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Microsoft's Arrow Launcher is astonishingly good

Microsoft rolled out Arrow Launcher last year, following a positive reception for the company's Next Lock Screen (opens in new tab). Both apps originated out of Microsoft Garage, a hub for Microsoft employees to work on projects and ideas that don't have a direct correlation to the company's broader software efforts. Other apps that have come out of Microsoft's Garage include the excellent Word Flow keyboard for iOS.

As for Arrow Launcher, the app has picked up momentum over the course of the year, gaining new functionality with regular updates. The most recent update rolled out earlier this week, adding a slew of new features: a fully customizable home page with widget and folder support, ability to annotate and share recent images directly from the home screen, live wallpaper support, and double tap to lock the screen.

Setting it up

Unlike a traditional third-party launcher like Nova, Arrow Launcher uses algorithms to show your frequent apps, contacts, and documents on the home screen. During setup, you can select apps that you want on the home screen; the launcher will then add more apps based on your usage patterns. The obvious downside with this model is that if you're particular about the way you arrange apps on your home screen, you're not going to like the constant shuffling around as new apps get added.

If you're like me and have a lot of apps organized in folders, you'll want to enable home screen customization from settings, as that lets you organize content into folders and add widgets. The app drawer itself is arranged vertically, with a separate tab for widgets and a search bar at the top.

Customize everything

A swipe up gesture gives you a Control Center-style quick toggle area wherein you can adjust screen brightness and toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, screen orientation, flashlight, and flight mode. At login, you have access to six home screens: Apps is at the center, flanked by People and Recent. The rightmost home screens show reminders and documents, and you have a dedicated home screen for widgets on the left.

The People home screen gives you a list of your frequent contacts, while the Recent screen highlights five recent photos, calls, messages, or documents. The latest update added the ability to edit and annotate images from the Recent screen. Just long press on an image thumbnail, and you'll see options to edit or share an image.

There are several customization options on offer as well, including notification badges, which lets you see the unread count on app icons. Then there's the ability to use custom icon packs, and double tap the screen to lock the phone.

Overall, Arrow Launcher is just as fast as Nova or Google Now Launcher. There's no unnecessary bloat, and it offers enough customizability that I'm not missing out on any features that I rely upon often. And best of all, it's free.

Interested in taking a look? Grab the launcher from the link below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Download Arrow Launcher from the Play Store (opens in new tab)

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor covering Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone manufacturers, and writes about the semiconductor industry, storage servers, and audio products. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

