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.

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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?

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