Launcher 7: Android Meets Windows Phone 7

Launcher 7 offers an interesting alternative among the wide world of Android launchers. Taking a page from Microsoft’s book, it mimics Windows Phone 7, giving users a simple, tile-based interface. I spent a few weeks with it as my daily driver and although I am a diehard Android fan, it did more than just change how my phone worked. It made me want a Windows Phone.

Why Windows?

Launcher 7 Homescreen

No, this is not a Windows phone.

I have recently spent weeks getting my phone to have the look and functionality I really wanted. I have flashed a ton of ROMs, tweaked every setting I could, moved widgets around until it felt right, and experimented with every launcher imaginable. So when I saw a launcher article suggestion pop up on our assignment board, I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t champing at the bit to learn my way around a new interface. However, upon seeing that it was a Windows Phone 7 style launcher I became much more intrigued.

Microsoft released WP7 in November of 2010 with the intention of carving out a slice of the consumer market. That slice has been small with Nielsen reporting Windows Phone 7 representing less than 2% of the world market. Seeing a lack of real drive on the manufacturing side, Microsoft buddied up with a struggling phone maker by the name of Nokia. Nokia is now pushing out the new flagship Windows phones with release of their Lumia devices. However, in a world of Android and iOS, expectations aren’t very high for a resurgence of a Windows-dominated software market.

This raises the question: why, then, would anybody want to make a launcher emulating the experience of a struggling platform? Well, the platform is actually pretty good. I played with a few Windows phones before I committed to another Android phone and I must say, I was impressed. At that point, no Android device could compare to the iPhone’s fluid motions, usability, and elegant looks – but the Windows phone did. It actually beat iOS in a number of ways.

It was easily the most responsive phone I had ever picked up. Swiping between screens was unbelievably smooth. The tile animations were very unique and made it easy to see all your notifications from the home screen. If I wanted, I could even manage my Xbox Live account natively from the phone and, after a few updates, MS Office became a very useful tool. All of this aside, I chose not to go the WP7 route but rather, bought my Droid X2. With Launcher 7, I was wondering if I could get the best of both worlds.

Adjusting to WP7

I figured the best approach to a new and completely unrecognizable user interface was to jump in with both feet. I decided that in order to really test Launcher 7, I needed to use it, and only it, daily. It was a pretty big adjustment. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s about as opposite from the Android/iOS style as it can be. It relies on live tiles to convey notifications. The notification bar is also tweaked to mimic the native WP7 design or can be turned off entirely. Fortunately, if you’re a big Android notification lover, you can toggle this feature in the settings.

Launcher 7 Contacts Tile

The Launcher 7 Contacts Tile mimics the Windows phone version.

The home screen tiles are pretty standard: phone, messaging, market, contacts, etc. You can add your own here by way of widgets but they often look a little funny squeezing into the tiles. I was able to get a weather widget looking pretty slick within the confines of a 2×1 tile, though. The Contacts tile that comes standard with the launcher has an option for live effects which does a decent job mirroring the Windows phone. The other tiles update you with number of missed calls, emails, and messages.

Launcher 7 also allows one to change the color of the tiles. It has the WP7 standards of red, blue, and lime, among others. The feature I really appreciated is that you can choose your own color with either a hex or a color picker. Since my Motorola Droid X2 is running the newest Eclipse ROM, I have cyan accents on my notification bar. I opted to keep the Android notification bar in lieu of the launcher’s, so it was pretty nifty to match the tiles with my cyan bar.

Application Dock

Launcher 7 App Dock

Launcher 7 App Dock with WP7 Style.

The application dock is significantly different, especially coming from the Android standards of rows and columns. Like Windows phones, it brings up an alphabetized list of all your apps. This can be cumbersome if you have a lot of applications installed on your phone, which I do. However, this is addressed in the settings with filter options. You can easily select individual apps you want to remain hidden from the dock. If you still don’t like the WP7-style dock, simply switch back to the Android style in the launcher’s settings.

Other adjustments that can be made to this launcher are the types of animations, overscrolling, and even the background. Unlike the kosher Windows Phone 7, this launcher allows for you to have black, white, or any other Android wallpaper. This means you won’t have to throw away that fancy live wallpaper you bought that makes your phone look like a winter wonderland.

Overall

Launcher 7 Settings

Launcher 7 offers several ways to customize the UI.

This launcher is a great find for people who want to simplify their Android experience without going out and buying the Nokia Lumia phone. It’s also a fantastic way to test out WP7 if you see a new contract in your near future. It’s a zippy and simple launcher that does nice work in replicating the Microsoft experience. It’s not exact but to the average eye, it would be hard to see a significant difference at first glance.

Now it’s time to venture back to my old launcher and return to the world of Android with my various widgets, 3D app dock, and multi-colored notification bar. Or maybe I’ll just hold off a few days…


Summary

Launcher 7 offers a Windows Phone 7 experience for Android devices. With many of the features of WP7, it is a fantastic alternative with the clean user interface of Microsoft's flagship mobile platform and Android's flexibility.

8