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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!