Not every home screen has to be a grid of individual icons.

When building your home screen and getting things laid out the way you want, we tend to talk about widgets and wallpapers and icon packs. That overlooks a simple but powerful tool when it comes to organizing our apps: folders. Folders are by no means a new concept for launchers, but they come with no small amount of stigma, especially when it comes to their looks. Thankfully, there are a few tricks for both using them and theming them that might help you learn to bite the bullet and fill up some folders.

Making folders in Android Launchers

Making a folder is as simple as drag and drop

Creating a new folder on your home screen is as easy as dragging one app shortcut on top of another in most launchers. Getting rid of a folder is just as simple: you can either drag it to the trash just like a widget, or if you drag all but one app out of the folder, the folder will revert back to a single app shortcut.

Some launchers also have the option of creating smart folders, such as Hola Launcher, which automatically drafts all your apps into category folders when you first install it. Using smart folders allows you to leave the folder creation and maintenance to the system rather than having to add more apps as you go along, but it can also mean you're at the mercy of an algorithm that may or may not categorize the way you want it to.

Dock folders

Dock folders are easy to implement and easy to organize.

While most users stick apps on a page of their home screen, a few years back I took it a step further and never looked back: I put them in my dock. Today, my dock is almost entirely made of folders. Putting a folder in the dock means that rather than having to swipe over to my entertainment apps or my work apps, my folders are there in the dock on all home screen pages. It also frees up space on my home screens for more widgets or a cleaner home screen.

Folders on your dock can show up on the lock screen, where they aren't as useful.

To see if your dock will support your newly-made folder, long-press-and-drag one of the icons already in your dock out in order to make room, then drag a folder down to the newly-opened space. If the folder is placed in your dock, congrats, your launcher supports it. If it doesn't, take a look at the launchers mentioned above.

If your phone puts your dock icons onto your lock screen, you'll probably lose a bit of functionality there. On the HTC One A9, for example, dragging up on the folder from your lock screen will only unlock your phone to that folder opened in your launcher.

Folder actions

Nova gives your folders lots of options so you can get the most out of them.

Folders can be more than a simple space to dump apps, they can be gesture shortcuts. Gestures mean that folders can pull double-duty. For instance, in Action Launcher, folders can be converted in Covers, in which case the folder's first app will become to icon for the entire folder, and tapping that Cover will open the first app in the folder, while swiping up will open the folder.

In Nova Launcher, you're given a choice of assigning taps and swipes to triggering a specified shortcut or opening the folder and then tapping on an app. I say shortcut because Nova lets you set any Nova action, app, or system shortcut instead of just the first app in the folder. This has made folders a convenient place to hide some of my Tasker shortcuts over the years, but you can also use Nova shortcuts to direct-dial a contact and much more.

Theming folders

Folder can look quite different across devices and launchers.

If there is a downside to sticking a folder on your home screen, it's that they're often not that pretty. In fact folders in some launchers look downright tacky. Unfortunately, those are often launchers that don't allow you to theme your folders, but don't worry, most of the third-party ones will, including these theming-oriented launchers.

When theming a folder, the most frequent goal is consistency. Folder icons tend to look smaller and busier than single app icons. The easiest way to achieve this is to change your folder icon to the the icon of a single app within your drawer. In Action Launcher, your only option for theming a folder is this. You enable the folder's Cover, which switches the folder's icon to the first app in the drawer while setting the shortcuts we mentioned above. While this means that these folders will re-theme was easily as setting a new icon pack, it also means if you want to use a custom dock icon then you'll have to set that as the first app's icon rather than setting a separate icon for just the folder.

In Nova and Apex Launcher, you can set a separate folder icon, which allows you a little more freedom in not only the theming of your folder, but also the placement of apps within it. The downside of this is that as they are custom-set icons, you will have to manually change them every time you switch icon packs or themes (unless you're using custom icons not dependent on your icon pack, like the custom dock Icons we mentioned before).

Folders can obvious, or they can be stealthy.

We hope these tips encourage you to give folders a chance. Say no to massive grids of apps. Say no to swiping across your home screen pages to find the app you're looking for. Say yes to folders. And stay tuned for Android Central for more home screen tips and tricks!