How to Clean Up Your Home Screen

One of the more common complaints about Android is its lack of aesthetic appeal or polish, especially compared to that of iOS and even (or perhaps, especially) Windows Phone 7. While Android isn’t by any means ugly, it almost certainly seems to lack that special something its competitors have. In all likeliness, a quick glance at your phone will reveal a random array of icons, widgets, and folders scattered among your home screens in no particular order.

However, thanks to the flexibility of the Android platform, this doesn’t have to be the case. By employing the right launcher and widgets, you’ll find yourself with a layout that’s not only attractive, but more importantly, functional in all the ways your home screen is now. Sound interesting? Let’s get started.

A typical Android homescreen.

Now, if you’re anything like I was, chances are your home screen looks pretty similar to the image above. You’ll have your core apps that you access frequently like Gmail, Maps, and the camera, a few games like Angry Birds that you like to have easy access to when you need to kill some time, and a few widgets lying around just to make things a little more convenient. It’s all functional, yes, but it’s cluttered. So how do we rectify this? To get started, we’ll need to grab two apps from the market, and you’ll probably want an icon pack to go with that as well.

Preparation

The first of those apps that you need is a custom launcher like ADW.Launcher, Go Launcher EX, Zeam Launcher, or my personal preference, LauncherPro, all of which you’ll find have free versions in the Market. Using any of these launchers will allow you to choose everything from the number of home screens you have, to which apps you’ll have set for quick access on your dock. A launcher goes a long way in keeping your home screen looking clean, as they’ll allow you to keep a lot of the clutter that your icons create confined to the dock area. And, importantly, they don’t restrict you to the 4×4 grid of default launchers.

SiMi Folder offers an attractive folder layout.

The second app you’ll want is SiMi Folder Widget, also available for free in the Market. Unlike Android’s built-in folder functionality, SiMi Folder Widget gives you the ability to choose a custom icon, hide the name of the folder which usually appears under the default icon, and set how you want the actual folder popup menu (the box that shows up with your apps inside upon pressing the folder icon) to appear. It’s a hugely versatile app that does wonders for reducing the amount of clutter on your screen.

As far as the icons go, there are almost an unlimited amount of places you’ll be able to find some on the web. DeviantART is always a good source for all things customization related, but if you’re looking for something more Android specific, check out this thread on the XDA forums, with over 600 different icon packs.

Getting Started

There is an unlimited number of ways in which you can customize your layout, all of which I obviously can’t cover, so I’ll just give you a general guide on how to get started. Therefore, I’m moving forward under the assumption that you’ve chosen to use LauncherPro.

The first thing you’ll want to do is set your new launcher as the default. If you downloaded it from the Market, you’ll find that you get a prompt asking you which one you want to use. Select LauncherPro, tick the box that says “use by default”, and you’re good to go.

Once you have that completed, the first thing you’re going to want to do is tweak its settings. Do this by pressing your Menu button, then going to Preferences. Here you’ll be able to change everything from the number of home screens you have to whether or not you want the notification bar at the top to show. Play around with the settings until you find what you’re comfortable with, and restart if prompted.

After getting all that set up, the next thing you’ll want to do is set what applications you want to have launch from the dock. In the case of LauncherPro, the dock is set to launch the dialer, your contacts, the app drawer, messaging, and your browser by default. To change any of these, simply long press on the icon and you’ll get a menu that offers you the ability to select the app you want to launch as well as the icon set for it. One of the great things about LauncherPro is that it comes bundled with a very attractive set of icons for you to use by default.

Got that done? Great! Now you’re ready to really dive into things.

Changing the Look

Go through your home screens and take note of what you really need on there and what can be safely tucked away in your app drawer without being missed too much. Now remove everything. Don’t worry, we’ll eventually be bringing back the apps you need in some form or another, but if you want a clean home screen, you’ve got to start with a clean slate.

Now that everything’s cleared out of the way, it’s time to start repopulating everything. Before you touch your phone, take a look at the list of apps you’d considered absolutely necessary for your home screens. More likely than not, you’ll be able to categorize those apps in some form or another. For example, my “absolutely need” apps are categorized as follows:

  • System Apps (things that are or affect core functions) – ASTRO, Quadrant, Voodoo Control, Calculator, Notepad, and Market
  • Media (sights and sounds) – Camera, Gallery, YouTube, Pandora, Music
  • Games (exactly what it sounds like) – The list is too long, but just know that I’ve got about 20 different variations of Angry Birds in there
  • Social – Facebook, Reddit is Fun, Yelp, Movies, RedBox, ESPN ScoreCenter
  • Utilities (things that make life a little bit easier) – Maps, Goggles, SearchLight, Wikipedia

What we’re going to do is make each of those categories you created its own folder. But, before you jump the gun and start using the built in Android folders, remember that the purpose of this is to make your phone attractive and those default icons are anything but.

A completed SiMi Folder layout.

So, now that you’ve got SiMi Folder installed, go ahead and long press on an empty area of your home screen (which, if you’ve listened to anything I have to say, should be the entire thing), select Widgets, and scroll down until you see the SiMi Folder listings. Select the size you want your new folder to be, and you’ll get pulled into the SiMi Folder application.

SiMi Folder allows you to customize folders with a variety of options.

