Best Android Launchers For Your Phone 2021

The way we arrange, organize, and interact with our apps on Android is called the launcher. Launchers usually consist of a series of home screens, where we can arrange app shortcuts and widgets while the rest of our apps sit in an app drawer. From the best Android phones to the most basic budget smartphone, every phone comes with a launcher. Some built-in launchers are great, but when they drop the ball, there are endless third-party launchers that not only pick it up again but knock it clear out of the park. Everyone has their perfect launcher, but if you haven’t found your favorite yet, then here are the best Android launchers that we at Android Central have used and loved for years.

Best Overall: Smart Launcher 5

Smart Launcher has been around for years and years, but it really kicked things up a notch with Smart Launcher 5. The home screen features a grid-less widget placement system and modular page system, but the real star of the show here is still the app drawer. Smart Launcher 5 automatically sorts your apps into several categories, and if you pay for Smart Launcher Pro, you can add your own custom categories and sort your various drawer tabs in a variety of ways, from most-used to install time to icon color.

From a responsive and comprehensive categorical app drawer to some of the most precise widget placement on Android to the most diverse icon options of any smartphone, Smart Launcher 5 has a lot to love. Its gestures are top-notch, too, especially the double-tap shortcuts for dock apps, which work worlds better than the swipe app shortcuts Nova and Action use.

Smart Launcher is also part of the holy trinity of quick home screen themes I’ve used for the last three years, and it’s been used in our dead awesome Deadpool theme, NBA Finals themes, revamped MrMobile theme, and more. You can even combine it with Android 12’s Material You and Smart Launcher’s Icon Pack Studio to build a home screen experience that will automatically mesh with any and every wallpaper you set on the phone.

Resurging Legacy: Nova Launcher

Nova Launcher has been a major player in the home screen market longer than most of us have even used Android. The reason for this continued dominance is simple. Nova’s mix of customization, convenience, and cunning is unparalleled. Nova lets your phone look more Pixel-y than a Pixel and more TouchWiz-zy than a Galaxy and does it all with ease and grace. It also lets you build a home screen that is unique, stable, and solid while being as plain or beautiful as you’d like.

A wide feature set allows Nova to achieve all these wonderful themes and let users build exactly the home screen they want, with small but infinitely useful features like subgrid positioning and a robust backup system. For users just getting used to third-party launchers, the “import from other launchers” feature is the most consistent and reliable on Nova than just about every other launcher I’ve tried in previous years. If you want to ease yourself from the basic launcher to a custom experience, Nova can help you get comfortable with launcher layouts and themes.

The launcher also recently took Nova Launcher 7 to the stable channel where everyone could enjoy the overhaul to settings and launcher look that has been in beta for a year. Nova had been starting to feel a little bloated, but the Nova 7 update has refreshed things so it’s easier for new users to jump in while still being as flexible as ever for those of us who are ridiculously picky when it comes to theming our home screens.

Swiss Army Launcher: Action Launcher

The watchword of both Action Launcher and its users is quick — Quicktheme, Quickdrawer, Quickpage, Quickbar. To ensure it can be the quickest and best launcher for users who want to set everything up just so, Action Launcher has taken it upon itself to be one of the most customizable launchers on the market.

From its robust gesture controls to its ubiquitous Covers and Shutters to hide folders and widgets under app icons, Action Launcher makes it easy to get the home screen you want. If Quicktheme’s color palette misses the mark, you can now set Material palette colors or custom hex code colors to get a more cohesive look! This was a long-awaited feature and it makes Action Launcher much more useful to live wallpaper users and themes.

Action Launcher is also quick to support features from the newest versions of Android, or as much as can be replicated on a third-party launcher. Action Launcher’s developer Chris Lacy is devoted, dedicated, and is quick to jump in on Android issues that impact third-party launchers — and even iOS features, adding widget stacks from iOS 15. While the actual theme-building power here isn’t quite as adaptable as Nova Launcher, it’s a launcher that works incredibly, well, quick about getting you set up and on your way.

Best Productivity: Microsoft Launcher

You’d think that if Microsoft was going to bring a launcher to Android, it’d match Windows 10 or maybe the old Windows Phone look — and you’d be wrong. Not only is Microsoft Launcher a completely Android-native experience, but it’s a top-quality, ever-updating launcher. It’s one of few outside Nova Launchers to offer edge-to-edge widgets and subgrid positioning.

Microsoft Launcher’s experience centers around a clean home screen and a smart page to the left fed by your Microsoft account, your daily phone use, and any Android widgets you wish to add. Even if you’re not immersed in the Microsoft ecosystem, having a scrolling page of widgets beats having to space them out over 3-4 pages. While this launcher’s settings are somewhat clunky, it has all the launcher options you’d want and then some.

While Microsoft Launcher is definitely not as simplistic as Smart Launcher 5 or Niagara Launcher, it is still a fairly lightweight launcher that’s well-worth considering, especially if you have any sort of reliance on Microsoft’s ecosystem for work, school, or personal use. And while the Microsoft Launcher is designed for the Microsoft Surface Duo 2, not the Z Fold series, it is yet another good option for foldable phone owners.

Quick and Simple: Niagara Launcher

Niagara is still a shiny new-ish launcher that has only been around for a couple of years — yes, that makes it new by launcher standards — but it’s already got quite the following for being a lightning-fast launcher that’s great for low-memory devices. It’s also ridiculously simple to build themes around since it only has one layout. You can stick one or more widgets at the top, you have a Quicklist of your favorite apps, and the rest of your apps are a simple slide along with the A-Z alphabet on the right (or left) side of the screen.

The feature set here has been steadily growing over the last year, and Niagara really hit its stride around the summer of 2021 when the Galaxy Z Fold 3 arrived and brought foldable mainstream. Niagara Launcher was very quick to adapt its minimal launcher into a big-screen-friendly launcher and in fact, if you’re looking for an all-business launcher for your Fold 3, Niagara has both one-column and two-column setups you can use to get to your next app and get back to work lickety-split.

If you just want to find your apps quickly and get on with your day, Niagara Launcher is a pretty great answer. It reminds me a bit of the old Z Launcher from several years ago if you remember Nokia’s experimental launcher, but I think this one is going to be around for a good while.

Bottom line

My first launcher love was Nova, but Smart Launcher 5 won over my heart in 2018 and I haven’t found anything else that works quite as well for my theme-loving setup. The categorical app drawer is better than one big A-Z sort once you have your categories set the way you want them, and the double-tap app shortcuts don’t interfere with gesture navigation or swiping between the app drawer and home screen screens the way they do on Nova, Action and just about every other launcher in existence.

If you want a launcher that’s more like the launcher that came with your phone, Nova Launcher is the best bet because it imports from other launchers more consistently than any other launcher I’ve tried, allowing you to start with the setup you already had and then ease yourself into more advanced features like shortcut gestures and customizing the look of your folders, icons, and search bars. Nova Launcher is what Nicholas Sutrich uses on all of his phones, including on his Galaxy Z Fold 3, because you just can’t beat Nova’s flexibility.

Whichever of these launchers you opt for, the beauty of testing a launcher is that these all have a free tier that allows you to get a really good feel for the launcher and how it performs before you unlock extra features with Pro upgrades. If you have a launcher you absolutely adore, you should absolutely buy the pro key or contribute to the developers so that they can keep updating that launcher and keep it alive. Developers need to eat, too!

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