Customizing Android

Android RobotWe’re taking a break from terminology this week to cover some basic information regarding the customization of Google’s smartphone operating system – Android.

First, for those not in the know:

  • Google, unlike Apple, provides their mobile operating system under an open source license, which is why you see LG, Asus, Toshiba, Sony, Acer, Samsung, HTC, and many others all using the same operating system on their phones and tablets.
  • The open source agreement allows the manufacturers to customize Android, which is why a new LG phone with Android looks different from a new Samsung phone with Android. The general appearance and basic functionality remain the same.
  • No one can objectively say “iOS is better” or “Android is better.” Both operating systems do much of the same thing, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, the only way to truly know which is best for you is to try them both.

Basic Android homescreen customization:

Not everyone has the time or patience to learn a new user interface. Fortunately, if you are coming from an iPhone, you will already be familiar with some of the basics:

  • Move an app by touching and holding it until it ‘pops out’ of the grid. You can now place it anywhere else in the grid or move it to another page.
  • Set a new background picture through your launcher settings or directly from the image in the gallery.

Wait, that’s a new word. What is a launcher?

The launcher is the user interface. Different launchers have different features, but they all do more or less the same thing. They display wallpapers on your lock screen and home screen. They are responsible for displaying your app drawer, app icons, and notification bar.

Hold on. App drawer?

This is one of the main differences between iOS and Android user interfaces. On an iPhone, all of your apps are displayed on a page somewhere. If you have downloaded a lot of apps, you probably have more than one page of apps to swipe through. But no app is not on a page. With Android, you don’t have to put an app’s icon on a homescreen, or page. Instead, a single icon called the App Drawer exists so you can see all of your apps, regardless of whether they have a shortcut on a homescreen.

So what launcher should I use?

Holo Launcher HD

Holo Launcher HD on AT&T LG Optimus G

This is entirely a personal choice, as different launchers serve different purposes. Go Launcher EX is an extremely popular launcher. It’s pretty, it’s functional, and it offers dozens, if not hundreds, of themes. However, having so many ways to customize the launcher comes at a cost. Compared to other launchers, it can be memory intensive. If you have a budget smartphone, or if your phone is a few years old, you may find Go Launcher EX sluggish compared to some of the other popular choices.

Click here to see a recent overview of some of the more popular launcher choices out there right now. Personally, I am currently using Holo Launcher HD on my AT&T LG Optimus G. Holo is known for being extremely lightweight, allowing for speedy navigation. However, I previously used Nova Launcher, and I found Holo to be lacking a few features that Nova offers. I used Apex Launcher before Nova, as it’s also a strong contender.

Ultimately, the only way to find out which launcher you prefer is to try them out. All of the ones I mentioned are free, though you can pay for additional features. If you are an average smartphone user whose main concern is that your phone simply works, then launcher choice is irrelevant, as they all perform the basic functions you need.

Confused? Don’t be.

Doing something new is always a challenge at first. When it comes to technology, new can be overwhelming. Android, as an open source OS, offers so much more freedom in customization than Apple’s iOS that you can’t be expected to grasp everything in a day. Learning to use an Android phone is as simple as an iPhone, but learning to customize Android precisely to your needs takes time. It’s worth the effort though.