Prepare to Launch!

At the end of my recent piece on Jelly Bean, I mentioned a few annoyances.

  • The app drawer scrolls horizontally instead of vertically. My earlier phone – a Droid X2 – had a vertically-scrolling app drawer; I personally found this far easier to navigate than jumping from page to page.
  • When you plug your phone in to charge, the screen lights up for no good reason. This is not necessary and is sometimes a distraction – the indicator light is all the feedback I need.
  • Unnecessary shutdown/restart confirmation.
  • No scrolling wallpaper
  • Widgets stop responding. My central home screen is almost entirely widgets. However, they often do not update For instance, the Accupedo widget in the top right “freezes” until the phone is rebooted.

While Googling to find a solution to the first problem, I stumbled across a couple of launchers, called NovaLaunch and Holo Launcher HD.

For those who don’t know, a “Launcher” in Android is the Front-End program that runs the GUI (like “Explorer” in Windows, “Finder” in Mac OSX, or Gnome/KDE in Linux). While Android has a stock launcher that works just fine, most carriers and manufacturers feel the need to “brand” their phones by putting in a custom “skin” – Motorola’s is called “Blur”, HTC’s is called “Sense”. Samsung’s is called “TouchWiz” .

The stock Touchwiz screen

The stock Touchwiz screen

However, there is nothing to stop you from adding an aftermarket launcher – there are some very good ones out there, but the learning curve is steep enough to discourage all but the most adventurous of users. However, for those who are willing to put in the legwork, there is much to discover and enjoy…

So why try a new launcher at all? Simple – to improve the look and feel. Both launchers offer functionality to do things that the stock launcher (TouchWiz, in this case) cannot. For instance, both allow you to change the app drawer from horizontal (swipe sideways to move from page to page) to vertical (flick up and down one big list), and both also allow you to specify the number of rows and columns. TouchWiz limits you to 4×4=16 app icons on a page…

Stock 4x4 App Drawer

Stock 4×4 App Drawer

, but I have been able to comfortably bump this up to 6×7=42 — more than double the number of icons without sacrificing usability.

Holo Launcher 5x7 App Drawer

Holo Launcher’s 5×7 App Drawer

Similarly I have increased the main screen from 4×4 to 5×5, and cut the total number of screens I use to only three, another improvement in usability.

Improved Holo Launcher screen

Improved Holo Launcher screen

So what’s the verdict? Both launchers are excellent, but Holo-Launcher gets the slight edge as it makes the home screen rotatable. No widget freezes at all.

After a week or so of testing out the two launchers, I uninstalled Nova Launcher and made Holo Launcher my default, then I paid a few dollars for the full version; not because I needed the extra functionality, but because I wanted to support the developers on a small way.

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