Google Experience Launcher – Hands on [Video]

November 5, 2013
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Along with the release of Android 4.4 KitKat and the Nexus 5, a series of APKs were pulled from the Nexus 5 and the biggest three were the new Google Play Services APK, the new search APK, and the much anticipated Google Experience launcher.

So to find out whether the launcher is worthy of the Google name, we took a closer look.

If you’re in hurry, click above to watch the video.

Downloading and installing

Currently, the app isn’t available in the Play Store just yet. In fact it isn’t clear yet whether it’ll ever come to the Play Store, but for now the leaked APK has worked relatively well on many devices.

To download and install the launcher, you’ll need to download three of the leaked APKs. The updated search app titled “Velvet”, the actual launcher app and the updated Play Services app.

You can find all of the links to the APKs in this article here.

User Interface

The Google Experience Launcher user interface is very similar the one found on previous versions of stock Android. There’s the omnipresent Google search bar at the top of every page, and a 4×4 page layout to add apps and widgets. There’s also a dock at the bottom, with the app drawer shortcut in the middle and four slots for you to customize and add your most used apps.

Google Experience launcher - AA - 2

Unlike Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, the launcher varies a little on the tried and true method of other versions of Android. Gone is the fixed (and insanely annoying) five home page layout, instead it offers an unlimited amount of pages to add or delete (minimum one) while swiping to the right. If you swipe to the left, you’ll be greeted by the card layout of Google Now.

While you can get rid of the Google Now page, you won’t be able to swipe to the left to view more pages. While most people won’t have too much of a problem getting accustomed to the changes, some (like myself) might have finally decided on a perfect right and left layout, and this small change throws a wrench into all of that.

Google Experience Launcher aa

The next big change is the method in which the user adds widgets. Unlike Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, the Google Experience Launcher removes the tabbed interface in the app drawer which contained apps and widgets. Now the app drawer is purely for apps and in order to add widgets, users will need to click and hold down on any empty space on the home screen. From there you can change the wallpaper, add widgets and pages, or access the settings for the Google Search app.

Other than that, the UI is similar to previous versions of Android, retaining the ability to “throw” apps off of the screen to remove them from your home screen, and the ability to swipe up from the home button to access Google Now.

Not quite always-on listening

Google Now Ok Google

One of the biggest features of the Moto X is the always on listening feature. This feature allows users to use voice commands to perform a wide variety of tasks even while the screen is off. While the Google Experience Launcher can’t quite offer that it does offer a similar feature.

This not quite always-on listening feature allows users to use the keyword “Ok Google” to turn on voice search and allow you to use voice commands for all of the tasks that you can do with Google Now. These include setting reminders, adding alarms, opening apps, playing music and of course making Google searches. While this works anywhere on the Nexus 5 (as long as the screen is on), on other devices, this currently only works when on any of the home pages or in the Google Now app.

IMG_3067

It’s a really cool addition despite the force closes (which can be fixed), and it brings us closer to offering always on listening to every Android device. Now before you get too worried, the feature seems to be very battery efficient and we didn’t notice any strange decreases in battery level while using the launcher, leading us to believe that you won’t have to take a hit in the battery life department to enjoy the feature.

How it compares to other launchers

The Google Experience launcher isn’t the only app in its field, not by a longshot. You’ve got the big mainstays in Nova and Apex launcher, which offer tons of customization options as well as newcomers such as Themer and Aviate, which focus on providing a highly optimized user experiences.

If the ability to customize and tweak every little aspect under the sun is what you want, this isn’t the launcher that you’ll want to use and you’d be much better served by Nova or Apex launcher. However, if you’d like to experience a lean UI which offers quick and easy access to Google Now without the use of a widget (which was awful anyways), and the ability to experience (almost) always on listening feature, the Google Experience Launcher is your best bet.

The Good

  • A visually appealing UI.
  • Quick and easy access to Google Now.
  • Fast and snappy.
  • The “Ok Google” hotword for opening Google Search works well after applying the fix.

The Bad

  • No option to add pages to the left of the home page.
  • The launcher doesn’t scale well on tablets in landscape mode.
  • While the force close for the always on listening can be fixed, it won’t last after a reboot (unless you are rooted and apply the rooted fix), and you’ll need to repeat the steps.

Wrap up

It’s easy to forget that the Google Experience Launcher doesn’t technically exist. It’s just three APKs pulled off of the Nexus 5. However, given the fact that it works so well already, we expect it to be released in the coming weeks.

We already know that the launcher is actually a part of the Google Search app, leading us to believe that it could be brought to other Android users in an update to the Search app. We hope to see the search force close fixed in the official rollout of the launcher if it ever does come, but for now the Google Experience Launcher offers an almost perfect Google experience, which many can feel satisfied with.

Have you downloaded the Google Experience Launcher? Will it be replacing your current launcher?

Comments

  • Patrick Benjamin

    I have installed the Google Experience Launcher on my Galaxy Note 2. I must admit that it runs very smooth , however I reverted back to my Nova Prime Launcher because it just seems to work for me. There is a side benefit from having Google Experience still installed on my phone. Even while running my Nova Prime I still have touchless command of Google Now (while in the Google Now app) that’s cool.

    • Hanif Widyanto

      Afaik, even without the launcher installed, you could still call out Google Now using the toucless command on the latest iteration of the app.

