Free of Microsoft’s grasp, Nokia announces predictive Android launcher

June 19, 2014
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While Microsoft may have bought up Nokia’s mobile hardware division and dashed our hopes of seeing a full-featured Nokia Android phone (with actual Play support!), there is a small silver lining to be found. What remains of Nokia is now free of Microsoft’s tentacles, and although it won’t be bringing us epic handsets anytime soon, Nokia is more than capable of providing awesome software like HERE Maps.

Today we are seeing the first efforts of the new Microsoft-free Nokia, as the company has announced Z Launcher, a new Android launcher that is clean, simple and surprisingly enjoyable. The launcher is named after one of its key features: the ability to write out letters onto the screen to quickly search for apps, contacts, frequently utilized webpages and more. You can even search the web through this method.

Nokia's Z launcher is clean, simple and surprisingly enjoyable

As for the rest of the interface? Oozing in simplicity, the launcher has a clock and calendar that sits on top, followed by six shortcuts. The six shortcuts are based around things you use the most (or even the people you call/text the most) and will constantly change as Z Launcher learns your habits. The suggested shortcuts will also vary based on the time of day, your location and more. Finally at the bottom you’ll find a phone dialer and a few other static icons, including one that opens up the Z Launcher’s alphabetical app drawer.

For those that like highly customized homescreens, Z Launcher’s lack of folders and widgets will probably turn you off. On the other hand, those that want a clean contextually aware interface could find the Z Launcher to be right up their alley. For privacy hounds, you’ll be glad to know that Nokia keeps all the data private and on the device, at least in the current iteration of this launcher.

those that want a clean contextually aware interface could find the Z Launcher to be right up their alley

Let’s be honest, the Z Launcher’s feature set doesn’t compare to Aviate, Cover or many of the other semi-similar contextual launchers out there. That said, Nokia wasn’t aiming to compete, as the Verge states, the goal instead was to create a simple yet enjoyable launcher experience that can evolve with time as the team refines its feature set.

Based on my brief time with it, I like Z Launcher and as someone who always dreamed of Nokia playing a role in Android, this project has me optimistic for the future — even if I’ll never get that Android-powered Lumia I secretly wanted. Does Z Launcher have what it takes to keep me using it as my default launcher going forward? We’ll see.

If Z Launcher sounds like something you’d want to try, you can try out the “pre-beta” by downloading it directly from Nokia’s Z Launcher website. It is important to note, however, that the launcher has been optimized for the Nexus 5, Galaxy S3/S4/S5, Moto X, HTC One and Xperia Z1. The launcher may work with other devices beyond this, though don’t be surprised if you run into a few glitches.

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