Once in there, tap Settings, and then select “Add Folder”. From there, it’s straight forward. Choose the apps you want residing inside the folder, the layout, the label, the text for the label (if any), and of course, the icon. After finishing, save the folder’s settings, select it, and voila! You’ll have your nice, new, attractive folder icon on your desktop.

Play around with the amount of rows/columns in your launcher’s settings to get the spacing right, then rinse and repeat for your other categories and you’re set! No more apps randomly scattered about, and you’ve got a nice, consistent looking theme throughout as well.

Final Notes

How attractive your phone actually ends up actually looking, of course, depends a lot on your own personal aesthetic skills. If you’re simply at a loss, there are a number of places you can turn to for inspiration. The XDA Forums almost always have a home screen thread going for you to browse through and, likewise, MyColorScreen.com is an awesome place to turn to for such purposes.

Some other popular and attractive widgets you may want to consider using to keep some core functionality are SiMi Clock, BobClockD3, Minimalistic Text, Widgetsoid, and Simple Calendar Widget. In fact, there’s a whole roundup of customisation apps here on Android.AppStorm.

Regardless of what you do, have fun customizing your phone, and put those iPhone-toting friends of yours to shame!


  • http://pixelsnsounds.blogspot.com duckzila

    Amazing!! thank you very much for the info!! :D … and thanks for a great article which wasn’t about cyanogenmod :)

  • Tyler

    No matter what I do I can’t get it to let me add apps to the folder, this app is a pain..

    • http://www.savoo.co.uk/ Kenny

      Hey Tyler, to add Apps to folders in SiMi Folder do the following:

      1. Go to the SiMi Folder app in your app drawer
      2. Go into the Folders menu
      3. Click on the folder you’re trying to add apps to (assuming you’ve already created it)
      4. Click on “add”
      5. You should be able to check whichever apps you want associated with that folder from the list that shows up

  • Tyler

    Got it to work after a reboot. But xda link is dead) :

  • Demi

    I want mine to look exactly like his one. Can someone tell me how to do this please

  • Liam

    Love the simifolders widget, had never seen it before…
    What clock widget is that you’ve got there? Seems to go nicely…

    Liam

    • http://www.savoo.co.uk/ Kenny

      Mentioned it in the last paragraph, it’s SiMi Clock Widget.

  • Austin

    I’m also wondering how to make my folders look like the ones above?? And when I try to add apps, it only lists like 5 or 6 apps…?

    • http://www.savoo.co.uk/ Kenny

      The app occasionally does that. If you open up SiMi Folder through your app drawer, the list of apps will usually repopulate and give you the full number.

      Also, the folders are from a set of icons I made on my own. Find the images here:

      http://imgur.com/a/oYybU#MN8Yb

      • Kezn

        Awesome work !!!
        what was the font u using ?
        can i gt the psd ?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ Lakiesha

      This piece was a lfieajeckt that saved me from drowning.

  • Heath

    I, too, was trying to make the text vertical and spaced as shown in the article. Seems impossible or that this version just cannot perform the action. If anybody figures it out, please let us all know! This layout is FANTASTIC!

    • http://www.savoo.co.uk/ Kenny

      Hi! As noted above, the text for the folders are actually images I made myself. Find them here:

      http://imgur.com/a/oYybU#MN8Yb

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  • ilham

    Is the clock used in the article is a cyanogen widget? Or something I can find on the market? Thx before

    • ilham

      Ups, sorry.. I it has mentioned in the end of article :p

  • Sebz

    Hey! Thanks for the thread. I irstly want to say how beautifully simple your layout is! :)

    I went the the link you posted at the bottom of the page on your custom made icons and i downloaded them to my desktop and then put them into my android device. Then i went to “add widget” and selected “1×2 simi folder” and chose the icon from my gallery. I then added the apps i wanted in the folder however, when i add it to my homescreen, the word icon is like 1×1 and very small, unlike the ones u posted on your screen. What am i doing wrong?
    THanks!

    • Sebz

      I found out how! you have to use desktop visualiseR and then select action “simi folder” however i like the 4×4 homescreen grid so yea. i guess ill just have to use massive icons hahaha. thanks alot! i like the word icons. :)

      • 2$tax

        Thanks for the help with that, for those who want more precise instructions:
        1. download desktop visualizer from android market
        2. After installation go back to home screen
        3. Press and hold a blank space on the home screen, so that you get the add to home screen menu
        4. Click widgets
        5. I used desktop visualizer (1 x 2) and i feel its the closest to the image above but what ever you feel comfortable with
        6. click the widget on the home screen and it should open a set up window.
        7. There you can locate your image file and choose simi folderand configure to your liking

        ***also you can place the folder icons anywhere you like on the screen with paperboard an app from the android market that bypasses grid lock on the home screen***

        https://market.android.com/details?id=com.paper.board.lite

  • Raz

    I’ve tried it with desktop visualizer and simi folder widget and everything looks like in the pics above. But if i now try to open for example “games”, it only starts simi folder and not the folder I set for “games”. any ideas? thanks :)

  • Talha

    When you click on the widget set up by desktop visualizer under Launch you should select “other” instead of “application” and than select SiMi Folder. From there you can select the folder you have set up from before and should resolve your problem.

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