By Ermal Hajrizi
One of the greatest strengths of Google’s Android operating system is the ability to customize your phone with endless possibilities. One of the major ways this can be accomplished is through launchers. Launchers are essentially “skins” – similar to those that ship with various phones built by third-party manufacturers – that change the entire aesthetic of the phone’s software.
Launcher 8 - developed by QiHang Dev Team – is a free app that completely overhauls the Android look for a striking replica of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 UI. Complete with tiles and typography, Launcher 8 does a respectable job on the looks, but does it measure up on functionality?
Launcher 8 looks like Windows Phone 8. Tiles look authentic. The app drawer follows the same design principle. The home screen and app drawer work exactly as they do in the real deal. The tiles, depending on your screen’s resolution, look very crisp and sleek, with perfect symmetry across the display. The design philosophy can even be carried to the status bar with a customized setting.
Home Screen and App Drawer
In general, the launcher is superbly smooth and fast. Windows Phone is renowned for a unparalleled flow, and Launcher 8 captures this feeling with a great degree of accuracy. In terms of speed, I haven’t noticed any discernible difference compared to the stock launcher. In fact, Launcher 8 seems to provide a speed boost. The launcher allows you to pin tiles to your home screen that, when clicked, open up full apps that you designate upon setting up the tile.
Unfortunately, the tiles aren’t live – one of the main selling points of Windows Phone. Instead of displaying constant streams of notifications across the tiles, the experience has been downgraded to a more static one, showing only a small notification such as the number of missed text messages. Speaking of notifications, they don’t work very well. I noticed that many notifications went…unnoticed. There seems to be a problem with inconsistent reporting of notifications, and they’re occasionally lost, too. Notification issues are augmented even more when your phone’s settings require some type of password to unlock the device.
In addition, Launcher 8 seems to have some minor problems with the messaging app. I encountered several instances where, for seemingly no reason, my messages disappeared, only to randomly appear later on. During this brief, inexplicable loss of messaging capability, I was still receiving texts, but I couldn’t actually open or see them.
The lock screen on Launcher 8 is a fully customizable affair. You can choose to keep the normal, Android lock screen, or you can opt for a Windows Phone-esqe design. The Launcher 8 choice is a simple, minimalistic layout, featuring your desire wallpaper along with the time and date, which can be easily shifted in terms of positioning.
Unfortunately, if you choose Launcher 8′s offering, you lose the ability to set a password or pattern lock. In order to unlock the phone, you simply swipe up, “pushing” the screen away and revealing the home screen. In practice, I noticed a few hiccups where the lock screen became jittery and wouldn’t immediately respond or not show up at all, but in general, it worked great.
When awoken from Sleep mode, the lock screen displays the bare-minimum in regard to notifications. A small number and icon represent messages and phone calls, but not much else. Things like Facebook or Twitter notifications are nowhere to be found, and you’ll have to unlock the device to see them.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Launcher 8 is the huge amount of customizability options to truly make it feel like a personally-tailored experience. To set tiles, you simply need to long-press anywhere on the home screen. Once a tile appears, you have the option of linking an app to it, changing the icon, changing the color, changing the size, and changing the position. If you want, you can set a tile directly from the app drawer by long-pressing on the desired app.
With a massive amount of colors and icons, the possibilities are limitless. Each tile can be a unique color, and sizes vary widely, giving you even more selection than the real Windows Phone 8. Further, you can add your own, custom icons if you so choose.
Much of the customization options can be found by pressing your phones “Menu” button, which brings up a bar with several sub-menus, including theme, wallpaper, settings, edit, etc. From here, you can change almost any aspect of the design to suit your liking, including the color of the app drawer.
Launcher 8 isn’t the first Windows Phone imitator. Others have tried before, but the results were unsatisfactory. One of the greatest downfalls of potential Windows Phone launchers on Android is the difficulty of implanting widgets gracefully. Fortunately, Launcher 8 does a great job of this, and the process is extremely straightforward. Holding a finger to a blank area on the screen draws up a menu from which you can view a list of available widgets. Once selected, the widget shows up on a tile of specified dimensions and characteristics, and works as it would on stock Android. The implementation is a no-frills affair, and it works tremendously well.
After using Launcher 8 for the past few days, I have to say that it has far exceed my expectations, which were admittedly low. The skin is buttery smooth and is, in general, very stable. Although there are a few bugs that I hope will receive attention sooner rather than later, they do little to detract from the overall experience, which is great, especially since it’s free. I’m even using it as my daily driver.