Nova Launcher is a fairly easy launcher to pick up.
In fact, Nova was the very first third-party launcher I tried, and it's held a special place in my heart ever since. But Nova Launcher can get overwhelming at times, and most of those times have to do with Nova Settings. Because Nova Launcher has such an amazing amount of customization, it also has a lot of settings that those customizations rely on. So how do you find what you need among the rest? Never fear! We're here to help you through Nova Settings and help you find what you were looking for — plus a few cool features you probably didn't even know were there.
1. Main menu
Nova Settings, like most settings menus, begins with the main menu. While this list looks pretty straightforward, here's what each of them hold and some of the settings we'll be approaching in them:
- Desktop: This holds home screen settings such as number of screen, size of each home screen, and margins around those screens. The best theming gems hiding in here are subgrid positioning, widget overlap, and lock desktop.
- App & widget drawers: This is where you'll organize your app drawer. The hidden gems here are Drawer groups and their method for populating tabs and folders.
- Dock: You can define how many items appear on your dock and how many pages your dock has. It's oft overlooked, but re-organizing your dock can completely change the way you use your home screens.
- Folders: These settings relate to how a default folder looks. The Background color and transparency can be quite an asset when dealing with particular themes and icon packs.
- Look & feel: This is where you can change your icons as well as the animation speeds. You can also tweak the notification bar here, including darkening the icons on the notification bar so that they show up better against a light-colored wallpaper.
- Night mode: You can let Nova change certain functions to a darker theme based on the time of day or you own time-based preferences.
- Gestures & inputs (Prime only): Dictate what certain button and gestures do in the launcher, such as launching an app or executing a Tasker task shortcut. Even if you don't use gestures, using the Home button to open a often-used app when you're on the default home screen is very convenient.
- Unread count badges (Prime only): You can configure the unread badges and the plugins used for them. If you're into that kind of thing.
- Backup & import settings: You should always back up your launcher layout and theme once you're happy with it. If you're new to Nova, this is where you should begin by importing your layout from your old launcher.
- Labs (Prime only): this is where experimental and troubleshooting settings lie. While there may be a few things in here useful to a small portion of users, most will not need to venture into these.
- Select Default Home: if the setting for selecting your launcher are hiding in Settings, you can get a shortcut to it here in Nova Settings
- Advanced > Error & usage reporting: Help make Nova better by sending back data about your usage and any crashes you might run into. Nothing identifiable is sent, so leave this on please.
- Advanced > Restart Nova Launcher: Sometimes things can get a little glitchy, so before you go begging support for help, restart Nova Launcher to see if that clears anything up.
- Advanced > Aggressive desktop: if your device gets a little kill-happy with its memory management, you can use this option to keep your desktop from have to be re-rendered every single time you come back out to the home screen.
Desktop holds most of the settings for how your home screen pages look and behave.
- Desktop grid dictates the size of the grid on which you place widgets and apps on your home screen. Whereas most launchers are 4x4 (4 rows by 4 colulms), Nova Launcher can down to 2x2 or up to 12x12. Nova's ace in the hole is hiding in here, too:
- Subgrid positioning allows you to place items in between the rows and columns of your grid. This can effectively double the positions you have available to you when trying to place apps or resize widgets.
- Icon layout allows you to resize the app icons on your home screen as well as customize or remove app labels, should you not want app names cluttering the home screen.
- Width padding and Height padding adjust the space around the outside of the icon grid. Increasing the padding will push icons in from the sides of the screen; this can be useful if you use a thick case that may obstruct the edges of your screen.
- Persistent search bar adds a Google Search bar to the top of your home screen (or to the left side of the home screen in landscape), similar to the Quickbar in Action Launcher.
- Search bar style allows you to select a logo and search bar style for your persistent bar. Note: styles do not include colors. Night Mode can turn the search bar from white to dark grey, but other than that, white and transparent are your only color options.
- Scroll effects are the animation that you'll see when swiping between home screens. You have several styles to choose from, some more flashy like the Zoom Fade and Throw, and others more more subtle like Simple and Tablet.