95 Comments
  • Dam son Posted via Android Central App
  • Looks like it's come a long way. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Microsoft is one step closer to having enough apps and services to release their own android based phone. The Arrow launcher is excellent as is both of their lock screen apps. All they need to do is release their Edge browser and incorporate SMS/MMS in Skype and they would basically have all the essentials.
  • They are very close. Its nice to have options.
  • Nothing but a data mining tool
  • You don't think being on the Google platform is not data mining as well?
  • I hear what you're saying but the Android phone will only come after Microsoft's enivitable discontinuation of windows phone after that they will. Posted via Android Central App
  • I really think they are not that far off from doing so. I wouldn't be surprised if Windows mobile will survive for only Enterprise and they drop consumer support.
  • Microsoft won't abandon Windows Phone. They retrenched to allow OEMs to make Windows Phone while focusing on the rollout of Windows 10 and getting their anniversary update out. Now they will focus on mobile but mobile phones are nothing without apps. That's why they were focusing on overall OS adoption rather than making phones. Since OS adoption increases user base and user base increases app development. They definitely have an uphill battle but their long term vision includes mobile. Unlike BlackBerry, Microsoft has a lot of money to lose on this project. Although I don't see myself leaving Nexus I would love to see a 3 ecosystem market share between iOS, Android, and Windows for competition and choice reasons.
  • Hard to say that for sure. With the number of layoffs they've done related to the phone product line, they may be winding down.
  • Those layoffs from what I've read are still largely related to the Nokia purchase. Developing Windows Mobile is a no brainer for Microsoft since it is all effectively the same code base. They can keep Windows Mobile up to date with Windows 10 without much investment. It won't ever be a top option but it'll live on.
  • Surface Phone is coming soon also, so they are not done with Windows mobile yet.
  • I love my android on my op3 but my Lumia 950xl with continuum is pretty awesome.
  • I don't even think it will come then. Their chief reason for making hardware at all is to push Windows as a service. If/when they finally close up shop for mobile, they'll just focus on the services they've released to other platforms.
  • This is very close I believe.
  • Would like to see them bring over their keyboard app they released for iPhones
  • With no Google Play store and services, Windows phones will perform about as well as the Amazon phone did. If not worse, because at least Amazon does have a halfway decent app store. Microsoft likely knows this, which is why they have joined the consortium that will start release Nokia-branded (but not Nokia designed or manufactured) phones starting in a few months. Here's betting that the Nokia phones will come pre-loaded with all the Microsoft and Nokia apps and services, including this launcher. Then again, Nokia has their own Z launcher also, so no telling which custom launcher will win out.
  • Why wouldn't an android powered Microsoft phone have the Play Store? As long as they followed Google's requirements for there services there's reason why they can't use the Play Store on there too... Then add their launcher and services on top just like Samsung does. Absolutely no different.
  • Because Google requires that their apps and services are front and center. If Microsoft wanted to get Google Play Certification (access to the Play Store) then they have to make Google search the default system search program, and not Bing search. Also they have to preinstall all of Google's required apps and put them on the home screen at first start up, and many of these apps compete with Google's. Microsoft wants users to use their services, not Google's, and so having to follow these steps kind of defeats the purpose of making a Microsoft Android phone in the first place.
  • They could start with win mobile replace with android and then move to the desktop with a linux/chrome/android varient and then make sure previous msf apps and programs run in emulator like 32 bit on 64bit os for the value . And it would be more stable with less issues and a new platform - they would use updated open source to reskin and have backwards compatibility - they could jam their propietary code into the emulator and keep that locked down for their control point . then they would not have to support any new os on any hardware - only that the previous msf approved programs talked through the new platform . the win 10 has too much going on and everything is leeching on to it - they could start with a linux style os open a vmware style window and image over a win 7 slim os and it would be faster and more reliable than this current platform Kenny
  • Agreed
  • Sounds... Nevermind
  • (EDIT: NM, looks like you call this out in the text sandwiched between the graphics. My bad...) FYI. As of v2.2, you don't have to have the automatic arrangement according to most-used apps. They give you a customize option that makes it pretty much like any other launcher in terms of being able to add what you want and where (Menu -> check "Customize Apps")
  • I am trying this out on my Note 7 and so far, I love it. I like how I can set up all of my commonly used widgets on one page and scroll vertically to see them all. Very nice. I don't mind using the apps screen to automatically show my most used apps...I noticed if you do customize the apps page, it will remove the dedicated widgets home screen.
  • I'm assuming Samsung Pay doesn't work from the home screen when you Swipe up. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It does work actually. You can swipe up from anywhere on the dock to access the other apps home screen but you can swipe from bottom of screen to activate Samsung Pay.
  • Thanks I just checked out. I only wished it had Samsung Calendar widget but that's only on Tocuhwiz. But this is very clean. I do like it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yes...as long as my Samsung features work, I may keep Arrow Launcher...
