Nova Launcher may be the best thing that ever happened for Android

Android is built in a way that allows "core" portions of the operating system to be replaced with applications written by a third party. That is, someone not the manufacturer, or Google itself. Nowhere is this more evident than the various Launcher (or Home) apps you'll find in Google Play. The user-facing portion of the operating system — the home pages, the widgets, the application drawer and the icons — can be replaced in one fell swoop.

This is a good thing because chances are once you get a few Android fans together, you'll likely see a big difference in the way they want their phones and tablets to look, act and feel. Inevitably, Nova Launcher gets mentioned.

Nova Launcher

There are good reasons for this. Nova Launcher is one of those gems that works right out of the box but has almost endless options to customize pretty much all of it. As a basic Launcher or Home replacement, you have the home screens to place shortcuts and widgets on, icons to represent all of your installed applications, and a drawer to hold them all. If you don't like the way your home screens and app drawer look on the phone you bought, you can install Nova Launcher and replace it all with one install. And it will all just work.

But the real draw of Nova Launcher is the endless customization.

The look and feel

Look and Feel

Nova Launcher allows you to make your Launcher look and act the way you want it to look and act, versus you having to settle for something someone else envisioned. This goes beyond the basics you'll find with other launchers, and dives deep into some micro-management style settings to allow for control of just about everything.

Custom icon packs

Jared DiPane: One of the things I really like about Nova Launcher is the way it uses custom icon packs, and how I can get my screen to look just the way I want it to. While almost all launchers let you apply custom icon packs, I really like the granular control that Nova gives me. From being able to mix and match icon packs, to being able to change the icon size for the dock, home screen pages, and app drawer independently, the options are unlimited.

In addition to being able to customize the icons, Nova gives me the option to set different dock backgrounds, making it even more custom. If one day I feel like I want to have an iPhone style on my G4, I can add a dock that resembles it, change up the icons and placement, and boom, a whole new feel in just a few minutes.

And there's a lot more to customize in the look and feel department. You have control over the size of those custom icons, the padding between them, the labels underneath them and even the number of rows and columns in both your app drawer and on the home screens. One of the coolest features allows for a scrolling dock, where limitless icons can rest for you to flip through.

Things don't stop with the icons and dock. You have control over animations, the way your wallpaper scrolls (or doesn't scroll if that's how you want it) and placing of your home screen widgets. Want portions of widgets (you get to resize them all) to overlap so you can create a cool design? Nova can do that. And more. The paid version (Nova Prime) even allows "swipe" actions — for example showing my bookmarks when swiping up on the Chrome icon.

Custom is the key here, and Nova Launcher gives you the options to focus on all the fine details of what you see on your screen, how it all looks and how things work together.

Custom shortcuts and gestures

Gestures for almost anything

Russell Holly: The core of any personalization experience is getting to the stuff that matters to you as quickly as possible, and when you purchase the Prime upgrade to Nova Launcher you gain access to quite a bit to accomplish that goal.

Nova's gesture list includes single and double-finger gestures that can do just about everything. You can launch apps, access settings, and access the app drawer or notification panel without touching any of the regular buttons. Instead of just opening an app, you can access specific features within different apps. My personal favorite is jumping straight to the compose function in Google Inbox, but the list of things you can shortcut to if you know what you're doing is pretty impressive.

But that's just the beginning. You can use gestures anywhere on your home screens as well. Swipe up, swipe down, double tap, swipe with two fingers — these gestures (and more) can be set to do things like open your app drawer, pull down the notification shade, open your recent apps and more. You can even deep dive and open activities that you wouldn't otherwise be able to run — things in your engineering mode tests or activities of the core OS.

The best part is that you can assign different gestures to different things in different places. Swipe to open a folder, swipe an icon to open that app to a certain spot (like Russell's Gmail example) or swipe anywhere to do something like fire up Google Search.

Both power users and novices alike will find the gestures and input tools useful. They are well worth exploring!

Control your app drawer

App drawer Nova Launcher

For me, the best features in any custom launcher are the ones that allow me to set my app drawer the way I like it. Some apps that I need to keep won't be used very often, while some get used all the time. Having a way to group and sort everything is important.

Nova Launcher is pretty sweet here. I can start by hiding the icons for apps I don't ever need to see — bloat that can't be uninstalled, license key apps, core apps that I've replaced via Google Play and the like — so I don't have those icons staring me in the face, never to get tapped. Having these hidden reduces the clutter, making it easier to sort the apps I will use.