- Wallpaper scroll dictates whether your wallpaper remains in one place or scrolls with your home screens. If you're using a wide wallpaper with a lot of detail, scrolling allows you to see more of the image.
- Infinite scroll will scroll from the last home screen back to the first when turned on. Otherwise, you'll see an overscroll animation and stay on the last home screen.
- Page indicator sets the style of the page indicator that sits between your home screen and dock. You can choose between dots, a solid line, or no indicator at all.
- Page indicator color sets the color of your selected page indicator. +Add icon to Home screen adds every newly installed app to your home screen. Just turn it off. You don't want every app you install on your home screen. And Because Nova knows you don't really want it, either, they even note that you need to turn it off in Google Play, too, while you're at it.
- Advanced > Widget overlap allows you to place widgets and shortcuts on top of each other, either overlapping or completely on top of each other.
- Advanced > Overlap when placing allows you to overlap when placing widgets and shortcuts on your home screen. This can sometimes lead to placing apps on top of folders rather than in them, but it does prevent Nova from pushing widgets out of the way if you try to place a widget in the same area.
- Advanced > Lock Desktop prevents you from making any changes to the home screen. If you need to prevent someone from messing up your home screen after you get everything in its proper place (like kids, or technically-challenged users who long-press everything), locking your desktop can keep things from being accidentally changed.
- Gradual shadow add a soft shadows to the top and bottom edges of the screen. This can add extra contrast and allow the notification and navigation bars to show up better.
3. App & widget drawers
You can corral and control your app drawer and widget drawer with the following settings:
- Grid sizes dictate how many apps will show on each page of your app drawer (or if you have a vertically scrolling app drawer, how many apps will appear on screen at a time). Like the home screen grid size, it'll go from 2x2 to 12x12. Unlike the home screen grid size, you can set different grid sizes between portrait and landscape, should you use your app drawer a lot in landscape.
- Icon layout allows you to resize the app icons in your app drawer as well as customize or remove app labels. While removing labels is more common on the home screen, we recommend leaving them on in the app drawer.
- Frequently-used apps adds a bar to the top of the app drawer with your most-used apps, should you not want to hunt for them over and over in your app drawer. Its effectiveness can be offset by how many of the most frequently used apps are on your dock and thus are easy to find without even opening the app drawer. All apps outside the most frequently used apps will be sorted alphabetically.
- App drawer style allows you to select one of three styles for your app drawer: horizontally paged screens, a vertically scrolling grid, or a vertically scrolling list. The list lists far fewer apps on screen at one time, so if you have a lot of apps installed, be prepared for a lot of scrolling.
- Widget drawer style allows you to select one of three styles for the widget drawer: horizontally pages screens sorted by widget size, a vertically scrolling gird of widgets sorted by size, or a vertically scrolling list of widgets grouped by app, witch widgets being sorted alphabetically by app rather than by widget size.
- Card background will set your app drawer background to a white card rather than your wallpaper.
- Background will allow you to select a color/opacity to overlay on your desktop wallpaper in the app drawer. These tints can help make apps more visible against particularly noisy or colorful wallpapers.
- Fast scrollbar turns on or off the ability to quickly flip multiple app drawer pages with either a series of dots at the dot of the screen or by tabs if you're using app drawer groups.
- Scroll accent color sets the color of the dots used for fast scroll when enabled. If using custom colors for drawer tabs, those custom colors will override Scroll accent color.
- Transition animation sets the animation that you will see each and every time you open the app drawer.
- Scroll effects are the animation that you'll see when swiping between pages of the app drawer. If using horizontal pages, you have several styles to choose from, some more flashy like the Zoom Fade and Throw, and others more more subtle like Simple and Tablet.
- Infinite scroll will scroll from the last app drawer screen back to the first when turned on. Otherwise, you'll see an overscroll animation and stay at the end of the list.
- Search bar will enable a permanent Google search bar at the top of the app drawer, should you prefer to voice search and app rather than hunt through pages and pages of icons.
- Pull to search will add a gesture to the app drawer, summoning the search bar with a swipe down on the screen.