  • Man, I wish I could comment on that but I don't use Samsung Pay. I know S-Note (screen off notes) works still but it doesn't hover a note (like a sticky note) over the home screen. Recent notes do show in the notification area...
  • Anything is better than that slow Samsung launcher
  • Be funny that the Elite X3 is stepping stone for the Surface Phone running ARM and is forked Android based. Wishful thinking. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm a big fan of arrow. I use it along with Next lock screen and the combination is very nice. I especially like the daily Bing wallpapers on the lock screen.
  • After my Nova Launcher was somehow hammered on my Nexus 6 (user error, except for the life of me I cannot remember how or why) I switched to the Arrow launcher a couple months ago and practically no longer miss the Nova launcher anymore at all.
  • At first I was disappointed there's only one app screen, but you can add more. Tap and hold an icon as if you're going to move it. A line appears at the bottom of the icon area. Drag and hold the icon on that line. It will create a second app screen and you can move your icon there. To get to it, swipe from the middle (not at the bottom) of the app screen. I tested and could at least create a third as well. No idea of the limit. I see someone else mentioned the ability to have it NOT auto-arrange the apps: that's the feature that made me switch back to Arrow.
  • That's great! I've been a beta tester and didn't even know that existed. I need to pay attention to the support forums more.
  • I actually found the additional app screens by mistake. As for the ability to not have it reorder your apps automatically, I owe that one to the article that Paul Thurrott posted on his site.
  • I don't want algorithms telling me what I use. It's why I don't go for any of those launchers that somehow presume to tell me what is most important to me.
  • But you have an option to turn that off. No one is telling you anything if you don't want to use that feature.
  • Good for you. Have a cookie.
  • It doesn't look to be able to scale icon size or grid size. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's also astonishingly loose with your data. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and the rest all collect the same kind of data from you, in (mostly) equal amounts. What is important is what they do with it once they have it. There is an entire section about why Microsoft shares your personal data with other companies in their privacy policy. You should probably read it before you use this app because you should be reading privacy policies for every app you install on your phone. https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/privacystatement/
  • I've written pretty extensively on this within the forums. Everyone wants to hate on Google, but they're the only ones not giving themselves permission to hand your personal data to third parties other than when required to per warrants, etc.
  • Yeah, I see nothing here I would call "loose."
  • They sell your data. They admit they sell your data. They aren't trying to hide it, which is a good thing, but I'll call that loose when anyone does it.
  • They sell some data to hardware partners under the condition that their security standards are met, and not even the important stuff. At least to my standards.
  • Nova Prime all day long. :)
  • I just purchased the Note 7 after having had a Lumia 1520 for the past 2 1/2 years. I stumbled on this launcher last night and it's helping ease my frustrations with such a big change. I like some of the customizations within Android, but miss other areas of customization and overall UI from Windows 10. I was interested in the HP Elite X3, but ultimately went with this, especially because my wife also wanted one, and we got the AT&T deal. I may go back to Windows Mobile next year if the rumored Surface phone comes out and the app gap (which currently isn't a big deal to me) doesn't worsen. This ARROW Launcher is a nice alternative for the time being. And, I still have my Lumia 1520 to keep up to date on the Windows front. Note 7 or Lumia 1520. Too bad W10 Mobile doesn't run on the Note 7.
  • I'm exactly in the same spot as you -I bought the s7 edge instead- the thing I miss the most is the live tiles and sure we have widgets but they take to much screen (if not all) and makes the phone feel cluttered. After trying several launchers I found "action 3" to do the best job in this transition because I don't have to place the widget on the screen, with a simple swipe up on the app icon it launches the widget in a pop up screen and it goes away when you swipe away of it, it's fast and it looks very cool... Well it has a bunch of other functionality but that's the one that got me :)
  • OK. Cool. I'll look into that one as well. Thanks for the heads up. Note 7 or Lumia 1520. Too bad W10 Mobile doesn't run on the Note 7.
  • I'm in a similar place as well, Left Windows Phone 3 ish months ago, I tried Arrow and thought it was OK, it wasn't until I used "Action" that I thought I could see my self being alright on Android, I like the customization search bar at the top, a lot of actions and options can be hidden up there. The swipe to the left to have the list of all apps helps me feel a little more at home but what I would give to tap the letter and quickly jump around the app list. It also has a swipe right screen that is always there on the home that can store your most used apps, widgets ect.
    I do have to agree it was their "shades" that let you launch a widget from an app that sold me. For example, I have a calculator widget tied to my calculator app so a simple swipe opens a usable calculator widget. I have also paired it with a white icon pack for a cleaner look. It has made the transition easier, but I still miss a lot about W10 Mobile, I actually have a new Lumia 950 that was just delivered to my house today. I plan on selling off my old Windows Phones and keeping that one when I want to switch back, or check progress on. Action Launcher was about $5 to upgrade to pro, but I signed up for the Google Rewards app that give you money for the play store for taking surveys. Not much (about $15 in 4 months) but enough to get a few apps and cheap albums.
  • Yes Live tiles kill anything on Android. I keep asking Microsoft to make a news and stock "widget" for android that works like the live tiles on WP.