With the addition of Nova Prime (opens in new tab) (a recommended $4.99 purchase if there ever was one) I can take what's left and sort it into groups and folders (or even tabs!) right inside the app drawer.

Of course, you have control over the background color, the scroll effect and even whether you want horizontal or vertical app drawer pages.

This is Android

App gesture settings

Yes, Nova Launcher may be the best thing that ever happened to Android. Endless customization (without fiddling or flashing anything) is important to plenty of us. Android has the reputation of allowing anyone to do just about anything to the way their phone looks and how it performs the basics, and Nova Launcher gives both the experienced and the veterans among us an easy way to do all of it.

If you need a change, or just want to have more control over how your phone looks and the way it does things, Nova Launcher is a great place to start.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

253 Comments
  • The Play Store link doesn't work. https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • Stuff got derpy for a few. It should work now
  • Here:
    https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • It is without a doubt, for me personally the best launcher. I have tried others on multiple devices and they never measure up. I love the shortcuts. Currently on my dell tablet 7840 and droid turbo. If i could recommend one app this would be it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Google (Matias Duarte) is fully incompetent to make a usable GUI (despite Android is #1 for me by far)
  • Not really
  • Google's Material Design UI is being heralded by designers and the tech community widely as one of the best in mobile, web and application interfaces. I would hardly call Matias Duarte, the lead designer on that initiative, as incompetent. Clearly, many third-party app developers and web applications are adopting those style guidelines to improve the interface and usability of their products.
  • No. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I only wish that at some point in the future Android will allow theming/skinning of the Notification Tray. To me, that would complete everything i need to make the phone my own.
  • + 1000 Posted via HTC One M7
  • + 0001 Posted via my amazingly smexy Nexus 6 yo
  • Umm, have you ever heard of cyanogens "theme chooser". I change my notification tray several times a week Posted via...The One
  • That means you will need to root your device. For those of us who don't want to take this way, it's a deal breaker. Posted via Android Central App
  • Rooting your device is the best and most important thing you can do to it.
  • Most important? Nope Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yes that's right rooting your phone and losing your manufacturers warranty along with some of the features the phone came with is very important. NOT!!!!! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Only if you have to unlock it to root which isn't all that common. Most sammy and older htc can be rooted without unlock. Too many people have that paranoid outlook you have. And rooting doesn't remove features. You need to learn the terminology. I will explain it with my car analogy:
    Normal UI: Drivers seat
    Root: Looking and poking under the hood, allowing for minor alterations and new features without breaking anything. Can always go back to stock
    Unlock: Replacing the starter (only voids warranty if you cannot relock it)
    Custom Rom: Replacing the transmission and body panels. This could remove hardware features like Moto X active notifications and Voice actions or LG's double tap. But also adds a lot more.
  • i don't need you to explain anything I'm fully aware of the terminologies you mentioned. I have a note 4 and i know that rooting can trip the Knox security which will void your warranty. Also Can you point me to any custom roms for the note 4 where i won't lose functionality of say for example the s pen features??
  • Modified stock custom Roms, of course. Go to xda and do some research for your damn self... Posted via my S6 Edge running Extreme Syndicate at warp speed
  • Be nice! That **** may fly on XDA, but fortunately most people on other sites seem to possess more effective communication skills. Just an unsolicited opinion to be considered.
  • Baloney. First thing I do is root any new phone. Here in Europe Samsung will fix your phone if needed if Knox is tripped.
    Anyway I have never had to take any phone back for problems. And I have had every iteration of Galaxy series from 1 to 6. Plus Tab s 10.5 tablet. all rooted.
  • Not everyone lives in Europe like us, don't they. I also pay € 31,00 a year for insurance ~ ergodirekt), they payback atleast 75% of the phone's cost if something goes wrong
  • Great breakdown, sir. That really does make sense. +1
  • What features do you lose permanently from rooting? And there are ways of rooting while still retaining your warranty. Try again
  • Anything to do with mobile banking. There are a great many apps that check for root and stop working if they find it. Try again.
  • That's not ALWAYS true. I have used mobile banking apps from two different banks and even one from Scottrade and none of them faulted me because of ROOT! SU or any other apps I may be using.
  • Yeah plus a lot of the banking apps I use a lot don't work once rooted. I rooted mine for a while but found the cons outweighed the pros.
  • People still say 'not'?