Tabs and drawer groups in the app drawer are vastly under-used, which means most of you can skip this section entirely. For those who love the organization tabs give you, here's where you can tweak a few things:
- Tab bar turns on the tabs bar, and adds a menu button to the app drawer so you can quickly access Nova settings and other settings from the app drawer.
- Tab style lets you select the style of your tabs, from the more subtle Material to Classic to the birght Colorblock.
- Menu lets you replace the menu button added to the tab bar with a shortcut to search or to the Google Play Store.
- Isolate tabs stops you from swiping from one tab to the next while swiping between app drawer pages.
- Hide apps lets you keep apps from being seen on the launcher, or you can come here to unhide them if you accidentally hid them which trying to sort apps into tabs/folders. Note: hiding an app is not the same as disabling it, and disabling an app will automatically hide it from Nova Launcher (and keep it from running in the background or taking up resources).
Drawer groups allow Nova to go beyond its simplistic A-Z sorting and offer users a bit more control over how their apps are organized through app drawer tabs and folders. It makes populating folders easier than just about any app drawer system I've ever tried.
- Create a new tab by tapping the + in the top right corner. You can title it as you wish.
- Edit a tab/folder by tapping the pencil icon next to a tab or folder. Once you've opened a tab/folder, you can:
- Keep apps in main app tab duplicates apps when they appear in this tab, keeping one in the Apps tab and another in your designated tab.
- Tab color can be changed by tapping on the colored circle next to the tab's title. This color will override the scroll accent color.
- Delete tab/folder can be found under the three dot menu icon in the edit tab. When you delete a tab/folder, the apps within it will go back to the Apps tab. You can also long-press on a folder in the folder list to delete it and long-press and drag a tab up to a trashcan at the top of the menu to delete it.
Select apps for a tab/folder brings up a list of all the apps in the Apps tab, as well as any apps currently in the tab/folder. Tabs can also see any folders in the Apps tab and add them.
Folders first puts any folders in a tab at the beginning of a tab instead of where they would naturally fall in alphabetical order with the rest of the apps.
- Advanced > Automatically close the app drawer once you open an app with this setting enabled. If you click back after opening an app you'll be taken to the home screen instead of the app drawer you were just in.
- Advanced > Remember position will let you hop out of the app drawer and then when you re-enter it, it will be on the same page. This can be useful to some, but annoying to others, so toggle it as you see fit.
The dock is an under-appreciated part of the home screen, both by users and by launcher developers, who often have few or no options at all for their dock. Nova appreciates the dock, and lets you customize to your heart's content.
- Dock background but a colored shape under your dock, like a shelf to hold it up. You can choose from several shapes and colors for the dock, or you can leave it off and let your wallpaper shine through.
- Dock pages dictates how many scrolling pages of dock items you have. You can have up to 5 pages, but after 3 things can get a bit difficult.
- Dock icons dictates how many icons appear on one page of your dock. You can have as many as 7 items on your dock, be it 7 apps, 6 apps and an app drawer shortcut, or even a few 1x1 widgets.
- Icon layout allows you to resize the app icons on your dock as well as enable and customize app labels, which are turned off by default on the dock.
- Width padding and Height padding adjust the space around the outside of the dock. Increasing the padding will push icons in from the sides of the screen and away from your nav bar and home screen, which can help avoid fat-fingering a app on the dock when you meant to hit Recent apps.
- Infinite scroll will scroll from the last page of your dock back to the first if enabled. Otherwise, you'll get an overflow animation and stay on the last page of your dock.
- Dock as overlay moves your dock on top of your desktop grid, allowing you to hide it through gestures to hide/show the dock and give more real estate to items on your desktop like widgets or that awesome wallpaper.
- Automatically close the dock after an app is opened while this is enabled. When you go into an app and then back to the home screen, the dock will be hidden.
- Remember position will stay on the dock page you were last on when you return to the home page when enabled. Otherwise you'll be taken back to the first page every time you return to the home screen.
Not to be confused with the folders in your app drawer, these settings concern home screen folders.
- Folder preview is the default icon for a folder, showing the first few apps in the drawer in one of four arrangements, from Stack to Fan to Grid. Keep in mind that you can always replace these previews with icons for a single app or a custom image when editing the folder on the home screen.
