The great thing about the Android OS is that there’s no limit to how far it can be customized. We know about how Android is used for smartphones, but it’s also used in tablet devices, e-readers, netbooks, music players, and even wristwatches! Because Android is released as open source software under the Apache License, developers can use the code as they please. One popular implementation of customizing Android deals with the launcher, which is an application that handles your device’s homescreens and the app drawer.
LauncherPro is one of several launchers available in the Google Play Store that can change the look and functionality of your homescreens and app drawer. Let’s have a closer look and see what makes it a winner.
For this review, I’m using the Samsung Galaxy S II from T-Mobile, which uses the TouchWiz interface. With any launcher, you’ll need to make sure to set it as your main launcher once you have installed it. This is an easy process; simply press the Home key on your Android device, and you should see a modal box, which asks you to choose the action for that key. Tap the “Set as default” checkbox and then tap the LauncherPro option to set it as your main launcher.
As you can see, the default home screen is pretty bare. LauncherPro doesn’t remember any icon layouts from other launchers, so you’ll need to keep stock of how your homescreens look if you want to recreate their layout. The launcher has three homescreens, but you can expand this to up to seven screens in LauncherPro’s Preferences menu (Home -> Preferences -> Homescreen Settings -> Number of Screens). To view all your homescreens at once, double-tap your Home key.
If you’re familiar with adding apps, widgets, and shortcuts to your homescreen, then customizing LauncherPro’s homescreens will be easy. Just longpress on any open space on your homescreen and you’ll bring up the “Add to Home screen” modal box. There’s an addition here called “LauncherPro Widgets,” which lets you add eight types of widgets (people, bookmarks, calendar, messaging, Twitter, Facebook, friends, and Gmail). These widgets, however, are only available in LauncherPro Plus, which you can purchase from within the app for $3.49.
Aside from this, you’ll notice that swiping between screens and using the app drawer is quick and responsive. This launcher can be a great alternative for devices with slower processors, or for those looking for a bit of a break from their device’s default launcher.
One of LauncherPro’s biggest selling points is the customizable dock. By default, the dock has five visible icons (phone, contacts, app drawer, messaging, and web browser). However, you can slide the dock to the left or right and discover an extra dock for five more icons (making fifteen in total). Each icon can be customized to link to any app you have installed on your Android device, or you can change the icon to one of sixteen LauncherPro style icons. You also have the option of replacing the icon with a custom icon or a photo of your choice in your device’s photo gallery.
You can also assign a “swipe gesture action” to each icon in your dock. There are eight different actions that you can perform (launch an application, launch a shortcut, show a popup, show all your homescreens, open the app drawer, open the notifications drawer, show/hide the top status bar, or do nothing).
The thing that I love most about LauncherPro’s deck is a feature which isn’t even mentioned — automatic uninstallation of apps directly from your homescreen! Longpress any app icon and the dock turns into a single trash can icon. Drag and hover the icon over the trash can, which will produce a toast notification that says “Drop to uninstall.” Release the app, and you can uninstall the app. Very, very clever.
LauncherPro’s settings are where the lion’s share of this launcher’s customizations reside. Press the Home key on your Android device and tap the Preferences icon to bring up LauncherPro’s settings menu.
There are a lot of options here, so let’s take then one category at a time.
In this category, you can enable scrollable widgets and set an option to keep the launcher in your device’s memory. For Motorola Droid and Milestone owners, there’s also an option here to enable a hack that may improve the launcher’s performance on those devices. You can even select certain apps that you would like to hide in your app drawer.
There are two sections in the Homescreen Settings category: Homescreen Settings, and Homescreen Grid. In the Homescreen Settings section, you can control the number of homescreens (up to seven), set the default homescreen, and enable trackball scrolling if you have a device that has a trackball. You can also toggle the infinite homescreen looping, and choose from one of six transition effects between homescreens. I didn’t notice any discernible lag between any of the transitions, though this could depend on the processing power of your Android device.
In the Homescreen Grid section, you can change the number of columns and rows of icons on each homescreen from 1 x 1 to 10 x 10. There’s also an option for icons and widgets to automatically resize to fit any grid options you choose.
There are two sections in the Dock Settings category: Dock Settings, and Dock Notifications. In the Dock Settings section, you can change the number of docks (up to three) and toggle infinite scrolling for those docks. (Note: If you choose to have only one dock, loop scrolling is disabled by default.) In the Dock Notifications section, you can toggle unread message or missed call counts for the phone, messaging, and Gmail icons in your dock. When you have missed calls or unread messages, the number of calls or messages will appear as a white number in a dark red circle at the top left of the icon.
The Behavior Settings category is a little simpler than the other settings that I’ve mentioned. You can enable auto-rotation of your homescreens (widgets and all), and set the behavior for your home key when you’re on your home screen.
