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Best free Android launchers: Transform your phone with a free launcher

We round up the best free launchers for your Android device including Nova Launcher, Microsoft Launcher and Evie Launcher

A new launcher is the quickest and easiest way to change how your Android phone’s operating system looks and feels. Whether you want to squeeze more apps onto the homescreen, change the way your app icons look or even hide things from the app drawer altogether, then installing a launcher is the simplest way to do it.

In some cases, you can even get a performance boost or add totally new features like the option to use custom gestures to get around your phone faster. However, there are so many launchers to choose from – many of which have free and premium versions – that it can feel impossible to know where to start. That’s why we’ve rounded up our pick of the best free Android launchers. What’s more, because they’re free, you can try them all until you find one you like.

1. Best all-round launcher: Microsoft Launcher

What we liked: Microsoft Launcher represents the easiest way to bring the familiarity of Windows 10 to your Android phone, and we’re so impressed by it that we’ve awarded it the title ‘Best all-round launcher’. The launcher’s standout feature is its Feed tool. Swipe right from the homescreen and you’ll find cards for everything you use on a daily basis, including ‘Frequently used apps’, ‘People’, ‘Calendar’ and ‘News’. There’s also a handy ‘Recent activities’ card, showing recent photographs, messages, phone calls and more.

Like Nova and Evie launcher, you can arrange your favourite apps and widgets on the homescreens however you want, and there’s a search bar to help you find apps and contacts, as well as for searching the web. The app drawer also shows handy shortcuts to new and recently used apps, giving you another way of quickly finding what you want.

There are plenty of ways you can change how Microsoft Launcher looks and feels. For starters, it automatically selects an attractive new Bing wallpaper every day, and you can also change the theme and app icons. There are also options to enable vertical scrolling (rather than swiping left to right) on the homescreens, and it lets you display unread counts and hide apps you don’t want.

Microsoft’s done plenty of work to make sure that Launcher doesn’t just look like Windows 10, but also offers continuity between your phone and PC. Long-press Photos or Document from the Recent Activities window, for example, and you can open them instantly on your Windows 10 PC. The launcher is also one of the fastest we tested and it supports a wide range of gestures to help you get around your phone even faster.

How it can be improved: The Windows 10 look isn’t for everyone and it can sometimes be quite jarring when viewed alongside the Material Design of Google’s apps. It’s inevitable, but Microsoft Launcher also pushes you towards using Bing rather than Google by default.

Verdict: In terms of all-round performance, usability and features, Microsoft Launcher is the best free launcher you can get. It’s faster than Evie and offers loads more features than the free version of Nova, making it a shoo-in for our top spot.

2. Best launcher for customisation: Nova Launcher

What we liked: Nova Launcher has always been one of our favourite Android launchers because it gives you total control over the way the homescreen and app drawer look. After importing the layout from your current launcher, you can choose to display any number of icons on the home screen, up to a 12 x 12 grid, change their size and appearance, and even remove their labels. Unlike other Launchers, Nova also lets you position apps and widgets halfway between grid cells. There are also handy options to enable a persistent search bar on the home screen and add multiple pages to the dock, so you can get the very look you want.

To make sure you don’t accidentally delete icons or widgets, there’s a homescreen lock and a recent standout feature is Nova’s handy Night Mode, which helps to reduce eye strain when you use your phone after dark. In terms of performance, it’s just about the fastest launcher we’ve ever seen, and you can make it even speedier by adjusting its settings for scroll speed and animation speed.

How it can be improved: Many of Nova Launcher’s best features including gestures, unread counts and the option to hide apps, are only available if you upgrade to the premium version of the app for a one-off cost of £3.99.

Verdict: Nova Launcher offers a level of customisation unmatched by its main rivals. Coupled with its slick performance, we’re confident it will give any device a new lease of life.

3. Best launcher for features: Evie Launcher

What we liked: You might never had heard of Evie Launcher, but don’t think that means it’s not worthy of your attention. Like Nova, it offers an impressive selection of customisation options, letting you change the appearance of the homescreen, app drawer and dock. The app also offers a range of tools that you can only unlock in the premium version, such as unread counts, gestures (swiping up with two fingers launches Google Now and double-tapping locks your phone) and the option to hide apps that you don’t want others to see.

However, what we love the most about Evie is its design. Its menus are carefully thought out and the launcher’s main functions are simple and intuitive – swiping down on the homescreen opens its search and swiping up opens the app drawer. Like our other award winners, Evie comes with the option to back up your homescreens so that you can easily restore your configuration to a new phone.

How it can be improved: There’s almost nothing we disliked about Evie, except that it was noticeably slower than our other award winners. The widgets menu, in particular, was very slow to load, which put us off using it all the time.

Verdict: Evie would have been a strong candidate for our top spot without its performance flaws. It looks great, has an impressive range of features and, most importantly, is very easy to use.

Best of the rest

4. Google Now Launcher

Google Now Launcher does exactly what it says on the tin and brings Google Now to your homescreen, where you can view it with a simple swipe right. It’s a great choice if you want to make your phone or tablet run quickly and look like the standard version of Android that Google uses on its phones, but there are far fewer tools and customisation options than our award winners.

5. Yahoo Aviate

If you want a launcher that will automatically organise everything for you, Aviate is as good as they get. Swipe left and you’ll find ‘collections’ of apps including Productivity, Entertainment, Social, Music and Photography. Swiping right displays a page of handy cards containing news, weather, calendar events and more. Our only criticism is that Aviate lacks many basic customisation options, so you’re largely stuck with what it gives you.

6. Action Launcher

This versatile launcher brings many of Android Oreo’s features to your device including adaptive icons, notification dots and Google Now integration. Like Nova Launcher, it also gives you heaps of customisation options. However, it’s not obvious until you install the launcher that many features aren’t included in the free version. It also frequently pushes you to upgrade to Action Launcher Plus at a cost of £4.49.

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