- Folder background is a solid shape that you can have appear behind the folder preview, such as a circle or square.
- Transition animation is the animation shown every time you open a folder on your home screen.
- Background for the window of your folder is the square behind the open folder, which can be set to any color or transparency your heart desires. Transparent folder backgrounds can prevent a folder from taking you out of a theme, or they can help accent a theme without overshadowing it.
- Icon layout allows you to resize the app icons in your folder as well as customize or remove app labels.
6. Look & feel
This section of Nova deals with animations, icons and other visual aspects of Nova Launcher that effect multiple sections of the launcher. While there's not a lot in here you'll mess with on a regular basis, the first item in here is reason enough:
- Icon theme is where you apply all those lovely icon packs you download. There's a slightly hidden feature in the Icon theme menu you should know about:
- Reset custom icons will wipe all the custom icons you've set in your app drawer. If you've individually set an icon, it will not be effected by setting another icon pack later, so having this option to nuke all the custom icons in your app drawer — but not on your home screen, this option will not purge custom icons on your home screen — can be quite helpful when trying to wipe the slate clean between themes.
- Screen orientation allows you to limit Nova to portrait, landscape, or, in most cases, allows it to auto-rotate with your device. Due to how skewed some elements can look when rotating a portrait-based home screen setup sideways, locking Nova in portrait can make some sense to themers with a very particular setup.
- Scroll and animation speeds deal with how quickly Nova goes through the animations you've set in the other menus. While you may think that you want your animations as fast and short as possible, there does come a point where it goes from quick to just abrupt.
- App animation is the the transition you'll see between Nova launcher and any app you open, and back to the home screen.
- Show notification bar can take away the notification bar when disabled, if you don't need the time, status symbols, and notifications cluttering the top of your screen.
- Transparent notification bar will replace the boring red or black bar at the top of the home screen with a transparent bar, allowing more of your lovely wallpaper to shine from edge to edge on your screen.
- Dark icons will turn the white icons on your notification bar black in an effort to make them more visible against on white/light wallpaper. If this isn't enough to make you notification bar really visible with your theme, you might instead try turning on Gradual shadow in the Desktop settings menu.
- Search as overlay has searches by the search bar or other Nova actions executed in a pop-up rather than leaving Nova and opening the full Google search app.
7. Night mode
Night mode in Nova is pretty great and we think more apps should act like this. Here's how you can customize it:
- Night mode schedule can follow one of four schedules: Always, Auto, Follow System (which outside of Android N acts like Auto), and Custom, which you can set to whatever time frame you want. If you don't want Night mode at all, just set Night mode for a five minute stretch at 3 AM, like Windows Update. Night mode always applies to Nova Settings, but you can choose whether it applies to four other sections of the launcher:
- Search bar will turn the persistent search bar on the home screen and app drawer from white to dark grey.
- Drawer will turn the white card background for the app drawer dark grey. If you don't have the card background enabled, it will change your background tint to a solid dark grey, blocking out your wallpaper. If you were using a transparent tint over your wallpaper for the app drawer background, you may be better off leaving this off.
- Folders This will change the folder window from its previous color/transparency to a solid grey card. Again, if you have transparencies on your folder window, you may be better leaving this off.
- Drawer icon will replace your app drawer icon with a darkened version of the default app drawer icon. If you're using an icon pack or custom icon, this will replace that icon while night mode is active. You've been warned.
8. Gestures & inputs
Gestures and inputs let you add some invisible magic to your home screen. For each of the Gestures and Button Actions available to your particular device, you can either launch and app or execute a Nova Action or App Shortcut. All of these actions are set in the same way, you tap the gesture you wish to set then select the desired action from the menu.
Note: While there are an ungodly number of option listed in the submenu for Activities for Nova Launcher shortcuts, most of these activities are not things you can actually use as shortcuts. Before setting one as a shortcut, make sure you know what it does.
- Home button will re-purpose the home button while you're on the home screen, letting the home button pull double duty.
