Customize your Android home screen

Breathe new life into your Android phone with these excellent apps and utilities.

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No two Android home screens should ever look the same. Scott Webster/CNET

Android is, by its very nature, a flexible and customizable platform. In fact, that is probably my favorite of its many features.

I love nothing more than to tweak and fiddle with my smartphones and tablets, changing the looks of things as I go. Best yet, there's still an endless list of cosmetic changes you can make even without rooting your phone or tablet.

You can, for example, give yourself a fancy home screen with a highly detailed set of widgets. On the other hand, you can install a new launcher that changes icons, effects, transitions, and so much more.

I've gathered up a handful of my favorite home screen apps here, the kind you can install and adjust over time. Have fun exploring!


Nova Launcher Prime

There are plenty of launcher applications that let users override the standard look and feel that comes with the phone's out-of-box experience, however Nova Launcher Prime tends to be my go-to client.

In a nutshell, Nova Launcher alters the way your phone behaves when you tap the Home button. Specifically, you can define how many home screen panels you have, the number of icons that fit on the screen, scrolling effects and much more.

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Nova lets users modify icons, animations, and much more. Screen shot by Scott Webster/CNET

Nova Launcher Prime gives you control over the grid size, and the number of rows and columns on your screen. You can also place a persistent Google Search bar across home screens, and tweak the size of the page margins.

I love using the launcher's revolving door transition when you swipe among screens. It looks much cooler than a simple slide transition. Additionally, users can opt to remove icon labels, overlap widgets and lock the desktop in place.

I also appreciate the way I can sort my app drawer, hide unused titles and organize content into tabs. Other minor touches include infinite scrolling panels, custom grouping, menu transparency and transitions. Suffice it to say, I'm constantly backing up and restoring fun layouts all the time. Doing this can also make for a seamless transition into a brand new smartphone.

A particularly fun, and easy, way to spice things up is to replace the icons representing apps and games. There are innumerable icon packs or themes that one can download to adjust the overall aesthetics. Some of the icons packs I have enjoyed lately include SYRMA, Axis and Motif. Again, hit up some forums or search Google Play and you'll find some rather inspiring stuff.

Note that you don't necessarily have to spend the money on Nova Launcher Prime; the free version is a great way to take advantage of most options and settings. At more than 10 million installs, the free Nova Launcher is a popular and feature-rich home screen launcher. For many people this is more than enough customization.


Ultimate Custom (Clock) Widget

As you might have guessed from its name, the free Ultimate Custom (Clock) Widget app is a wonderful tool for creating custom widgets for your home screens.

While it's possible to create your own clock, weather or battery widget, you can also use UCCW to tweak notifications, alarms and other options. In other words, there's considerably more here than just clock widgets.

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UCCW lets users create an endless assortment of widgets. VasuDev

You might feel a tad overwhelmed at first, having to design your own widgets. With color, transparency, shapes and fonts to choose from, it can seem off-putting. But, spend a little time with it and you'll get the hang of things.

I also suggest looking for templates and already-existing widgets being shared by the community. Poke around the Google Play Store and forums for UCCW UZIP files and go from there. Installing these takes the legwork out of your next custom widget.


Beautiful Widgets

I consider this one more of an oldie but goodie, since it's been around for more than a few years. Not only is Beautiful Widgets easy to install and setup, it's also simple to configure to your liking.

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A time-tested classic, Beautiful Widgets still gets the job done. LevelUp Studio

Initially designed to give Android users some home screen clocks that mimic the old HTC stuff from 2008-2010, it has evolved considerably over time. Today you'll find themes, multiple dimensions, DayDream features and more.

While some of what you'll find will certainly feel dated to long-term Android users, it might work nicely with your home screen layout.


Zooper Widget

Zooper Widget might best be described as a tool to create really great Android widgets. Sure, it's actually packaged as a bundle of preset designs, but that's just tip of the iceberg.

The app comes with a number of free templates and customizable options, and provides a great jumping off point. You'll get some classy designs even if you don't customize any further.

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Zooper offers incredible flexibility in creating custom widgets. MyColorScreen

Play with Zooper for any length of time; however, and you'll find that it's easy to create your own battery indicator, missed calls and message widget, or calendar. Additionally, you can also create widgets to monitor networks and data usage, Wi-Fi connections, and other system settings.

If for no other reason, you'll want to have Zooper installed so you can download other widgets from the community. Take a look through Google Play and you'll find scores of gorgeous, functional widgets at the ready. These are community-created designs that span from minimal and modern all the way to busy and cluttered.

Zooper Widget is free to download, but there's also a paid Pro version that offers additional functionality. In addition to removing ads, you'll also pick up the ability to save widget templates to SD cards, and integrate with Buzz Launcher.


DashClock Widget

Among the features introduced in Android 4.2 one of the more popular ones was the ability to create widgets on the lock screen. These widgets provide at-a-glance information to things such as text messages, calendar appointments and other notifications. The DashClock Widget app takes this to the next level by offering up a more customized and robust list of what you can put on your lock screen.

DashClock Widget works for Android 4.2+ smartphones and tablets. Roman Nurik

For example, there's current local weather, missed calls and unread messages, unread Gmail and/or priority emails and your next calendar appointment. What I like most about this app is that it can deliver all of this on a single lock-screen panel.

Rather than swiping through various screens, DashClock Widget puts it all in one, easy-to-read spot. This is especially handy for those who have yet to scoop up Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Also worth noting is that the app is extensible, meaning it plays nice with other apps. Developers are able to take advantage of extensions that add relevant details.


ThemerApp

For those who like the idea of customizing their home screen but don't want to get their hands dirty, I suggest looking into ThemerApp. Thanks to a simple set-it-and-forget-it setup, you can swap out an entire layout with the tap of a button.

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Themer takes the legwork out of creating new homescreen experiences. MyColorScreen

Available as a free app in the Google Play Store, this one acts more like a giant curated library of custom designs. There are hundreds of themes offered today and things only get better with time.

Play with Themer and you will find that, in addition to being simple to work with, it's also incredibly flexible. Like everything you see except for those icons? Swap them out for something else. Not so keen on the order in which the widgets display? Move them around, take them out, replace them with your own.

For folks who have yet to see Android 5.0 I might suggest checking out the L Theme. Install this one on top of Themer and your phone at least looks the Lollipop part -- if only on the surface.


Buzz Launcher

Much like ThemerApp, Buzz Launcher prides itself on simplicity. The free app is an all-in-one tool that lets users download and install entire layouts in one tap.

With more than 800,000 themes to choose from, the homepacks include icons, wallpapers, widgets and other fun features. And once installed, you can hop from one look to another in a matter of seconds.

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Buzz Launcher prides itself on simplicity and flexibility. Buzz Launcher Team

Thanks to partnerships with other developers, Buzz Launcher plays nicely with some of the more popular Android widgets. This means you can also fold in some of the stuff you've discovered with UCCW and other apps.

If you're looking for a jumping off point for customizing your Android device, I strongly recommend starting here. Once you get the hang of customization you may feel comfortable venturing off on your own.


What about you?

There are scores of Android apps that allow users to customize their experience; these are only a handful of my favorites.

Which apps do you use to tailor your Android experience, and do you fancy a particular launcher or icon pack? Are you partial to any one app or do you jump from one to another? Where do you find your inspiration? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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