Four offbeat Android launchers to transform your phone

Want to give your phone a new look, without having to design it yourself? These four launchers have you covered.

Wish your phone could give you the apps you need, when you need them? Or maybe you just want to make your phone so dead-simple to use that even your grandmother won't get lost when she picks it up. The beauty of Android is that you can change almost everything about your phone, including all of those features I just listed. You just need to download and install a launcher.

If don't already know, a launcher is an app that replaces your phone's home screen, and occasionally the app drawer, to give it a new look or add special features. Popular launchers Apex, Nova, and Go Launcher seek to customize the design of your home screens -- the main screen on your phone where your wallpapers, app, and widgets live. With those apps, you get complete control over your app icons, widgets, and screen layout.

While I like tinkering with Nova and the like, sometimes I want my launchers to do the work for me, by giving me a new design and extra features, without my intervention. I've rounded up four launchers that do just that -- take over your Android phone with an arsenal of unique features. One boils down Android into a very simple layout, another swaps out apps throughout the day, so you always have what you need at your fingertips.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of alternative Android launchers, just a few that are particularly useful and well-built. Tell me what you're favorite launcher is in the comment section below.


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Aviate. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Aviate (Free)

First up is a personal favorite, Aviate. It's a free Android launcher from Yahoo that shows collections of apps on your home screen that it thinks it might be useful, depending on where you are and the time of day.

Aviate groups your apps into themed collections, such as Home, Morning routine, Photography, and Going somewhere, which you can edit at any time. Then, as you go about your day, the launcher pulls specific collections to the top of your home screen, so they're handy when you need them.

For instance, when you're at your house, Aviate will show the Home collection in that space, with the apps you've selected for that collection, plus options to set an alarm or put your phone in do-not-disturb mode. You can choose to set your home and work locations in the app, and if you do, Aviate automatically detects when you're at home or at work so that it can show those collections when you arrive.

Great for: People who like to stay organized, especially on their phone.


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EverythingMe Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

EverythingMe (Free)

Like Aviate, EverythingMe groups together your apps into categories, such as "social" and "weather." The difference is that EverythingMe uses a more traditional Android design and take a different approach to bringing you apps when it thinks you need them. The launcher exited beta in February 2014.

Your home screen has popular app groups, including social, games, and photography. Toward the bottom of the screen, there's a widget that shows the time and frequently changes to show you different apps throughout the day.

EverythingMe also has special pages, called Smart Folders, with apps and widgets that show you your daily agenda or help you find points of interest and businesses nearby. There are far more Smart Pages than there are collections in Aviate, which makes this launcher more versatile.

Great for: Anyone who wants to take the idea of Aviate a few steps further, but still wants to tinker with their phone's design.


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Wiser. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Wiser (Free)

Not everyone with a smartphone is tech savvy, and Wiser gets that. This launcher simplifies your phone's operating system so that it's easy for anyone to use it, using large icons and bright colors.

The home screen has large circular icons for your phone dialer, camera, applications, and more. You can add favorite contacts on one page, so you can quickly call or message them. The other two screens let you add your favorite applications.

Wise launcher is so easy to setup -- just download and install from Google Play -- that even most tech-illiterate people can do it.

Great for: Kids, seniors, or anyone who feels overwhelmed by their phone's stock operating system.


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Themer Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Themer (Free)

Though it's still in beta, Themer gets a mention here because it lets you add unique and heavily customized home screen designs with very little effort. The app was built by MyColorScreen, a site where Android users show off their home screens, many of which look nothing like stock Android.

With the app, you can download hundreds of themes that range from iOS 7 lookalikes to intricate geometric designs. Like the other launchers I've mentioned, Themer groups your apps into categories in your app drawer, so they are easier to find. You can even program gestures, so that if you, say, swipe up on your screen with two fingers, the phone dialer opens.

Great for: Those who want to tweak their phone's design, but don't want to spend time picking out icons, wallpapers, and widgets.

 

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