your smartphone doesn’t support CyanogenMod, or you’re looking for something else, just visit your smartphone’s section on XDA-Developers to see what folks are working on with your device. They’ll offer details on what exactly is “cooked” into the ROM and what features, themes, and styles it offers. Almost every major Android device is featured on XDA-Developers, and as long as it’s been rooted, it will have custom ROMs for you to try.
Or make yourself a truly custom experience
These are just a few of the ways you can freshen up your smartphone, whether you want to completely revamp it or just give it a little something new. If none of these mods are of interest to you, there are still other ways to freshen up your home screen. The Play Store is full of mods catering to all kinds of devices, and a search for your phone’s name should come up with a few hits. You can also keep an eye out for development sites like XDA, which offer custom mods that don’t require installing a ROM, making the process much more painless. If there’s a way you want to customize your Android experience, there very likely is a way to do it.
Updated on 11-04-2016 by Gloria Sin: Added 5 new launchers, updated images, 4 live wallpapers, and 2 new lock screen apps.