Nova Launcher and Smart Launcher summer themes

The way we arrange, organize, and interact with our apps on Android is called the launcher. Launchers usually consist of a series of home screens, where we can arrange app shortcuts and widgets and an app drawer. Every phone comes with a launcher, but when they drop the ball, there are endless third-party launchers that not only pick it up again but knock it clear out of the park.

Some variants of this article have tried to claim that there is one launcher to rule them all, that there truly is a best launcher out there. I don't believe that's possible, even though I have a launcher I value over all others. You use your phone differently than I do, and I use my phone differently than my co-workers do or my friends or my family do. Everyone has their perfect launcher, but if you haven't found your favorite yet, then here are a few launchers we think will satisfy users of every type.

Best light and easy launchers

Best customization launchers

Honorable mention launchers

Best light and easy launchers

Are you someone who doesn't want to mess with a lot of bells and whistles? Do you just want to put your most-used apps front and center, maybe a widget or two, and get on with your Android experience? You want a fast launcher, a light launcher, one that doesn't need a lot of fussing and tweaking, and these are the launchers for you.

Evie evolves into your home screen

Best light launcher: Evie Launcher

AC
Score
4.5

Evie Launcher is a lightweight launcher that just doesn't quit and uses its gestures in effective ways. This launcher is light enough to let you hit the ground running with it while still letting your personality show through with it. It's a quick launcher that's completely free, so look forward to more optimizations and tweaks to help speed up your launcher experience. You can even back up your Evie layout and settings directly to Google Drive.

Evie Launcher review: stylish, simple, and steadily improving

Evie's gestures got 200% better this summer with user customization, allowing us to finally set swipe down to "Open Notifications" instead of Evie Search. You still can't use Evie's gestures to open apps, but hopefully that'll be coming before too long. Because Evie Launcher is totally free, updates can be slow to come at times. However, they're always more than worth the wait.

Free at Google Play

Microsoft Launcher

Runner-up: Microsoft Launcher

AC
Score
4

You'd think that if Microsoft was going to bring a launcher to Android, it'd match the Windows Phone look — and you'd be wrong. Not only is Microsoft Launcher a completely Android-native experience, but it's a top-quality launcher to boot, and one of the few launchers besides Nova Launcher to offer edge-to-edge widget placement — and subgrid positioning, too!

Microsoft Launcher's experience centers around a clean home screen with a robust, two-level dock, a smart feed fed by your Microsoft account and your daily phone use, and a speedy app drawer where you can easily find all your apps. Microsoft Launcher's initial setup is a bit overbearing — it's easy to get through, just long. Microsoft Launcher is not quite as bare-bones as Evie, but it is still a fairly light launcher that's well-worth considering, especially if you have an Outlook account for work, school, or personal email and calendar appointments.

Free at Google Play

Best customization launchers

Do you want full control over your home screens? Want to set more than just an app grid and a widget or two? Want to make your home screen look and act the way you want? Then you want a customization-based launcher. Often called theming launchers, these launchers can do way more than just make your phone look pretty; they're for making your home screen more efficient, effective, and functional for your life.

By giving you control over every aspect of your home screen experience — from your app shortcuts and widgets to gestures and widgets and beyond — these launchers truly exemplify the Android experience. These two customization-based launchers dominate much of the third-party launcher market, and there's a very good reason:

They're freaking awesome!

Crisp Summer cleaness

Best customization launcher: Nova Launcher

AC
Score
5

Nova Launcher has been a major player in the home screen market longer than most of us have even used Android. The reason for this continued dominance is simple: Nova's mix of customization, convenience, and cunning is unparalleled. Nova lets your phone look more Pixel-y than a Pixel and more TouchWiz-zy than a Galaxy and does it all with ease and grace.

In fact, Nova's biggest strengths are hidden in plain sight, like its pocket ace Subgrid Positioning and its excellent backup system. The Nova Settings those options are hidden in could be a bit daunting to new users in the past, but Nova's developers refined and refreshed it a few months ago, making Nova Settings far easier to look through for features you might not know about.

Nova Launcher review: Still king of the mountain

When we build themes for our Android Central readers, Nova Launcher is what we use to build and share them with you 4 times out of 5. Whether you want to build complex themes or you just want a smartly laid out launcher with excellent gesture controls, Nova is for you.

