As most of you know, there are a lot of launchers out there. In order to stay competitive, developers have to release homescreen replacements with an optimal balance of features, smooth performance, and customization. Since the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, the development community has been working on producing launchers that keep the beauty and experience of the stock ICS aesthetic but with additional customization and options. How well does Apex Launcher stack up against the competition?
Apex Launcher, from developer Android Does, has just left beta and is now available in the Google Play Store. Like other ICS homescreen replacements, it keeps the original visual design of Ice Cream Sandwich, but with several additional treats. When you are first presented with your (default of five, but expandable up to nine) homescreens, you will notice that the much-lamented and normally static Google Search widget can be removed, and by default is only present on the primary homescreen. Clicking on the Apex Settings icon, accessible either in the app drawer in the upper right corner or by default on the primary homescreen, leads us into a bevy of options:
From this point, we can access the various menus. Homescreen Settings will allow you to change the number of screens and the default screens, as well as the portrait and landscape grid size. This can be valuable, particularly if you often use your phone in landscape mode. (There is an option in Apex Settings>Behavior Settings to change the screen orientation as well.) In Homescreen Settings, you can also change the vertical and horizontal margins, scrolling, the minimum scrolling time when scrolling through pages, and the homescreen preview animations. There are also the standard options, like enabling or disabling wallpaper scrolling and the use of the homescreen indicator. Personally, one of my favorites are Apex’s transition effects:
Fans of old-school launchers will be extremely excited to see that Apex includes a feature that most Ice Cream Sandwich home screen replacements leave out: the ability to change how the App Drawer is displayed. You can choose from horizontal paginated (standard ICS), vertical paginated, and vertical continuous. I have had several discussions with people that have explained that the option to use a vertical continuous app drawer is what is keeping them on a non-ICS launcher. The developers did a good thing including this option. There are numerous other customization options inside the Drawer Settings menu as well, including background transparency, animation settings, scrolling options, transition effects, and which app tabs are shown. By default, Apex includes a “Downloaded” tab that shows recently downloaded applications. You can also hide app and widget labels inside the drawer. Another nice option that the developers include is the ability to change the icon in the upper right corner.
Moving on down the list of features, you also have the ability to change the number of dock pages, icons, and the size of the margin. For those looking for a more minimalist screen, hiding the dock divider is an option.
One of my personal favorites is Apex’s Folder Settings menu. The new implementation of folders in Ice Cream Sandwich has been a huge hit, and most have been using them to their maximum potential. Inside the menu, you can change the way folders are previewed on your homescreens, hide the folder name, and hide the icon labels inside the folders. For even more customization, you can change the folder background. There are several choices that Apex includes, or you can even choose to add your own custom background if you are so inclined. For those interested in using custom icons on the homescreen itself, Apex does allow you to edit folder icons and use a custom image as well.
In addition to the variety of appearance settings, Apex also has a Behavior Settings menu that allows you to change the action of the Home key and the way it reacts to movement around your homescreens. The launcher also includes a variety of gesture options, including a variety of choices for Swipe Up, Swipe Down, and Double Tap. One of the nicest things about the Double Tap gesture is that by default, it opens up the Apex Settings menu, leaving you free to change the icon in the drawer and able to keep your homescreens as minimalistic as you’d like them to be. There are also haptic feedback settings, which include the ability to enable or disable haptic feedback for the press of the App Drawer button, icon long press, and desktop long press.
Finally, under Advanced Settings, there are options for customizing the menu, the ability to resize any widget, default launcher settings, and update checks. Here, you can have the launcher set to automatically notify you when there is an update (including beta versions) although if you are only interested in stable versions, feel free to simply check the Google Play Store. Apex also has the ability to back up and restore settings for those of you who are ROM flashaholics. (You know who you are!)
The developers at Android Does have brought a fantastic new option to the table with a ton of features that still manages to run extremely smoothly. The launcher is gaining quickly in popularity, with developers like droidth3ory including it in AXI0M CROSSBREED and kejar31 including it in his latest version of GummyNex. If you’re looking for a new launcher with an enormous amount of customization and some features that the others still don’t have, while still maintaining a streamlined ICS experience, I’d suggest you give Apex a try. It is currently free in the Google Play Store!