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Android launcher showdown: LauncherPro, ADW, Zeam, GO Launcher and QuickDesk

Android's greatest, platform-defining feature is customizability. The entire operating system is open-sourced, APIs are laid bare, and almost every user-facing part of the OS can be modified by apps.

There's no surprise, then, that replacement apps exist for almost every part of Android's stock functionality. In turn, to complete the circle of life, new versions of Android incorporate the functionality of replacement apps. It's the ecosystem of replacement apps, in fact, that helps drive Android's disgustingly fast iteration.

Today we're going to look at by far the most popular type of feature-replacement apps: launchers. With strong, age-old offerings from LauncherPro and ADW, and fresh upstarts Zeam, GO Launcher and QuickDesk, the field couldn't be stronger. Competition is driving developers to cram new features in on a weekly basis. The end result, of course, is that you and I get to reap the rewards.

But which launcher replacement is the best? There's only one way to find out.


LauncherPro

While exact download figures aren't available, LauncherPro, with over 250,000 downloads, is probably the most widely-used home screen and app drawer replacement for Android. LauncherPro's unique selling point is its Widgets, which cost $3, and are more than slightly reminiscent of the widgets found in HTC Sense.

Good
For those that like as much data as possible at their fingertips, without having to click through to various apps, LauncherPro's Widgets are exactly what you're looking for. Whether you want to have your Google Calendar always visible on one of your home screens, or you want immediate access to your Twitter feed, there's a widget for you.

The scrolling dock is also best of its class. It does everything that the ADW and Zeam docks do, but it also lets you add swipe gestures to individual icons -- so clicking might open the SMS app, but swiping might open Gmail, for example.

The recently-added home screen transitions are also very sexy indeed.

Bad
Apart from the fact that the widgets cost $3, it's hard to find anything wrong with LauncherPro -- and with a complete code-rewrite due to emerge any time soon, it will only get better.

Who's it best for?
Enthusiasts. While it works quite nicely out of the box, there are simply too many config options for the average user. Users looking for a 'quick fix' should take a look at Zeam instead.

Downloading and compatibility
LauncherPro is available from AppBrain, or use the QR code (right). It's compatible with all devices running Android 2.1 or later. Because the developer is in a country outside Google Checkout's domain, you have to buy the 'pro' version via PayPal (the app will prompt you, when you try to use a LauncherPro Widget).

LauncherPro, an alternate home screen/app drawer for Android


ADWLauncher

If LauncherPro isn't for you, ADWLauncher is usually touted as a viable alternative. The feature sets are very different, though. While LauncherPro has a lot of emphasis on getting things done quickly, ADW is more about taking your time and enjoying the scenery.

Good
ADW's defining feature has to be its huge amount of free themes. Check AppBrain -- at last count it had 476 apps matching 'ADW theme' (and that's 50 more than when we wrote our review of ADW last week!)

It's more configurable than LauncherPro -- but having said that, most of the preferences make no sense at all unless you first read the guide. ADW also has gestures; as in you can swipe up or down on the home screen to launch apps or make calls. You can't swipe icons like LauncherPro, though.

Bad
ADW, perhaps because of its relative immaturity, or because it's so darn configurable, is slow.

Its other weakness is its dock, which is the worst of all the launcher replacements. You can only put up to five shortcuts on it, it can't be scrolled, and there's none of the funky swiping functionality that's available in LauncherPro and GO Launcher.

Who's it best for?
The only way I can recommend ADWLauncher over Zeam or LauncherPro is if you're into customizing your home screen and app drawer in a big way. Otherwise, ADW simply doesn't bring enough to the table.

Downloading and compatibility
ADWLauncher is available from AppBrain, or use the QR code (right). It's compatible with all devices running Android 2.1 or later. There's a pro version which costs $3 and adds some funky iPhone-like and Nexus One-like app drawer replacements, and new home screen transitions.

ADW.Launcher for Android: attractive, but bloated


Zeam

Zeam is by far the most light-weight of the five launcher replacements being compared today. It clocks in at only 400KB, and an equally slimline memory footprint means it's a great choice for older phones. In many ways, Zeam feels like a mix of ADW and LauncherPro -- and while it doesn't have the themes of ADW, it does have the powered-up dock of LauncherPro.