    • Eric

      touchless commands inside of google now have been there for quite some time…

  • ramy

    the apps are un-elegantly huge,and couldnt be adjusted,its like 640×480 resolution,which is crappy for my elegant note 3 device -.-

    • raj

      sorry, i care to differ here. i tried on the 1080p display of Xperia Z Ultra. It is awesome looking. Moreover, please understand that Nexus 5, which is having the app officially, is also a 1080p display and not a 640*480 resolution

      • Eric

        I’m pretty sure he meant they are so big that it looks like the size from a 640*480 phone..

        • Guest

          Don’t even think so
          Check the below pic

    • Paul Taylor

      I finally got this fixed using the App Settings xposed module… you can alter the DPI setting on a per-app basis. You have to be rooted though. For ages it didn’t seem to work, until I realized I was altering it for “Launcher” and it needs to be altered for “Google Search”, because “Launcher” is just a stub. I set mine to 280 dpi and the app icons look normal again.

  • raj

    i have put it on Xperia Z Ultra. And it looks beautiful

  • Kevin

    Im in uk and the always listening feature has NEVER worked at all, regardless if i’m on the home screen or not, is it a US only feature?

    • Arjoma92

      The system language has to be set to English (US), only then it works.

      • arkson82

        That’s the sad part. What about the majority of the non-US world that uses Google :-(

        • Paul Taylor

          Yep, it’s odd – especially considering the non-US voice recognition of Google Now works so well in all other respects.

  • Arjoma92

    Theoretically, you can still have your main screen in the center, and then a second screen left to it, why not? You can even drag and rearrange the whole screens, so you put your main screen right to your left screen, for example :D
    Then it is only one added swipe to Google Now (which of course is still accessable by the old swipe-up from the home button.
    I will simply wait until the first alternative launcher (preferably Nova) is updated so that I’ll have the 4.4 base and all the additional customisations I need (gestures, a larger grid on the home screen and app drawer.

    • Paul Taylor

      Interesting trick – but wouldn’t it always revert to the left-most screen next to Google Now whenever you press the home button? As for Nova and Apex, I’m with you there, but if all the new functionality is in velvet.apk then perhaps they won’t get access to the source code… that could significantly slow down their attempts to incorporate the new features.

      • Arjoma92

        Valid points, didn’t think of these. I haven’t felt the need to try out the KitKat launcher yet.
        I really hope that it is possible for the developers to take the new launcher and relatively easily modify it to add the custom options, but right, it is now converged with the non-open source Google Search app, while the launcher apk itself is hollow and comparatively old and less useful now…

    • Eric

      you can’t set what home screen is defaulted..

  • http://www.letskickstart.com/ Sourav Sudhi

    I’ve also tried this Google experience Launcher ,, But unfortunately the Google search stops and I’m not able to access the launcher.

    Any fix for this other than changing the language and doing a search and reverting back to the original language ? That fix isn’t working for me :(

    • Toma Puljak

      I am having the same problem as you :/

      • http://www.letskickstart.com/ Sourav Sudhi

        :( I’m trying to find an another satisfying solution. Keep surfing around http://www.letskickstart.com // So that if I get a bug fix, I’d post there :)

  • Sriram Deepak

    i installed the launcher but i cant access google now by saying “Ok Google”.shuld i change any settings to activate it??

    • Pan Szym

      US English language :P

  • Jonathan Stoos

    I installed these apps about 10 hours after the Nexus 5 launch on my HTC One, and they work great. I probably won’t leave it forever, but nice to be able to play around with them…

    Sent from my Hyperdrive HTC One

  • Sava

    i would like to see the google dialer and btw great launcher

  • Grman Rodriguez

    Can I install this on Ice Cream Sandwich?

  • Android Developer

    I’ve noticed something that I don’t think that was existed on previous launcher of Google :
    long click on an app icon, and make a gesture of throwing it up. it will be removed without the need to actually drag it to the trash-can .

    was this feature always there, or did I discover something new?

    • Anthony O’Connor

      This feature was already there. Plus it even mentions it in the article.

      • Android Developer

        Oops . sorry. I missed it . could be nicer to show it on the video though.

        Are you saying the nexus 4 has this feature on its launcher already?

        • Adam Koueider

          Yep, it has it. It’s been a feature in stock Android since Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and it’s a really cool feature which I enjoy a lot, and missed on my Xperia Z1.

          • Android Developer

            tested it now. weird i haven’t noticed it yet.

  • Toma Puljak

    I have installed all 3 APKs but the google search allways force quits so i can use the laucher at all

    • Toma Puljak

      I have fixed the voice search now but when i tap the launcher app it just says google search has stopped working :(

  • Ishaan Malhotra

    Ill stick with apex pro

  • Christian Tolentino

    how can I fix the “Say Ok Google”? It won’t work on my HTC One International Version. All seems to be working fine except this it doesn’t seem to listen to me. Please help. TIA.

  • Geovane M

    Dont install the launcher, it messed up my Ok Google functionality and I dont know how to undo whatever this did to fuck up my phone. The fix they give doesnt work

  • Steddy

    I tried this out on my HTC One (AT&T variant, 4.3). While it worked, in general, I noticed that it broke my Google Sound Search widget. I could add it and see history, but clicking to listen to a song gave an immediate error, without listening to the song. Songs were identified fine in Google Search, app up-to-date and attempted a re-install. Just a heads-up!

  • Daryl Castrudes

    Is it working on Samsung Galaxy Y Duos 2.3?

  • Jesus

    You forgot to mention that the icons are now BIGGER… WHICH MAKES THE WHOLE THING LOOK CHILDISH.

  • Data

    I sideloaded this today, and whilst it’s very smooth and I really like Google Now taking up the left home screen; the launcher is simply limited in terms of customization compared to most other launchers…I’m sticking to Nova.