The Appearance Settings category includes some different options for customizing your dock, homescreens, app drawer, and more. From here, you can choose one of four backgrounds for your dock (Custom, Glass, Froyo, and Froyo wide), enable an indicator to let you know what homescreen you’re on, hide the notification bar, hide the home button in the app drawer, hide your icon labels, toggle the background for the app drawer, disable wallpaper scrolling, and choose your highlighting style for when you press an icon. You can also choose your highlight colors for pressing or focusing on an icon using either a hexadecimal code or by selecting a color from the large color wheel provided.
The Advanced Settings category is comprised of several different sections: Memory Usage Settings, Homescreens, App Drawer, Screen Previews, and Debugging.
In the Memory Usage Settings section, you can choose from six different memory usage presets depending on your device’s performance. You can also control the launcher’s behavior for caching your homescreen, along with additional caching options.
The Homescreens section has options for enabling different quality tweaks for scrolling your homescreens and for controlling the scrolling speed of your homescreens. You can also enable five icon rows in your homescreen and stretch 4-row widgets.
You can customize portrait and landscape modes for your app drawer in the App Drawer section, as well as its opening and closing speed.
The Screen Previews section lets you adjust the opening and closing speed of your homescreen previews, and the Debugging section shows the current heap memory usage on screen for debugging and testing purposes.
The Theme Settings category gives you the option to choose an icon pack to use for your dock icons and applications. By default, there are no font packs installed.
Under these seven categories, there’s a section called LauncherPro which includes more options. You can backup your homescreens and settings, restore a backup from your SD card, restart LauncherPro, or reset the launcher and remove all your customizations. There is also an option to purchase LauncherPro Plus or enter an unlock code if you have one.
You’d think that with all these options that Launcher Pro has, there would be no drawbacks to using this launcher, right? Not necessarily.
One issue that I had from time to time (I wasn’t the only one, according to Google Play Store app reviews) was that the LauncherPro is prone to crashing. Once it crashes, your device will revert back to the stock launcher, but you can press the Home key on your device to re-launch LauncherPro.
Another issue that I found had to do with the LauncherPro Shortcuts (longpress on an empty space -> Shortcuts -> LauncherPro Shortcuts). There are no shortcuts loaded by default; rather, this action takes you to a website where you create your own shortcut using a form. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to use this and had to search on the LauncherPro website for information on how to use and create shortcuts. You can totally enjoy your LauncherPro experience without ever using this, but the implementation seems half-baked since the average LauncherPro user won’t know how to create them easily.
The Activities are similarly confusing (longpress on an empty space -> Shortcuts -> Activities). You’ll get a list of all your apps and some settings as well, and you can create an “activity” mapping to a particular function of an application. This can have unexpected results if you don’t know what you’re doing. For example, I created an activity to toggle Android’s sync feature. Instead, it crashed my phone! So, unless you have an idea of the different Android actions that your apps can do, I would suggest staying away from using this.
Some functions of the app are restricted unless you purchase a license for LauncherPro Plus, but you won’t discover this until you start nosing around the applications. For example, the gorgeous Sense UI-type widgets for your calendar and social networking profiles are only available if you pay the $3.49 for LauncherPro Plus. Now, while $3.49 is not a lot of money, it is a pretty steep price to pay when the app hasn’t been updated in several months with no word from the developer. A blank update schedule for a mobile app may signal that the developer has abandoned the project, so it’s unclear whether or not we’ll see an update for LauncherPro any time soon.
The $3.49 license fee also allows you to customize your LauncherPlus installation with additional skins, icons, and widgets. After doing a comprehensive search, I found these resources for those who are looking to add more pizzazz to LauncherPlus.
Other widgets and skins are available on the Android Market as well; some are free and some are paid. Just do a search for “LP Skin” and you’ll find dozens of them available for download and purchase.
LauncherPro is a homescreen and app drawer replacement utility that offers you several different customization options for multiple homescreens, homescreen transitions, and other embellishments. Fans of widgets and skins will want to pay the $3.49 license to further customize LauncherPro, but it’s unclear whether the main app will see any updates in order to smooth out the errors and glitches. If you’re content with the launcher as-is, it’s a great addition for any Android device.
LauncherPro is available on Google Play for free and requires Android OS v2.0 or higher to run. Download the app from the Google Play Store link below or by clicking on the Google Play badge provided.
Maurice Cherry is a web entrepreneur, freelance technology journalist, and technology consultant for non-profit organizations and politicians. He is best known as the creator of the Black Weblog Awards, the world’s premier event for showcasing bloggers, podcasters, and video bloggers of the African diaspora. Maurice is also Creative Principal at 3eighteen media and an adjunct professor with DeVry University. Maurice is an honors graduate of Morehouse College, and currently lives in Atlanta, GA.