  • ....Almost every phone that can be rooted and ROM'd can be returned to stock for the sake of warranty claims. And currently, the only "feature" you potentially lose when rooting a phone is Samsung Pay (or whatever it's called), which isn't even out yet. And THAT is not because of rooting your device. That stems purely for KNOX and it's BS, which can get tripped depending on the root method you use. Unless you're talking about OTA's from the Wireless Provider. Which no one in their right mind should consider that a "feature" being lost.
  • It's the same reason I chip my car, 33% more performance for the fraction of the investment. If you need to use your phone warranty or can't figure out how to get around it, chances are you have larger issues then deciding to make full use of a device you purchased or for some reason paid a Telcom extra for the right to rent rather than pay a 3rd party warranty that would cover a rooted phone and cost you less in end. Some people just hate to have to research or think about much beyond their flappy bird score
  • a few years ago I'd agree, but IMO it's not needed as much nowadays. I'm planning on grabbing the Moto X 2015 and won't be rooting it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • By take this way you mean get what you want? Rooting on Android is pretty much a non-issue. This isn't the apple planned obsolescence world. I love being able to run a recent supported OS rather than have decices rot as apps move past the last OS apple decidesdyour es yourworthhyoof ur worthy
  • "I love being able to run a recent supported OS rather than have decices rot as apps move past the last OS apple decidesdyour es yourworthhyoof ur worthy"
    Ummm, WHAT?
  • Google translate :)
  • "dizzle16
    Umm, have you ever heard of cyanogens "theme chooser". I change my notification tray several times a week" Yeah, but wouldn't you have to be running that boring ass CM rom?
  • If there's a Cyanogenmod 12 ROM for your phone, it's possible! Lots of developers have made themes for CM12's theme engine, and they often customize the notification tray.
    Unfortunately you can't customize them yourself to your own settings like Nova Launcher would with other things; that is, unless you learn how to make a CM12 theme yourself.
    Although if you can't get CM12, you might be able to change the status bar icons (the ones when not expanded), if you're rooted. Check this page out.
    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2078814
  • I was thinking this exact same thing as i read the article. I imagine that OEMs wouldn't like it but if you can already change most of the UI with a launcher, why would you be bothered with the Settings UI. And if you could add the ability to theme your notifications area then it'd be perfection. I think OEMs will only get their s**t together with software if Google opens up the whole UI experience to competition, irrespective of the device.
  • Android M's System UI Tuner is halfway there with customizable icons, so hopes that future versions will let you change everything. Would finally get rid of Samsung's horrible notification trays.
  • For me the best thing compared to a launcher is not directly a launcher/home screen replacement but another kind of app launcher: SwipePad. Because of that app I almost never see my home screens... I jump from app to app in one swipe wherever I am Posted via Android Central App
  • Thing is the Launcher includes the Homescreen. SwipePad is a bit of a hybrid between launcher and shortcut drawer.
  • I get that but because if swipepad I don't look anymore to launchers i just use basic tw version on my S4. Because I almost don't use it or look at it Posted via Android Central App
  • You might want to look at something like Nova or Google Now launcher then. At least on my phone, using Nova improves 'snappiness' and gives me a few extra minutes of battery life compared to TouchWiz. And since you don't care about the 'launcher' anyway, might be worth a try. :D
  • Yup. I have been stuck on Smart Taskbar 1 since it came out way before nova. It makes it too easy to switch apps right from the taskbar, you can even set it up to launch widgets and make shortcuts in the app area. It is butt ugly but when it comes to this app, functionality trumps design when it comes to fast multitasking (nobody besides me sees it anyways). I still use and theme my home screen, but I use my home screen launcher more for widget info than as an app launcher. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Love me some SwipePad!!
  • 100% agree. i love the app drawer tabs, so I have a tab for me, one for my kids, one for games, etc. and have folders within those tabs. and then allowing me to add those folders to the quick access section of the homescreen means i dont have to have my homescreen filled with pages and pages of apps like I see on 90% of my friends phones..... instead of have folders (via swipe up action) always accessible from the quick access dock to get to almost any app i need without the clutter! Also, having things like swipe down from the screen to access notification drawer, double-tap to lock phone, swipe up to open app drawer (like i used to do in webOS), etc makes having a larger phone (or one with a power button on the back) so much more manageable! I love Nova. I also love their Widget Locker Lockscreen for the same level of customization on my lockscreen!
  • How do u double tap to lock the screen? Posted via the ONE M9
