The ability to use the non-standard launcher is one of the huge differentiating features when comparing Android to the iOS platform. Lately I find myself using the Smart Launcher Pro 2 as my default launcher. I happened to stumble over it while surfing through the Google Play Store. As switching launchers is rather easy, it’s easy to try something different every so often and yet go back to an old one if it doesn’t pan out.
While it keeps the standard launcher paradigm – quick launch keys, widgets and apps drawer, it presents it in a slightly different way. For most Launchers, the quick launch is a bar of 4 icons that you can customize and the 5th icon is reserved as the way to access Apps drawer. Clicking on the Apps drawer allows you to access the list of apps. Widgets are shown throughout all the home screens. Smart Launcher Pro 2 treats them as 3 distinct functions which works very well to deal with cognitive overload.
When you first open the app after installing it, it walks you through an app wizard prompting you to select your default choices for camera, dialer, music, browser, photo gallery and messaging. Once that’s completed, it takes you to a screen which lays out your quick launch icon in an flower pattern. To access your app drawer, you can either tap on the bottom left icon or swipe from the left edge of your screen to the right. To access your widgets, you either tap on the bottom right icon or swipe from right to left.
At first glance, it seems like an insignificant differentiator. After using it for a couple of days, I found myself really enjoying the experience. The phone is a very action oriented device for me. When I am using it, I want to do something and not just glance for information. And the functions I typically want to use are driven by those quick launch buttons I just selected. The other difference that it makes is that because the quick launch actions are the central theme, it’s at the centre of the screen and not at the bottom. The choice to make the buttons in the middle also changes how I hold and interact with the phone for this function. Instead of stretching my thumb to reach the bottom edge of the phone, I can do it comfortably at the centre of the phone. While there are these basic 6 buttons, you can modify them by choosing other apps, shortcuts (specific Android app function), emails or folders.
The app drawer is broken down in categories. There are 5 categories by default but you can add more categories as needed. I use 10 categories on my phone. They are:
Communication – Instant messengers, email and phone
Productivity – Office apps and to-do lists
Reading – RSS Readers, Magazine Readers or Feed Aggregation apps like Flipboard, Feedly and Amazon
Social media – Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare
Maps – Driving or travel related apps like Maps and Waze
Internet – Browsers and other random internet utilities
Media – Photo, Music and Video apps like Plex and Songza
Settings – Things that control and manage my phone
I found this setup working very well for me. Traditionally, I would create 4 folders at the bottom of my screen broken down into the following categories Communication, Reading, Settings and Internet. Given they were folders, I would limit that list to be 6 so I found myself going to the app drawer frequently. With this setup, the entire app drawer is set up this way making it easier for me to navigate and find apps quickly. If I happen to miscategorize an app, I can use the search icon, find the app I’m looking for and then either launch it or categorize it.
The widget screen is where I found Smart Launcher Pro 2 lacking in. It does have many of the same widget functionalities of the other launchers but it doesn’t doesn’t do them well. The thing I do like about it is that you can customize the size of your widget grid. This helps for me to be able to squeeze two widgets on to screens that I would otherwise only have the room to do only one. Launchers like Apex allow you to customize the dimensions of the grid whereas Smart Launcher Pro 2 only allows you to customize it in the form of a square. So you can do a 4 x 4 grid, 5 x 5 grid and so on. This issue is compounded by the fact that when you add a widget to the screen, you have to select the size of the widget by picking the dimensions of it to resize it. All other launchers to date allow you to re-size the widget by dragging the borders which make it quicker to see how the widget will fit on the screen. Given how well the rest of the app works, this is an anomaly and feels like this feature was rushed to market. Hopefully it will be fixed in future releases.
There are a number of small but useful features that I really like about this launcher. I’ll quickly list them out here
- Home screen rotating to landscape mode. I particularly like this when I’m driving as my car mount is a landscape mount. Combined with the quick launch button being upfront, yet having the launcher quickly accessible. This ensures that I’m not distracted while driving and it also results with me not needing to have another launcher just for when I’m driving
- Launching Google Now by monitoring the microphone for “Ok, Google” from the home screen. This feature was introduced in the Motorola X and is also another useful feature for me when I’m driving. This means that I can be completely handsfree while driving. I use this feature typically to create to-do lists as things come up in my head while driving. This actually allows me to record the thought and then promptly forget it after and hence allowing me to focus on driving again
- Plug-ins. I like the idea that new functionality can be added via the Play Store. This hopefully means that I’m not dependent on the developer to constantly come up with new features but a growing third party market will start to support it
- Gestures allows you to pre-program some functions to make it more efficient. This is not unique to this launcher but it’s not lacking in it either
Outside of the awkward widget functionality, the only feature I wish it had was the Google Now screen like the Google Experience Launcher. I’m an avid fan of the Google Now feature. I have the Google Now widget installed but it’s not quite the same experience as the Google Now screen in the GEL.
I typically buy the pro version primarily to support the developer for products that I like. At $4.99, the price is a steal. However, if you wanted to get the standard version the only feature you would not have would be the double finger swipe which I don’t really use anyway.
Overall, Smart Launcher Pro 2 is an awesome launcher that does it’s job well.