Tired of staring at the same old home screen? If you’ve got a smartphone running Google’s Android operating system, good news: You don’t have to put up with the monotony any longer. Android supports what are known as third-party launchers, custom apps that supercharge your home screen with new features, themes, and optimizations. There is a pretty large list of launchers to choose from, but few come close to the level of polish and customizability of Nova Launcher, a free (and optionally paid) Android launcher for all devices running Android 4.0 and newer.
Nova Launcher replaces your home screen and app drawer, the scrolling list of app icons normally accessible by swiping up on your phone’s home screen. But on the default settings, you won’t notice much in the way of change — that is because Nova Launcher sticks to a fairly vanilla take on Android’s home screen. But there is a lot Nova Launcher can do that is not immediately obvious. Don’t like the shape or style of app icons? It’s easy to swap them out. Bored of the transition animations between home screens and apps? Just pick different ones. How? We’re going to talk you through some of the main points right here.
Selecting Nova Launcher and getting started
Nova Launcher (free) vs. Nova Launcher Prime
First thing’s first: You have to download Nova Launcher in order to use it. Install it like you would any other app by heading to the Google Play Store, where you will face your first big decision: Whether to settle for the free version of Nova Launcher, or spring for the paid version — Nova Launcher Prime ($5).
What’s the difference between Nova Launcher and Nova Launcher Prime? It comes down to customization. Nova Launcher Prime lets you assign gestures (e.g., pinch, double tap) to apps on the home screen, and adds unread counts — little overlay badges that indicate unread messages — across the launcher. You also get custom drawer groups, which let you create new tabs or folders in the app drawer; an option to hide apps from the app drawer; custom per-folder and per-icon swipe gestures; and an expanded list of scroll effects.
It’s a lot to consider, but here is our recommendation: Unless there is a Nova Launcher Prime feature you don’t think you will be able to live without, try the free version first. Run it through its paces and see if you like it and if you find yourself bumping up against its limitations, consider making the purchase.
Alternatively, consider buying Nova Launcher Prime and trying it for a day. If you’re not convinced, ask for your money back — the Google Play Store lets you refund any app purchase made less than 48 hours ago.
Getting started with Nova Launcher
Now that Nova Launcher is installed, you have to set it as your default launcher. If your phone is running Android 7.0 Nougat or newer, find the Apps sub-menu (it will depend on your phone) and tap the Settings cog icon in the upper right-hand corner. From there, scroll down until you see Home app, tap it, and choose Nova Launcher from the list.
If your phone is on any version of Android between 4.4 KitKat and 6.0 Marshmallow, the process is slightly different. Once you’re in the Settings menu, find the Home sub-menu, tap Advanced, and select Nova Launcher from the available choices.
On phones running pre-Android 4.4 KitKat, there is no home screen selector in the Settings menu. You have to head to the Settings menu, tap Apps, swipe to the All tab, and scroll down until you find your current launcher. Tap on it, and then hit the Clear defaults button near the bottom of the selection screen. Then press your home key, and select Nova Launcher from the options presented.
Some Android manufacturers make it a bit more difficult to change your default launcher than others.
- On most Samsung devices, try heading to Settings and tapping the Applications option. Look for Default Applications, and select Home Screen from the list.
- Huawei phones with Emotion UI (EMUI) hide the setting in a sub-menu. Open the Settings menu, tap Apps, scroll down to the Advanced button, and tap the Default app settings. On the next screen, select Launcher and choose Nova Launcher from the list.
- On Oppo phones running ColorOS, you’ll find the launcher selector in the Additional Settings menu. Tap Default application, then tap Home.
- LG phones relegate the launcher options to a special Home Screen menu. Open Settings, tap Display, and scroll down to Home Screen, and select Nova Launcher from the list of choices.
Once you have switched your default launcher to Nova Launcher, you get a welcome message that will walk you through the basic theme set up.
Tweaking Nova Launcher’s Appearance
If you never used Nova Launcher before, you might be surprised by how similar it looks to Android’s stock home screen. The basic customization options aren’t all that different — tapping and long-pressing on the home screen pulls up a three-button menu that lets you change your home screen wallpaper, insert widgets, or launch the settings menu. One handy difference is a home screen selector button near the top of the screen; selecting it reassigns the default home screen to whichever one is currently in view.
Tapping on the Widgets button brings up a list of widgets from the apps you’ve installed, and tapping and holding on any of them lets you situate them on the home screen. But you will notice something different when you press and hold on a widget. As soon as you lift your finger, you get an accordion menu of four different menu options: Remove, Resize, App info, and Settings.
- Remove deletes said widget
- Resize increases the length and/or width of the widget
- Padding thickens or thins the widget’s borders
- App info pulls up the widget’s corresponding menu in Android’s Settings screen.
You can use these options to change your widgets to fit whatever designs you have for your home screen.
The Desktop menu lets you customize the layout, scroll, page indicator, and more. Within the Layout menu you can fine-tune the size of your home screen. Tap on Desktop grid and you get a pop-up diagram of your home screen’s layout. Sliders on the left and right add or subtract rows and columns. Want a super-dense 12-by-12 grid of app icons, or a comically small two-by-two one? The choice is yours. A checkbox near the bottom toggles off the home screen’s snap-to-grid feature, giving you greater freedom in placement.
Nova Launcher’s Icon layout menu dives into app icon design. You can adjust the overall size, but also toggle the appearance of the text labels beneath them. A progress slider lets you increase or decrease their size, and checkboxes let you add a drop shadow, a multi-line wraparound, and switch to a different font color and styling.
Once you’ve adjusted the Desktop and Icon layout settings to your liking, you’re ready to move to the next few settings. Width padding and Height padding tweak the distance of the home screen’s border from the screen border — the larger the padding, the further from the screen your shortcuts and widgets will be. Persistent search bar and Search bar style let you mess around with the Google search bar that is installed by default on some Android phone lock screens. You can toggle it off, of course, or jump into the Search bar style menu and choose between four different bar styles and six different Google logo styles.
Next up: Scroll. If you’ve grown bored of the transition animation you see between home screens, try one like Cube, which re-imagines your home screens as faces on a digital 3D cube, or Card stack, which slowly fades in the next home screen from the background as the previous one slides to the left or right. Alternatively, you can opt for wallpaper scrolling, which applies a parallax effect to your phone’s home screen. (If you’ve selected a suitably wide wallpaper, you’ll see it “move” as you transition between home screens.) Or there’s infinite scroll, which “teleports” you back to the left-most home screen when you swipe past the right-most home screen (and vice-versa).
Also, try messing with the Page Indicator and New apps settings. The former lets you change the design and color of the dots at the bottom of the screen, which indicate which home screen is in view. The latter allows you to disable the Play Store’s (sometimes annoying) habit of automatically adding app shortcuts to your home screen, albeit only partly — you have to disable the corresponding Play Store setting to avoid error messages.
Diving into the Desktop menu’s Advanced settings exposes even more options. You can allow resizing of widgets on top or underneath of app shortcuts (so that they overlap). You can lock the home screen to prevent changes (handy once you’ve got it how you like it), and toggle a shadow at the top and bottom of the screen.