App: Nova Launcher v5.5.4
Developer: TeslaCoil Software
Nova Launcher is arguably one of the most popular replacements for stock Android launchers on the market that presents an amazing array of options to customize your Home screen to your tastes. Every manufacturer ships their relative devices with their own custom version of Android that is accessed by the main user interface, which is called a launcher. These limited launchers dictate how the Home screen, App Drawer, Widgets and folders look, operate, scale and behave for a general user experience of the device. Most modern Samsung devices include the infamous TouchWiz UI that runs as an overlay on top of Android to cater to hardware features, but can gobble memory and cause conflicts with apps at times. Google's stock launcher is probably the most seamless, but does not allow for much customization whatsoever, much like every other stock version of Android out there.
For those who are stuck with a glowing white Google search bar on top of their Home screen, I feel your immense disdain and anguish. Some devices only have a few panels available for the Home screen to swipe between with no option to loop infinitely. Others have fixed amounts of icons and folders at set sizes at the bottom within the shortcut tray. Quite a few launchers throw all your Widgets haphazardly within countless pages to scroll through with no rhyme or reason to order. Then there are the prankster developers who decide it's a great idea to permanently color your notification bar bright orange, just because they can. For all these irritating issues and more, Nova Launcher comes to the rescue to put aesthetic control into your hands where it belongs with Android. Not all devices are capable of running a custom launcher without some tweaking or root access such as the Amazon Fire devices, but those that can will be treated to a streamlined experience that is simple to revert back to stock. There is nothing to lose by checking it out either way, so ditch that boring UI and let's launch some awesomeness!
Most of my devices were running stock Google with various versions of Android, but over time I decided that I needed to take control with more features that make sense to me, not to Google. Desires started coming to mind like the size and numbers of icons in the shortcut tray, gesture support, a better Widget system, unread notification badges for icons, transparent windows, smarter folder management, function shortcuts, a more functional App Drawer and spiffy transition effects that are only seen on expensive new phones. As comfortable as I was with the stock Google launcher, it was time to throw in the towel to gain all of those benefits in a single exhaustive package of robust options to play with. I knew exactly the look I wanted and how I wanted things to work, so upon installing Nova Launcher I dove straight into the daunting settings page starting with the top group of options, then worked my way down after some trial and error. After a mere fifteen minutes of tweaking, I had just about arrived at my vision of a perfect Home screen and user experience that suited me much better than before.
Nova Launcher Prime offers a plugin called Tesla Unread that creates an inset badge graphic with a number count of unread notifications for email, calls, SMS, and social networking app icons. Like most modern devices, this allows you to see at a glance if you missed anything by simply looking at the shortcuts. This is something Google has ignored with past devices for some reason, so I was thrilled to finally be treated to some convenience after manually checking apps for years. After more tweaks in search of complete perfection, I reached my goal of obtaining "My Device" well within an hour of loading Nova Launcher. The settings page is chock full of options that will have you trying things just for the sake of experimentation, but it is time well spent to understand the power and capability of this marvelous launcher. There are quite a few launchers on the market that are build for speed, one-handed operation or slim memory footprints, but Nova Launcher offers a full suite of goodies that is unrivaled in function. I actually saved some memory with Nova Launcher as the stock Google launcher had quite a bit larger memory footprint with hardly any options to show for it. The results were crystal clear; I was never going back again after this change.
Top Drawer Customization
One of the settings groups to customize pertains to how the App Drawer appears and functions as a whole. Most devices I have seen offer pages that are swiped either horizontally from the first page to the last, or vertically as one long scroll fest to reach the bottom with no quick way to get back to the top. Some have a blinding white background in Material Design, others have very little options other than wasting your time. Nova really shines here to allow you to decide how you want the interface to navigate, function and appear in general. Icon grid resolution can be scaled both horizontally and vertically, text style and color can be changed, background color and transparency are options, infinite scroll can be toggled and quite a bit more to cater to your personal tastes. My ZTE ZMax Pro phone could signal ships like a lighthouse with the stock configuration, but after Nova was installed, it turned into a fast, efficient, sexy, dark, transparent haven for all my icons.
Not to be outdone by vanity, functionality is right there with it to add folders to the App Drawer that can be set to reside above or below your icons. These can include groups of apps, shortcuts or functions that ship with Nova that interact with the Android system. Tabs can also be created to house categorized groups of the same for even more options with the ability to show them above or below the App Drawer. Another great optional feature is the Drawer can be set to remember its relative position when you run an app or exit, which is handy for switching back and forth between apps. The infinite scroll option remains a favorite as it will cycle back to the first page when you swipe from the last page of apps in the Drawer. This option is also included for the main Home panels and the shortcut tray on the bottom, which can also be shown on the top! You can also hide specific app icons from the App Drawer if you want them gone, which is a great feature for a lot of Live Wallpaper icons that sometimes do very little than to launch the Live Wallpaper Setup screen. There are some other nice additions like select commands you can place in the App Drawer like the Google Play Store shortcut, among other things. Once set up the way you prefer, you will wonder how you lived without this degree of control in the past, believe me.