Free at Google Play

Lights, Android, ACTION

Runner-up: Action Launcher

AC
Score
5

The watchword of both Action Launcher and its users is QUICK — Quicktheme, Quickdrawer, Quickpage, Quickbar — and to ensure it can be the quickest and best launcher for users who want to set everything up just so, Action Launcher has taken it upon itself to be one of the most customizable launchers on the market. From its robust gesture controls to its ubiquitous Covers and Shutters to hide folders and widgets under app shortcuts, Action Launcher makes it easy to get the home screen you want, even if its Quicktheme sometimes misses the mark.

Action Launcher review: the Swiss Army home screen

Action Launcher is also quick to support features from the newest versions of Android, including as much of Android Pie's goodness as can be replicated on a third-party launcher. While the actual theme-building power here isn't quite as adaptable as Nova Launcher, it's a launcher that's incredibly — well, quick — about getting you set up and on your way.

Free at Google Play

Honorable mention launchers

Now, there are launchers that don't quite top the list for the lighter, easier quick launchers and can't quite crack the intense theming prowess of Nova and Action. This doesn't mean that these launchers aren't awesome, and we'd like to highlight launchers with a standout feature or that serve a launcher niche excellently. After all, there are a lot of launchers out there, and there are a lot of ways to use them to interact with your apps.

Lawnchair Launcher and its Pixel-y goodness was going to be added to this list, but the version currently available on Google Play is a holding pattern as its developers ramp up an overhauled v2. Similarly, the makers of root theming engine Substratum recently released hyperion launcher, but it needs some buffing and polishing before it's ready for prime time.

Color sort

Best app drawer: Smart Launcher 5

AC
Score
4.5

Smart Launcher has been around for years, but it really kicked things up a notch with Smart Launcher 5. The home screen features a grid-less widget placement system — and Smart Search has been overhauled — but the real star of the show here is still the app drawer. Smart Launcher 5 automatically sorts your apps into several categories, and if you pay for Smart Launcher Pro, you can even add your own custom categories and sort your various drawer tabs in a variety of ways, from most-used to install time to even icon color.

Read more: Smart Launcher 5 review: An amazing balance of customization and simplicity

From a responsive and comprehensive categorical app drawer to some of the most precise widget placement on Android to the most diverse icon options on the market, Smart Launcher 5 has a lot to love. Its gestures are top-notch, too, especially the double-tap shortcuts for dock apps, which work worlds better than the swipe app gestures Nova and Action use.

And remember when I said I use Nova Launcher for 4 out of 5 Android Central themes? Smart Launcher is the launcher I use for that other 20%, including or our dead awesome Deadpool theme and Heart Canada theme!

Free at Google Play

Shortcuts that are easy to see and use

Best business launcher: BlackBerry Launcher

AC
Score
3.5

BlackBerry has made something of a comeback since its migration to Android, and nowhere is this more apparent than BlackBerry Launcher, which is openly available on Google Play. BlackBerry Launcher is a stable launcher that eases Android newcomers into the many, many possibilities available in an Android launcher today. Part of this is by necessity, as millions of government and enterprise users are introduced to Android and what an Android launcher can do through DOD-certified BlackBerry phones.

From pop-up widgets that can appear with the swipe of an icon to one of the easiest-to-understand Shortcut galleries I've seen on Android to a no-nonsense approach to launcher settings and customization, BlackBerry Launcher lets you get things set up just the way you like them and then streamline your launcher experience for efficiency.

BlackBerry Launcher's keyboard shortcuts are the best on Android

Keyboard shortcuts on BlackBerry Launcher are exclusive to BlackBerry's physical keyboard phones, but they offer unparalleled ease and versatility. In the esteemed words of our own Jerry Hildenbrand:

My KEYone and its keyboard shortcuts let me keep my home screen blank and I just long press a keyboard key to open the app I want to open: "A" for the AC app, "C" for Chrome, "G" for Gmail, "K" for Slack, and "S" for Signal. This keeps me from tapping things with my bumbling fingers or worrying about things happening in my pocket.

How to set up keyboard shortcuts on the BlackBerry Launcher

As a business-geared launcher, BlackBerry Launcher offers a premium experience, and rather than paying a one-time fee for the launcher, BlackBerry Launcher relies upon a BlackBerry Hub subscription to eliminate its ads after 30 days. Or you could buy a BlackBerry phone and get access to the best launcher shortcuts on Android.

Free at Google Play (subscription required)

What's your favorite?

Do you have a favorite launcher? What's on your Android phone now? I've been a Nova Launcher fan for years and years — it's the comfy launcher I come home to between testing launchers and themes — but Smart Launcher has been gracing my home screen more and more these days. It truly is a great experience for getting your app drawer set up exactly the way you want, and when you combine it with Icon Pack Studio and KLWP, cohesive and beautiful Android themes have never been easier.