  • I have that to. Use an app than can screen off with a press of a button. Then connect 2x tab the the app end tada magic happens :) Posted via Android Central App
  • Oh I see. Any good app I should download? Posted via the ONE M9
  • Screen Off And Lock from the play store.
  • This one works great for me.
    https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F... Posted via the Android Central App
  • You tap the notification bar. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's basically my main interface to Android for the past 3 or 4 years. Always smooth and TONS of options.
  • I just wish I could link home screen shortcuts to app drawer folders (tabs). That would be pretty sweet. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm enjoying Nova now, but once upon a time (for some unknown reason) it drained the battery on my Tab S like water down the Niagara falls. That was, obviously, a few updates ago, so I might go back and re-visit. On the Note 4 and LG G4, though, it's quite snappy. I still prefer Themer in terms of radical appearance changes, but lately the addition of new themes there has slowed down to a crawl and performance-wise it is far from perfect (or even acceptable sometimes).
  • Not sure what was going on a long time ago, but I can assure you there is no battery drain anymore. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Neither do I. We had a couple other guys test it on their Tab S's and they also experienced the drain, but not on other tablets or phones. W.E.I.R.D. I'll try it again and see if it behaves now that even the tablet has updated (twice) to Lollipop.
  • Been using it since it was a beta app on XDA and overtime it became my only choice for launcher on all of my phones. Developer is good and you never feel that you are lagging behind in terms or new features or updates. Current iteration of Nova Launcher is at its best so far. Great review and even great launcher. All people who use android phones must and should try it at least once. One thing of note is to get notification badges on the icons (number of emails or missed call etc) you will need to upgrade the launcher to paid version and use an addon "Tesla Unread" to make it work.
  • I find the badges are ok, I disabled them on my g4 because they tend to not go away. Like I'll check my texts and then my badge says I have 3 texts that I haven't seen when in fact I have none for example. Other than that the launcher is pretty perfect. Also a big fan of action launcher. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Nice article. Nova Launcher deserves this type of recognition and more. They stand behind their product and continue to improve it with updates and new features. I often forget I'm using a third party launcher because it works so well on my phone. It seems like Google is totally fine with this idea of user replacing their stock launcher, since it's never been easier to switch back and forth by simply going to settings and clinking which home screen you want use. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Jerry you make me wanna get a Nexus 6!! Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's a great phone! But what was he using in this article? I have a N6 and I know it's not that...looks nice though.
  • Alcatel Idol 3
  • Thanks! Liking it so far?
  • If I were buying a phone today, I think it would be the one. With ZenFone 2 a close second.
  • Well I look like an idiot lol Posted via the Android Central App
  • Alcatel Idol 3 Edit: ninja'd by Jerry :)
  • So Nova over Apex? I like both.
  • That's a preference thing. Both are great, I just got used to apex and stick with it. Sent from a phone, an awesome phone, my phone.
  • After using both I can say with certainty that apex is snappier at launching apps if you use the default animation. I can't be the only one that notices this, but I guess I might be the only one that cares?lol. Apex's KK zoom option is also way smoother than nova's
  • Nova is much better IMO Posted via the ONE M9
  • Oh its FAR better overall. Since the material update everything about nova is slick. The sorts of animations you see doing various things and navigating through the settings are better than any launcher I've seen on android. It also now looks the best overall as well since the update. Unfortunately for me it's default slide up animation which is all I like using is a bit too slow to launch apps. That annoys the shit out of me
  • Umm, am I the only one who had NOT forgotten about the -NOBAMA-like-force-everything-on-you "feeling lucky" by the CHINESE devs from Apex??? No spank you very much! Been with Nova since its inception to and won't ever, EVER use another launcher. The dev is really great, he from Chicago my Hometown so I'll always support him because he deserves it. Just my .02¢
  • Only 0,2 ¢ pff :) Posted via Android Central App
  • They got rid of that...or at least made it easy to turn off.
  • No they DID NOT GET RID OF IT! They just took the courtesy to hide it for you. Or it that hide it from you - it's still there cuz my kids use it and I just checked the other day. And pfft right back @ you bub. Apparently you like being forced to accept things you don't want whether you like it or not and whether you need it or not. That's what's going on there and in the world and us today. If I wanted a dictatorship if just be another Apple drone.
  • Well...that escalated quickly Posted via my S6 Edge running Extreme Syndicate at warp speed