Wonderfully Wise Widgets
This is an area that truly could use a massive redesign with the stock Google launcher that simply throws hundreds of Widgets on almost a dozen pages to scroll through. Most of time, it was a difficult affair trying to locate that one obscure little resource monitor Widget that was developed by someone I couldn't recall. Google absolutely loves plastering the Widget pages with all their little doodads that nobody uses or cares about, and it clogs up this entire area as their apps can't be removed. Those days are over! Nova Launcher brilliantly decided to group all Widgets together relative to the name of the app with large previews, which ultimately means that things are actually organized and easy to find at a glance. No more searching for that little volume slider thing among a sea of volume slider things in an endless list. Besides this clever new system, there aren't too many revolutionary options for the actual Widgets drawer at this time, however. Also, I am using a nifty Black Color Mod version because, well, black. Unfortunately, only my Widgets Drawer has a teal-blue background while the rest of the design I have set is transparent black. It's not clear if the modified version is doing this, but there is no option to set these color options for the Widget Drawer separately. Perhaps the next modified version will have a more uniform look.
Tied in with the Home screen icon scaling options is a grid resolution setting that is shared with Widgets, or anything you place on the Home screen, ultimately. Higher grid settings will allow you to resize the Widgets much more accurately for that exact fit where you need it. There is also an overlap option that will accommodate setting Widgets on top of other assets on the screen. Looking at the first screenshot below, you can see how I placed the HD Widgets clock snug on top of the bottom of the sexy new transparent Google Search bar, courtesy of Nova Launcher. Getting that degree of accurate placement was absolutely impossible with the stock Google launcher, and a lifesaver feature that made me very happy with Nova. My Nexus 10 tablet had a very large padding on the top of about two inches with the stock launcher that disallowed placement of anything on the screen, which completely went away with Nova. Now I can use every bit of screen real estate to my liking without being hindered by corporate design flaws. In all honesty, I haven't been impressed with Google's version of Android since KitKat v4.4.4, and I sometimes wonder what kind of brownies they are eating over there.
Kind Gestures That Save Time
Included within Nova Launcher is a set of eleven gestures that can be configured for myriad of useful things that will save time, as well as your poor hardware buttons that take a daily beating. These gestures range from the standard variants of two-finger swipes, up and down, to more obscure and difficult actions like two-finger clockwise and counter-clockwise circular swipes. These gestures are the icing on the Nova cake as they can be used to launch apps, run shortcuts or trigger Nova's generous inclusion of built-in system functions to lightning fast commands. As I am normally on top of things using my Nexus 10, I don't care for notification spam as it gets crazy and distracting at times, especially with virus scanning affirmations after installing apps. To remedy this, I set a two-finger down-swipe with Clear All Notifications from Google Play that allows me to clear all notifications with a super quick gesture. I use a two-finger counter-clockwise circular swipe to trigger the lock screen, which turns off the screen in my case. The opposite direction clears my device memory of running apps by pairing it with a shortcut from 3C Toolbox. Marvelous I say! You are limited to your imagination regarding combinations you can devise to make your life easier, and to boost your efficiency in the process. These gestures should be a standard feature with Google's Android, but instead they focus on hardware toenail monitors and sensors for the surface temperature of Uranus. Again, brownies.
Have It Your Way!
Nova Launcher is indeed one of those apps that you didn't know you were missing until you install it and start tweaking to your heart's content. If you are a control freak, picky about design, often pressed for time, or simply have corporate dissent over inefficiency, Nova Launcher will open your eyes to a new path. As with every app, there are some things I'd like to see added or changed, but it's really close to the mark as it stands at present. The Recent Apps screen is virtually untouched with no Clear All button, which is a heated debate regarding memory management by developers. However, I don't like my app history sitting in a list and taking up memory, and it should be my choice to clear it all out with one button. More gestures would be nice as I'm not sure how they arrived at eleven total, but that's a minor nitpick as that is a healthy number. Another thing is the previews for the Live Wallpapers is much smaller than what I'm used to as it's like scrolling avatars, not full preview images, but the trade-off is that you get more on the screen at the same time. The price is $4.99 for Nova Launcher Prime, which includes Tesla Unread functionality, and some might find this to be a bit steep for a launcher. I have to say you aren't getting a simple launcher with this package as it will take some time to comb through all the options and settings. It's not a complex procedure, but a rather enjoyable time for those who love to customize their devices. In the end, you get a device that looks, functions and performs exactly the way you want it to.
Yet another cool trick is to use the export settings option after you get everything just perfect, then blast that save file to a new device. You can then install Nova Launcher anew on that device, then simply import those settings to clone your set up to that device. I did exactly this going from a ten inch tablet to a phone, and there were minimal tweaks to scale icons and grid size to get it just right. Now you can truly clone Androids all over the place and get the same gestures, features and look of all your devices. This import and export feature also allows you to experiment further, but still retain your preferred settings in case you get too crazy, which is always possible. Trading settings files with friends or downloading from users on the Internet is also a possibility for the brave. I have heard quite a few users install Nova simply to get rid of TouchWiz on Samsung phones, and other devices that also have overlay systems that aren't too popular. This might limit S-Pen functionality with the Samsung Note series, so try the free version first and experiment before committing to a purchase. I'm looking forward to seeing what TeslaCoil Software has in store for future features and additions to this splendid system they created. As you can always revert back to the stock launcher easily, I highly recommend giving Nova Launcher a try to get a taste of the good life, and to take control of your own device, once and for all.
- Customization done right!
- Make your device yours, finally!
- Amazing and useful options galore.
- Fast, efficient, pretty, smart and functional.
- If you can imagine it, you can probably design it.
- A bit pricey, but worth the cost.
- Recent Apps screen needs a Clear All button.
- More gestures and actions would be appreciated.
- Live Wallpaper previews are a bit on the small side.
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, ZTE ZMax Pro, Nexus 7 2012 & 2013, Nexus 10 / KK v4.4.2 & v4.4.4, MM v6.01
Purchase at Google Play
Mobilism: Nova Launcher v5.5.4 + TeslaUnread v5.1.2 Final [Prime]