- Only on default page will limit the home button shortcut to on the default screen in your home screen, with the button still functioning as a home button while on secondary home screens.
- Long-press Menu is not an available option for all devices, but it nevertheless gives you an extra gesture option if it appears on your device.
- "Ok Google" hotword taps into the voice recognition in Google Now to let you do hands-free searches in Nova, even if your haven't allowed Google to listen on every screen.
- Confirm Google Settings will take you into the appropriate Google Now menu to ensure that voice detection is turned on and the app has a recent vocal model to compare to.
You have nine swipe gestures you can use on the home screen in Nova, and while they aren't as intuitive or diverse as Action Launcher, they can still prove quite useful, especially the easy gestures like Double tap and Swipe up/down.
9. Unread count badges
If you aim for Inbox Zero and try to see and reply to every little thing that comes to your phone, you might want Unread count badges for apps on your home screen. Even if your stock launcher doesn't support it, Nova Launcher Prime does thanks to a few downloadable plugins like TeslaUnread.
- Unread count badges can be turned on or off using the toggle at the top right corner of the screen, though you will be prompted to download TeslaUnred if you don't have an unread plugin installed already.
- Position and size: You can chose which corner the unread badge appears in and how big or small it is, depending on how much of an intrusion you want the badges to make.
- Presets offer you a few starting points from which to configure the color and shape of your unread badges. Material is a slightly rounded white square, Holo is the sharp grey square with a sharp blue border, and Classic is a round red dot with a white border. Preset will switch to Custom once you make any changes to one of the standard presets.
- Colors: You have three colors you can set, the border, the badge itself, and the test atop that badge. These colors can be selected from any shade and any transparency, so feel free to play around with badge colors to match or accent your Nova theme.
- Corner radius dictates whether your unread badge is a square, an oval, or something in between.
- Provider lets you pick between the unread plugins you have installed, TeslaUnread or MissedIt!
- Provider settings will take you into the badge provider's app so that you can set which apps have badges and which do not. Some apps are better supported by the plugins than others, depending on how popular and how easy it is for the plugin to pick up on unread messages/emails/etc.
10. Backup & import settings
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is where most new users should actually begin their Nova journey. You can import your old launcher's layout rather than build one from scratch. You can also create and restore your backups from this menu, and you should really, REALLY be backing up your launcher.
A word about widgets and imports/backups: widgets are handled rather oddly in Android, especially in regards to launcher data. From some launchers, Nova will pull the widgets no problem. From some, Nova will pull placeholders but you'll have to set the widget back up the way it was. And from some launchers Nova can't pull widgets at all. The Android team needs to sort that out in a future version of Android, but that's a low priority for people who don't theme their phones or transfer phones on a regular basis.
- Import will begin by warning you that importing a layout into Nova erases the home screen layout you've already made. You'll then be given your choice of installed launchers to import. Once you select one, a list of the elements from that home screen layout will be listed for you. You can import the layout or cancel if it doesn't sound right.
- Backup creates a new backup of your current home screen layout. Once you enter the backup menu, you can rename the backup and specify where the backup is going: Document storage, Device storage, or you can directly share it to any service you like through Android's sharing intent (like Google Drive).
- Restore or manage backups will list any backups on your device, and let you go searching backups that are sitting in cloud services accessible through the Documents browser. once you select the backup you want, you're asked if you want to erase the current layout and replace it with this backup, just in case you tapped on the wrong backup.
This section features experimental features, which are not to be confused with Beta features found in the Beta version of the app, and debug features if Nova is misbehaving and you need to send data about it to the developers so they can fix it. You shouldn't need to mess with many of these, but the developers have offered them up for the few Nova Launcher Prime users that do.
- Long-home for Now instead of On Tap: Should you prefer Google Now to the On Tap pop-up, but don't want to completely turn off on-tap, you can at least get back the old functionality on Nova Launcher with this setting.
- Restart widgets on resume: Restarting the widgets can force them to update, which is useful if some widgets don't update like they should.
- Big Grid Size Options: Nova Launcher already supports a 12x12 grid for the home screen and app drawer, but if you need more, this will let the gird options go all the way up to 16x16. Can be useful on extra-large devices.