  • I actually bounced back and forth between Nova and Apex way back in the S3 era, I had to S3's one rooted and one not they were ATT. The problem with the NON rooted one was all the bloatware that ATT had dragged APEX down. Nova was still seamless. So my vote is for Nova! It gives many more switches so you can customize much more! If you are Rooted you can just about make your phone/Device Sing! LOL
  • Agreed! Taking nothing away from Nova cuz it's a great launcher, but I too have used Apex for a long time it offers all the same things mentioned in the article.
  • Aviate is a great launcher, better than nova IMHO
  • I was saying the same thing. Never tried Nova but have been very happy with Aviate.
  • It was great, until the last update. Yahoo screwed it up !!!!!!!
  • I go back and forth between Nova and AL3 ... for me, the Shutters in AL3 are just awesome, and I wish other launchers had something similar!
  • I especially love that you posted a screenshot of your app drawer under the "work" tab with "MiKandi" dead center. So many questions.
  • wow ... I didn't even know what it was. Had to look it up. lol. Must be for research I am sure. ;)
  • I think what they are doing — providing adult entertainment with a secure and safe way to pay — is important, and keep tabs on it. Not that I'm complaining about sorting through the content ...
  • Jerry's done several adult app articles for AC.
  • Haven't seen one in awhile on the main. The last one was a nightmare from the comments pov Sent from a phone, an awesome phone, my phone.
  • Novas marketing department couldn't have written better copy than this. Bravo.
  • The reason I like it best is because you can turn any Android phone into a "stock" Nexus. The only thing that's missing are the quick nexus updates. But the user experience is all but identical (and better with optional tweaks, etc.)
  • Nova Launcher FTW! I have it on my G2, my Tab Pro 8.4, Tab 2 10.1, and my Daughter's S3. Absolutely perfect on every one. Great app from a great Drv. From my lollipopped rooted LG G2
  • Nova Launcher, no other Launcher comes close. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Ali these beautiful words and bit one mention of the fantastic ability to save and restore your launcher configuration? This is a huge timesaver when switching from phone to phone and one of the reasons I'm likely to never give up Nova.
  • bit =not. Sure wish that edit button worked from my phone.....
  • There's a lot to say about Nova, it's not surprsing that something slipped through the cracks. The Backup/restore feature is one of the things that I always mention to users who don't like change.
  • +1 backup restore is awesome Posted via the Android Central App
  • I keep switching between this and Apex. The only feature I wish they would add is the ability to scroll the screen vertically. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If you are talking about scrolling in app drawer then its already there. But I am sure you are not talking about that ... right?
  • No, I mean scrolling the actual screen vertically like windows phones do. I prefer vertical scrolling. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Then Lucid launcher is for you. Homescreens vertically scroll by default. Otherwise you'll have a hard time finding that option
  • I love Nova. Been using it ever since it first got released. I've tried other launchers, but I always come back to it. Unless I'm restoring apps from my backup, it's always the first app I install on a new device.
  • Yep best launcher imo without a doubt. Have been using nova prime for like 3 years now. Have tried everything from adw, action launcher, lightning, apex, buzz,themer etc etc but always end up back on nova. If there's something you want to do, every chance nova does it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Love Nova! I forget about all these things it can do. I only use a very small fraction of them. I probably need to go back and look at a few. One thing not mentioned is that you can backup your settings, folders, etc. to an online service. If you switch phones this can be a big time saver not to have to set up everything again.
  • I keep hearing it's the best. I use GNL + XGELS + Switchr + Action widgets Posted via the Android Central App
  • why uBlock doesnt block this ad
  • Bought nova prime in a play store sale 3-4 years ago and it's all I use, the first app that goes on my phone or tablet. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I agree in part, it's always one of the first apps I install. But I always install ROM Toolbox Pro & Root Explorer then Nova Launcher Prime, Launcher, and TeslaUnread. I like to have backups of everything I install so I can restore them from the backed up settings. That way I never miss a beat.
  • Main reason you can convince someone Android is better is the launcher. It displays both customization and openness.
  • Can a home confirm or deny that nova will hurt battery life as well as ram use? I have used it for many of my phones, but on the S6 the performance was terrible. Which I am mostly Contributing to the S6.. I'm just afraid to go back to nova in case it hurts anything. Thoughts? . Using an alpha now
  • I don't have an S6 so I can't speak for myself but all the threads I have seen don't mention any battery drain. I have heard others mention performance issues but that is with the S6 itself! LOL
  • It's the only launcher I use on all of my device's even my Nexus device's. Posted via the Android Central App. On my Nexus device or my LG G2 unlock