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Android Launchers comparison: What is the best option for you?

We take a closer look at and compare a few of the more popular and unique third-party Android launchers currently available.
October 13, 2018
best launcher apps for android

One of Android’s best features is its endless customization options. It can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. Android Launchers are a great way to completely change what you see on your screen. Every phone comes with a default OEM launcher, but various third-party launchers have gained huge followings because of their numerous features.

Let’s compare some of the best Android launchers out there!

The launchers we’re looking at

There are hundreds of third-party launchers available on the Google Play Store, offering various features, customization options, and themes. I chose six launchers, each unique in their own right, to show how different your Android experience can be. There is no single “best” option since every user may be looking for something distinct or specific. The launchers featured in this comparison are:

  • Nova Launcher – You can’t do a launcher comparison without the one many consider the greatest of all time.
  • Smart Launcher 5 – Smart Launcher is back, offering one of the best app sorting implementations I’ve seen.
  • Buzz Launcher – Buzz Launcher includes over a million free, user-created themes that let you completely change the look of the software as often as you’d like.
  • Microsoft Launcher – At first glance, the Microsoft Launcher may appear to be more suited for users who are invested in the Microsoft ecosystem as you’d expect. However, it is one of the more well-rounded Android launchers available.
  • Ap15 Launcher – Ap15 is a simple but unique launcher that basically puts everything on front street.
  • Evie Launcher –  Designed with performance in mind, the Evie Launcher is an excellent home screen replacement which keeps things simple and fast.
  • Lawnchair Launcher – This very popular launcher gives you the look and feel of the Pixel launcher, with numerous other customization features.

Getting started

Nova Launcher shows how granular the customization is going to be right after you download the app. Before getting started, users have to make the choice between a light or dark overall theme and immersive or card-style app drawer. Finally, you can also choose whether to use a button or swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open the app drawer.

Buzz Launcher also has a quick setup process. Right off the bat, you can pick a theme from nine pre-selected choices. Of course, you can skip this step and choose one after looking at more themes later.

Microsoft Launcher and Smart Launcher 5 only give you the option to select a wallpaper. You can stick to your usual wallpaper and choose their recommended options. The Microsoft Launcher’s default wallpaper option is the “Bing Daily Wallpaper,” which changes the wallpaper every day and features some great-looking photos.

Evie Launcher doesn’t need any setup. Apart from giving the required permissions to run the app, all you have to do is press start on the welcome screen. Ap15 and Lawnchair don’t even have a welcome screen, they just jump straight into the home screen once the app launches.

Home screen

The home screen opens once you’ve completed the setup process. All these launchers are customization-friendly to some extent. Some launchers start with a “blank canvas” approach and others are ready to go as is.

Microsoft Launcher is definitely one of the ready-to-go choices. The main screen has a clock and weather widget, a folder with Microsoft apps, a wallpaper toggle, the Cortana app, and the launcher settings. A swipe to the right opens the feed, with cards for your calendar, the news, recent activities, frequently used apps, and favorite contacts.

As expected, everything is very Microsoft-heavy. Everything is synced to your Microsoft account. The default search engine using the search bar is Bing (but you can change it) and the voice assistant is Cortana. One advantage of this integration is the ease with which you can transfer files from a Windows PC to your phone and vice versa using OneDrive.

A swipe up from the bottom of the screen expands the dock, which houses a few apps, quick settings toggles, and a display brightness slider. A swipe up from anywhere else on the screen launches the app drawer and you can also use the app drawer button in the dock.

The Buzz Launcher home screen changes depending on which theme you choose. You won’t have every widget or app available by default. You will see a “promoted” tag on top of such widgets and apps, which you can then tap on and download from the Google Play Store. You can also remove them if needed.

Nova, Evie, and Lawnchair all take more of the “blank canvas” approach. Apart from the dock, the Nova Launcher has a couple of folders with Google apps and the launcher settings app. The Evie Launcher keeps things even simpler with just four apps on the screen.

The Lawnchair Launcher also has just the Gmail, Photos, and Google Play Store apps on the screen, apart from the dock. Of course, you can add as many apps, widgets, and folders as you want, but you’ll have to manually set things up to your liking.

Smart Launcher 5 takes a similar approach with a dock housing a few select apps. You can add more apps to the dock, but the true benefit of the Smart Launcher 5 is when you swipe to access the pre-sorted app drawer.

Finally, the Ap15 Launcher home screen is basically everything this launcher is about. All your apps are listed on the scrollable homepage with the size of the apps showing how frequently you use them. You can hide apps if the page is too packed, but you will need to unhide them again to find and use them.

App drawer

A lot of users take the app drawer for granted since it’s a quintessential part of the Android experience. However, quite a few OEMs, particularly those from China, are leaving out the app drawer from their software. Third-party launchers not only let you bring back the app drawer, but some take app drawer customization to a new level.

At first glance, Nova Launcher has a standard-looking app drawer. However, its settings offer a slew of customization options just for the app drawer, like setting up the size of the grid, set it to a horizontal grid or vertical scroll, show frequently used apps, and other app drawer interaction. These are all available with the free version, and even more options come with Nova Launcher Prime.

Along similar lines is the customization capability of the Lawnchair Launcher app drawer. With the default settings, it looks like a standard Android 8.0 Oreo-based Pixel Launcher app drawer, but you can change the number of rows and columns, app icons and the way they are displayed, adjust the app drawer opacity, and a whole lot more in the settings page.