  • Great! Go buy a Windows phone!
  • I went through the same, sometimes agonizing transition from beloved Windows Phone to Android. Did the Note 5 last year and now I'm on the Note 7. I still have a 950xl to jeep up with latest updates but never could use it because I'm on Verizon (it was a review copy.) As much as I like Windows Phone, I most likely won't go back unless UWP does take off. For now, Arrow Launcher is pretty darn good compared to TouchWiz and I still get to use some of the "perks" of Samsung.
  • I'm getting more comfortable with the note 7 and as time goes on, probably even more so, but I'll still keep up with Win 10 and if a flagship comes out that wows me, I could easily go back. Note 7 or Lumia 1520. Too bad W10 Mobile doesn't run on the Note 7.
  • I still use my 1520 at home to keep up with the insider program :]
  • Oh, I tried to get my 950xl working on Verizon...imagine my surprise when I finally got BARS at one time but I then had a problem with the wrong phone number showing up. It was worth a shot.
  • I use Action 3 launcher and I found it to be very good, I'll take a look at this action since everyone is talking so good about it ;)
  • Just downloaded arrow it is awesome
  • I really wish it would allow you to scale the icons/grid
  • Just realized you can add folders and customize the icons, but for some reason it wipes out the widget page. Furthermore, you can only add 9 apps to folder.
    Back to Nova for me
  • Nope. The folder scrolls. Go cray.
  • It's not scrolling for me
  • Weird. I've got a folder with 15 apps, and it scrolls fine.
  • I'll have to try again then. Still, the fact that it removes the ability to use widgets if you want to use folders is a huge turnoff
  • It's not, though. It simply merges the widgets page with the app folders feature. You can create widgets on that page and move them to other pages by dragging them down to the bar that appears at the bottom of the page when you long press. It creates pages in a vertical scroll that is kinda rad.
  • That vertical scroll sort of reminds me of my Windows phone. :)
  • Me too. :)
  • Ok I figured it all out, lol. I'm now running Arrow :)
  • The unread count badges don't work. The option is on, in settings. Any ideas? Posted via the Android Central App
  • For me, it seems to work for FaceBook, but not for Outlook. Waiting for SMS or WhatsUp message to see how they are :)
  • It wasn't working on anything for me, not on Facebook,Outlook, or my Live365 apps. Shame it's a nice update. And a close contest between that and Nova Launcher Prime, which I've gone back to. But may give Arrow another chance if they fix this feature.
  • I'm not seeing them at all either. If we're talking about the little number on the icon's saying how many unread emails, or fb notifications, twitter, etc...I don't see anything. (I'm on a SG6, btw.)
  • I really wish it integrated with Cortana. That's my one gripe. Other than that, this launcher has really improved.
  • Blame google.
  • It's difficult to engage the widgets without moving the complete screen. I'll give it a week just to see, but that's problematic. Note 4
  • You can set the widget screen as your home screen. That's what I do.
  • Looks simple and functional, like the learning aspect to it. I too use Action 3 and am very happy with it. I'm not sure if I want my icons changing on me, as muscle memory allows me to find most-used apps quickly.
  • For those that use it, how do you like app icons, etc. moving based on usage? It seems it would beneficial if I trained my brain to always find app A at position X. With Arrow, A is now at Z. Does the shifting icons bother you?
  • it's fine. I dont even notice. It's not like an immediate position shift. If it see's you're using an app more and more it will start to push down the oldest app.
  • As others have said, you can override that feature when you go into custom pages feature. It'll let you place your icons wherever you want them, and even make the pages go vertical vs just horizontal. Note 7 or Lumia 1520. Too bad W10 Mobile doesn't run on the Note 7.
  • This would drive me crazy. I don't want to have to hunt for the app I'm looking for because some programmer decided something else should be in the space where it used to be. Aside from that, I prefer a minimalist home screen, and don't want the app adding a bunch of stuff to it on its own.
  • I'm sticking with Nova.
  • I would LOVE if Microsoft would give us Android users a Metro launcher like on their windows phones. I know that would probably kill what windows phones are still out there for purchase, but I loved that interface. I love SquareHome 2, its pretty slick, but an actual Metro UI with all the power of Microsoft and Android behind it, that would be pretty cool! To me anyway.
  • Agreed
  • Yep.
  • Have you tried Launcher 8?
  • Not the same...no live tiles, its really just square app launcher tiles...
  • The only launcher I use when stock just wont do. I miss WP, but no SmartWatch solution drove me away.
  • Same
  • I'm ma stick with my paid-for Nova Launcher, but I have to say that I really like their Picturesque lock screen -- it's pretty slick. The Next lock screen looks similar but with some different functionality/features; I might check it out to see how it differs from Picturesque.
  • It's so slow on my phone. Especially when I open the all apps page. Idk if that's my 617 or just the launcher.
  • Given that this is from MS .... why are there adds showing on my lock screen when notifications show up? No way am I running a launcher that is feeding me advertising .....
  • No ads for me.
  • The obvious downside with this model is that if you're particular about the way you arrange apps on your home screen, you're not going to like the constant shuffling around as new apps get added. I have no apps on my home screen. Zero. Nada. My home screen is a beautiful slab of live background, and that's it. Everything else is hidden. I use Swipepad with an extra pad for launching apps quickly. I also have some gestures set for other things or tasks, through Nova. My computer screen is exactly the same way without a single icon in sight. I'm not sure why, but I find icons and widgets on my home screen rather distasteful.
  • Glad to see we can now override the shuffling of apps. I'll give it a try again.