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Widgets and icon packs are fun, but a simple home screen is the way to go

Pixel 4a with a simple home screen
Pixel 4a with a simple home screen (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Ever since iOS 14 made its public debut on September 16, there's been a surge in interest around home screen customization. iPhone users now have the opportunity to truly personalize their phone for the very first time, Android folks are finding a renewed interest in tweaking their setups, and my Twitter feed has been endlessly filled with people sharing their unique creations for the world to see. It's been pretty great.

Like many of you reading this, one of the things that initially attracted me to use one of the top Android phones over iOS was the sheer amount of customization the platform gives you. Looking back to the days of my Nexus 5 and Moto X (2013), I remember customizing those phones to the nth degree. I'd use custom widget makers, have multiple icon packs installed at any given time, switch between launchers on a fairly regular basis, and had a lot of fun with Xposed Framework modules (specifically, changing the icons for on-screen navigation buttons).

Some days, I'd spend a couple of hours at a time just playing with all of these different tools to make my home screen as perfect as I could get it. I'd use it for a few days, absolutely love it, and then get the itch to do it all over again. Here are just a few examples that I still have saved in Google Photos.

Source: Android Central

Looking back at these screenshots makes me pretty nostalgic, because to be perfectly honest, I can't remember the last time I went all-out customizing my phone like that.

My home screen hasn't needed a change in years.

At the risk of sounding jaded or cynical, I just don't care that much about how my phone looks anymore. I still enjoy finding new wallpapers from time to time, but that's about the extent of my customization efforts. Whenever I get a new Android phone, it gets the exact same home screen treatment that my previous one had. There are two home screens, all with the same app shortcuts, Google's At a Glance widget on the first one, and a Google Calendar widget on the second home page. That's it.

It looks a lot more boring compared to home screens of my past, but I've gotten to a point where I'd much rather have function over form. With my current home screen layout, I know where everything is, I have easy access to the apps I use the most, and it takes just a couple of minutes to set it all up when I get a new phone.

Moto G Power Review

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

This probably has something to do with how my relationship with smartphones has changed over the years. Right now, my daily Android phone of choice is the Pixel 4a — even though there's a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra sitting in my closet that I could just as easily use. The Pixel 4a may not have the absolute specs, but as a tool for getting me through my workday, it's perfect. The display looks great, it runs all of the apps that I use without any problems, the phone's lightweight and easy to use with one hand, and the $350 price tag is unbeatable.

Just like Jeramy said he bought the Pixel 4a because he wanted "a good, simple phone," I keep my home screens the way I do because I want a good, simple layout. It's something that works, I don't have to think too much about it, and that's all I want anymore.

I want to mention that I say all of this without the intent of looking down at people that go all-out with home screen customizing — I'm honestly thrilled that people are getting excited about phone customization again. It's a really great way to get those creative juices flowing and to have a bit of fun, and in the bleak timeline we've been treated to this year, having fun is something we could all use more of. For me, personally, I find that going the simple route has been the best fit for the way I use my phone.

Action Launcher and Smart Launcher

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The best home screen is the one that's the best for you — whether it's overly simplified or loaded with all of the custom icon packs and widgets you could fit on it. If it's a layout that you enjoy and are happy with, that's all that really matters.

With that said, I'm now interested to hear how you manage your home screen. Do you find yourself cycling through new themes and layouts on a regular basis, have you gone the ultra-minimalistic route, or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Drop a comment below and let me know!

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

14 Comments
  • I keep my home screen simple just like the image at top. I have icons in groups
    If you have too much on your home screen, that can slow your phone down
  • I keep it pretty simple and straightforward now, too. I used to flash all sorts of ROMs and spend hours tinkering. Android has come so far. Now I just enjoy a clean, fast, and functional vanilla Android.
  • Wow, you all are so woke. Custom, functional homescreens are so 2013. So is slowing down a phone with too many icons?
  • I have a weather widget, some apps organized into folders, and I use Nova launcher, so whenever I change phone, I restore my launcher settings from backup and everything is back where I want it with zero effort.
  • Functional is fine. Nova just cleans everything up. And having gestures along with folders in a clean manner...I mean you can't complain.
  • Thats is not even close to all out customizing your phone. That is just a couple of widgets and an icon back. Those are rookie numbers. You say its a tool yet you have no real information on your home screen other then the time and weather. A real tool would tell you anything you need to know without opening an app.
  • Yeah! I remember using KWGT and KLWP to customize my phone back in the days but now I'll just leave it as simple as it comes out of the box.
  • I still use them and with the new set up for most people its a simple click and done. I expect more personally so I go above and beyond. Mostly to save time later, as when done right I dont even need to unlock my device to see what I need.
  • You can get both simplicity and nimble widgets with Action Launcher (swiping icons to conjure pop-up widgets). Seriously Google should either copy it or buy it entirely before evil Cupatino copycat steals.
  • Most people don't use the Android Widgets properly and instead try to pack the screen with numerous widgets that make them pretty useless once they are done. The proper use is to allow you to get to certain functions and apps without having to open a drawer and load an App. instead of squeezing 500 pounds of widgets onto one screen it is far better to just place each category onto it's own screen. I have one launcher panel that just shows my monthly calendar widget, another for the various Email Widgets for personal and work Email, Another panel for Keep and To Do lists. My Home panel is my most intense as it shows Time and Weather, WiFi network status and a quick launcher for a few apps I need quick. This allows me to simply swipe to the panel for Email, Calendar and Notes for a quick look and when I hit home I am back to my Home Panel which mostly shows status. You shouldn't have to load an app to check emails, calendar or shopping lists. And by placing these in their own panel the widget can be large enough to actually operate easily. Use the widget to load the app when needed.
  • My first home screen I keep simple, the other three are full, but organized.
    167 apps, and my device is still fast with good battery life (5:38pm here, battery is at 72%). I still love a good theme, and speed lots of time browsing HTC's huge and free theme store. Using the multi-screen "Cube Wall" theme which is stunning, but I changeup every few weeks. Also tasty are the free icon packs, and I often use the glass sphere set. I have not ventured into the freestyle themes, as placing anything anywhere on the screen as an icon is a bit TOO much customization. I'm still amused at iPhone users declaring "We don't need that" about a feature they don't have, then bragging about it when they finally do. Interestingly, I have not bothered playing around with the new customizations on any of my iPhones.
  • I have done a lot of customization. Those that don't know about KLWP are really missing out.
    Even with customization, an iPhone user would be jealous of a elegant KLWP background. Basically the wallpaper becomes your mail screen with hot points (images in the wallpaper) that launch apps. If you haven't done it and like to customize then please try it out. So many free ones have been made for you but you need to reassign the images to whatever dialer or calendar you use. I don't do much of it anymore but now I want to again... Thanks. But do recommend earth and moon wallpaper on the play store. Amazing if you get the pro version. Can you iPhone do that? No.. no it can't.
  • I enjoy widgets and a good theme for my home screens. I would like to get into more customization but it seems difficult to learn. Any YouTube channels or sites you all would recommend for someone learning? Thanks,
  • I also keep it simple. I use Nova Launcher with nice and simple icon pack. My homescreen icons are in group folders, and I have two other pages. My second page has the Google News ticker widget and the Reddit interactive widget. My third page is a custom calendar widget. I do love seeing what people do to their Android phones, as I also used to be into custom ROMs and themes. I've just found a set up that works for me. Maybe when Google updates widgets for Android I will start playing around more.