- Upside down screen: Flips the screen for Nova Launcher and locks it in portrait. While this is here for some admittedly weird scenarios, this is a great feature to prank someone else's phone with. Not that you would ever advocate messing with another person's launcher without their express consent....
- Bad intent-filters: Some apps can do bad things to a launcher. Nova helps you weed these rotten apples out if you have one messing with Nova.
- Gmail Unread Count: This is an experimental feature and doesn't actually seem to work right now. If you need an unread count for Gmail, use the Unread count badges plugins.
- Reset first run help: Another feature that doesn't seem to work quite yet, but once it does it should be a useful feature for users returning to Nova after spending a while on another launcher. This should give a rundown of the launcher as we saw it when we first installed it.
- Permissions: you can turn off/on certain permissions for Nova Launcher here in the settings, should you not want to do it from the system menu for whatever reason. Keep in mind that turning off permissions means some things might not work, especially with the Storage feature disabled.
The debug settings here are, again, not something most people will need, but there are a few things that can come in handy for themers and theme developers.
- Debug > Show Component in Edit dialog lets you see which activity or section of an app is called when you tap on an app or shortcut, which can be helpful to themers who are trying to open specific parts of an app when they tap or swipe on a shortcut.
- Debug > Show Export PNG adds a new option to your home screen icons when you long-press them, allowing you to export fully transparent icons and widgets for editing and mock-ups. It's another useful tool for themers and theme developers, but not something the everyday user will often need unless you just have to fix that one flaw in that one icon.
- Debug > Show device info brings up the technical information about your device's hardware and software. It even has an option to add it to an email so you can send it off to the developers to use in finding and fixing issues with the app… which is probably the only reason you'd ever use this.
- Debug > Export Icons for theme dev will push all of the app shortcuts on your device to a compressed file. Icon pack developers can take the ZIP and use it as a base for their icon pack, or they can use it to figure out which activities they need to tie their icons to in a finished pack.
- Debug > Clear icon cache can help clear up the occasional bug when an app icon update doesn't take.
- Dump icon size debug pngs to /sdcard: this is a debug tool for theme developers relating to icon packs and the sizes of their icons.
12. What this all means for you as a Nova user
At the end of the day, Nova does have a lot of settings and customization, but there are a few settings to keep an eye on as a regular user:
- Desktop grid and subgrid positioning: Adjusting your desktop grid can help you not only fit more on your screen but it can help what's already there fit better. And subgrid positioning helps you resize your widgets and place shortcuts in more ways to ensure that things look perfect to you.
- Widget overlap can also help with getting things places the way you want them.
- Use Drawer groups to quickly corral your apps into useful categories or section if you don't like scrolling through your entire list of apps. Or turn on the search bar in the app drawer and let the phone find it for you with a voice search.
- Hide apps you don't use and don't like. Disabling an app will hide it from the launcher, too, but that's not always an option.
- Don't be afraid to add more icons to your dock. Going from 5 spaces to 7 really can make a difference.
- Even adding a few simple gestures can take icons off your screen and get you into apps quicker.
- Lock your desktop when you're done setting it so you or your mother don't mess it up. You should also back it up while you're at it!
And here's a few more settings as a themer to get just a little more awesome in your work:
- Change your Page indicator color, App drawer background, and Folder window background (not to be confused with Folder background) to match the main colors of your theme. Or even better, set them to an accent color that will help your icons pop when displayed with it. Don't forget that you can also use transparency.
- If you've set a lot of custom icon in your drawer you want to purge for a new app, Reset custom icons before you set the new pack. You'll still have to manually change over the ones on the home screen, but at least your app drawer will be taken care of.
- If you have a light wallpaper, you can darken the icons on your notification bar so they'll still show up in Look & feel.
- Night mode is awesome, but if you're using custom icons or transparent colors, you may be better off without it.
Any other tricks in Nova Settings you use for your theme? Any features you wish Nova Settings would add or re-organize? I wish all the color settings were together like Quicktheme in Action Launcher. Share your Nova tips in the comments and we'll see you soon with more themes!