Both Evie Launcher and Microsoft Launcher have similar takes on the app drawer. You can scroll through your app list using the letter panel on the side and both can be sorted into an alphabetical list or a scrollable grid. However, while Evie makes it easy to make the switch via a toggle at the top right corner, you have to jump into the launcher settings to make any changes to the Microsoft Launcher app drawer.

Buzz Launcher and Smart Launcher 5 sort and categorize your apps into folders in the case of the former and panels with the latter. As helpful as this is, Buzz Launcher didn’t exactly get it all right. Some easily sorted apps were left out. For example, Asphalt 9 should have been in the Games folder and wasn’t. Apart from that, the Buzz Launcher app drawer is also definitely old-school, with its favorite apps and widget tabs. You at least have the option to “unfold all folders” though.

Very few launchers do app sorting and categorization as well as Smart Launcher 5. It was a refreshing change to not have to scroll through pages of apps and have everything placed exactly where you’d expect. The free version of the app includes sections like communication, media, games, Internet, utilities, and settings. You’ll have to upgrade to the Pro version to add or edit categories.

Themes and customization

Nova Launcher has become an audience favorite because of how granular the level of customization is. For home screens, you can change the grid size, icon size, set height and width padding, add a search bar, and even choose the logo and bar styles for the search bar. You can also set scroll effects, change the page indicator, allow widget overlapping, and a whole lot more. That’s all just for the home screen on the free version, too.

Nova offers a similar level of control for the dock, folders, gestures, and app drawer. It would require a whole other article for a deep dive into all the customization features of Nova Launcher. Essentially, with Nova, you can make your UI look and feel exactly how you want, helped along by the support for the numerous icon packs available on the Google Play Store. The free version is robust enough, but Nova prime adds more gestures, the ability to create folders in the app drawer, and other features.

The Lawnchair Launcher doesn’t skimp on customization features either. However, while Nova lets you change the home screens however you like, Lawnchair is more about making adjustments to the look of the standard Pixel launcher.

You can change the icon pack, adjust icon shape and size, and choose between a light, dark, or black theme. The theme you pick doesn’t have to be system-wide either. You can choose to set a different theme for the search bar, folders, app drawer, app shortcuts, and more. You can also enable “Blur,” which applies blur effects to certain parts of the UI, like the dock.

You can also increase or decrease the number of dock icons and add another row to it. The dock opacity and color (wallpaper color or transparent) can also be customized. The Behavior section includes the settings for screen rotation, gesture controls, and other status bar and home button features. Overall, you can use Lawnchair to make the UI look pretty different, but its Pixel launcher roots will certainly peek through.

Buzz Launcher takes the manual labor out of customization. There are over a million user-created themes available on the Homepack Buzz store. You can pick your favorite or go through multiple options until you find the one you like.

Most resources required for a particular theme, like the wallpaper, icon packs, and other images, are downloaded automatically. You’ll have to download certain widgets or apps linked to certain icons. You will also have the option to set an app you already have and you can, of course, remove the widget or image from the main screen as well.

The Microsoft Launcher doesn’t offer much customization, but it’s still more than some stock OEM launchers. You can choose between dark, light, and transparent themes, apply blur effects and accents, change the app folder design, and install third-party icon packs. You can also customize your feed with different cards and add widgets to it. The Microsoft Launcher also brings Cortana to your phone.

Smart Launcher 5 has themes available that you can download to change the look of the launcher. There aren’t too many though and very few are as impressive as some Buzz Launcher themes. You can make a few changes to the look, but the ability to add widgets, more gesture controls, and enhance the search bar features come with the Pro version.

You can change the icon color, font, and size of the Ap15 launcher, and that’s about it. The Pro version let’s you set up advanced rules around app usage and icon size (the more you use an app, the bigger the icon will be) and set background patterns, too.

The Evie Launcher is the least customizable of the lot. There are still some things you can do though, like changing the wallpaper, adding widgets, sorting apps into folders, changing app icons, icon sizes, creating custom shortcuts, and setting swipe gestures.


PriceFeatures the paid version adds
Nova Launcher/Prime
Features the paid version adds
-Swipe, pinch, and double tap gestures
-Unread notification badges for SMS, Gmail, Hangouts, and more
-Create new tabs or folders in the app drawer
-Ability to hide never used apps in the app drawer
-Set custom actions for swiping on app icons or folders
-More scrolling effects
Microsoft Launcher
Features the paid version adds

Evie Launcher
Features the paid version adds

Smart Launcher 5
Free/$0.99 - $6.99 for in-app purchases (Pro version and premium themes)
Features the paid version adds
-Removes ads
-Adds extra pages for widgets
-Edit and add categories
-More customization features and unlocked themes
-Swipe gestures
-Popup widgets lets you assign a widget to an icon, which can be activated with a double tap
-Smart screen off automatically turns the display off when the phone is placed on a flat surface
-More animations
-Multiple home page widgets
-Advanced adaptive icons
-Custom icon sorting in the app page
-Ability to hide navigation bar
Buzz Launcher
Features the paid version adds

Lawnchair Launcher v1
Features the paid version adds

ap15 Launcher
Free/$0.99 - $27.99 for in-app purchases
Features the paid version adds
-Set advanced rules for app usage and icon size relation
-Set background pattern

That’s it for this quick comparison between some of the more popular Android launchers out there. Granted, these are just a handful of the many options currently available.

If there are more launchers you’d like us to compare, let us know in the comments!