Good
Zeam, thanks to its minimal aesthetic, not only looks fast but feels fast. It's also incredibly simple to use, and unlike the other launchers it actually works very well out of the box.

My favorite feature in Zeam is configurable gestures -- but not only can you bind swipe actions, like ADW, but you can also bind double tapping the screen and the Home hardware button to actions.

Bad
Such simplicity comes at a cost, though. Zeam is relatively unconfigurable -- in fact, other than changing the look and feel of your home screens, there isn't a whole lot you can do.

Who's it best for?
If you're happy with the stock Android launcher, but you want a dock that you can put more items in, Zeam is for you. Because of its relative simplicity, newer Android users might like Zeam too; you don't need to read a guidebook before leaping in -- and that's always a good thing.

Downloading and compatibility
Zeam is available from AppBrain, or you can use the QR code (right). It's compatible with all devices running Android 2.1 or later. There's no pro version available.

Zeam Launcher for Android

GO Launcher EX

To be honest, I was a little bit shocked when I first loaded up GO Launcher EX. It looked strangely familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

After poking around for a bit, I finally worked it out: GO Launcher is a rip off clone of LauncherPro! It might have slightly altered icons, and hilariously re-worded preferences, but it's undoubtedly a clone of LauncherPro.

The thing is, it doesn't stop there. It actually takes LauncherPro and tacks on some of ADW's features!

Good
I hate myself for saying it, but GO Launcher is basically the best of both worlds. It has LauncherPro's swipable dock buttons, but it also has themes and home screen gestures, like ADW. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

If that wasn't cool enough, GO also has a very cool app drawer (which wasn't stolen from anywhere, I hope). With GO, your app drawer is split into All, Recent and Running tabs -- and from the Running tab, you can close all open programs; very cool.

Bad
The only real consolation is that GO Launcher doesn't have LauncherPro's widgets (I guess stealing those would have been too much, eh?)

Who's it best for?
Unless you're attached to LauncherPro's Widgets, or Zeam's minimalism, I can't really see a reason for not using GO Launcher EX.

Downloading and compatibility
GO Launcher EX is available from AppBrain, or you can use the QR code (right). As far as I can tell, EX used to be the pro version, but it's now the free version. There doesn't seem to be a pay-for version available at the moment. It's compatible with all devices running Android 2.1 or later.

GO Launcher EX


QuickDesk

The last entry in our ultimate Android launcher showdown isn't really a launcher replacement. It's more of a launcher augmentation. In essence, QuickDesk improves your ability to multitask on Android by giving you a quick-access home screen that can be accessed at any time with a double tap of the Home key.

The beauty of it, though, is that it doesn't interfere with your current launcher; QuickDesk plays just fine with LauncherPro, ADW, Zeam and GO.

Good
QuickDesk can be opened from anywhere; while you surf, read email, change your phone's settings, and even while making a call. Just double tap the Home button and up QuickDesk slides. Press the Back button and it disappears.

Your QuickDesk is just like a home screen. It can hold widgets and shortcuts, and with the clever use of 'notification icons' you can see which apps are currently running. In the pro version, you can even kill apps with a quick flick of its icon.

At the bottom of your QuickDesk is the QuickPanel, which is basically a scrolling dock. Again, notification icons show you which apps are running -- and they can also be configured to show unread email and SMS counts.

Bad
QuickDesk labels itself as a 'beta', and rightly so. On my Android 2.3 phone I had quite a few app crashes, and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to add items to the QuickPanel -- which, incidentally, is a real pig to slide into position because the 'handle' is tiny, and placed right above two hardware buttons on my phone.

Who's it best for?
Everyone will benefit from installing QuickDesk. It stays out of the way and only helps you when you need it.

The only problem I can foresee is that older phones might struggle to run both QuickDesk and a rich launcher like LauncherPro -- but on a modern phone, it should be fine!

Downloading and compatibility
QuickDesk is available from AppBrain, or use the QR code (right). There's a pro version for $2 that adds a few neat features, but nothing vital. It's compatible with all versions of Android.

QuickDesk for Android

Tags: adw, adw.launcher, app drawer, AppDrawer, apps, features, GO Launcher, GoLauncher, hands-on, home screen, HomeScreen, launcher, launcher replacement, launcherpro, LauncherReplacement, QuickDesk, roundup

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