Last Friday we found out Action Launcher, a new launcher from developer Chris Lacy, was finally released. There are a few reasons why I was excited about this release. First, if you’re not familiar with Chris Lacy, he’s the developer of the popular twitter client for Android, Tweet Lanes. Tweet Lanes was a beautifully holo styled Twitter app that unfortunately development stopped on due to Twitter’s choking restrictions on 3rd party clients. I used Tweet Lanes for quite a while and it was fun to follow and be a part of it’s development. So, back to Action Launcher… The other reasons I was excited about it’s release is that we’ve know about it’s coming for a while. We saw the preview, and saw that this isn’t your typical, basically stock android launcher with the ability to make tons of tweaks. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. This launcher is simple, clean, and really no gimmicks to be had. It’s a really different take on exploring your Android device. It took a tiny bit of getting used to, but the more I use it, the more I really like it.
So, there are three, maybe four, main features of Action Launcher. The biggest feature in my opinion is the app drawer and how you get to it. No longer is it a big grid of apps that you need to scroll through to get to the app you are opening. It is now a list, much like your contacts list. The purpose of this is to make accessing your apps more convenient and faster. Now if you’re trying to access the YouTube app, you no longer need to scroll through several pages of apps to get to it. You can hit the letter ‘Y’ on the section index and it will take you straight to the app. You maybe thinking to yourself right now, if you want to access an app quickly, put it on your homescreen. And yeah, you could do that. However, there are some people out there who really like to have as little as possible on their homescreen; a clean, minimalist approach. I happen to be one of those people. So I’m really liking this quick-access app drawer. One maybe issue that I’ve run into is with larger display devices, accessing apps at the top of the new app drawer may become a two handed affair. But if you’re using a device with a big screen, you’ve probably already accepted the fact that some actions are going to require two hands.
This now brings us to another feature, and this is why I said maybe four, the homescreen. The homescreen now has a different look. No persistent search bar, but you now have a bar across the top of your display underneath the notification bar that gives you access to that app drawer, Google search, the Play Store, and a button to add widgets or change the wallpaper. Lacy calls this the “Action Bar.” There are also two other ways to access the app drawer besides the “Apps button” in the Action Bar including swiping all the way to he left, and hitting the home button. So if you like using the home button when on the homscreen to go to your home screen, it’s a little awkward at first with this feature. However, I’m no longer using any other homescreen than the one to the farthest left. Action Launcher defaults to giving you 5 home screens, but I’m only using 1. I don’t need to load up my homescreens with apps I need to access quickly, I have a quick access app drawer right to the left.
I suppose you could use some of those extra home screens to the right for things like widgets if you like that sort of thing. Action Launcher brings back a kind of older method for applying widgets to the homescreen. This method has always seemed more intuitive to me than where stock Android has taken it after Gingerbread. With Action Launcher you can long press the home screen, bringing up a that same option I talked about earlier from the Action Bar, a window allowing you to now place an app, widget, or change the wallpaper. The apps and widgets are organized in a nice clean manner in this holo styled window and I think it looks nice. I ran into an issue on my LG Spectrum 2 running Android 4.0.4. For some reason while trying to place a direct dial widget the launcher wouldn’t let me. I tried out this same action on my Samsung Galaxy S II, Epic 4G Touch running Android 4.2.1 and it worked fine. Lacey has already tweeted that he’s aware of the issue and will be fixing it in the next update.
Last, a new and exclusive Action Launcher feature that Lacy dropped on us is what he calls “Covers.” It’s a new take on folders which I think is pretty slick. When you create a folder by dropping an app onto another app like in the stock Android launcher, it will just create a normal folder. When you open the folder, you have the option to make it a Cover. What the Cover will do for you, is make the folder icon whatever app was in the folder first. This isn’t all, now when you hit that cover icon, it will open that app that is first in line in the folder or, if you double click the Cover, it will now open the folder. Lacey demonstrated in his video in the play store a snazzy way to use his Cover feature. He made a Cover with his dialer app, then if he double clicked the dialer app, it had direct dials to people he often called in the folder. So this Cover feature kind of reminded me of swipe actions from Nova Launcher, but Covers are definitely a cool new way to organize your homescreen. It’s definitely a rad option again if you like to keep your homscreen clean and somewhat app free.
So, as I said in the title. It’s simple. It’s smooth. Action Launcher doesn’t have too many customization options other than it’s custom layout. It actually took me a while to realize there are setting that you can play with. When you hit your menu button from the home screen the settings can be brought up from a slection that just reads “settings.” It took me a bit of time to realize those were the settings for Action Launcher. So, you can change the number of homescreens, and make your app drawer or Action Bar background invisible. I have seen Lacy tweet that new features are in the works such as the ability to use icon packs. However, I am enjoying the default Action Launcher custom layout and Covers. Remember, this app is just newly released so there are a few bugs as I mentioned, but what I saw from Lacy while following/using Tweet Lanes is that he listens to the users of his apps and was very interactive through the development of the app. So, if you run into anything, let him know, and my guess is he’ll get to it as quick as he can.
If you’re looking for a fun, clean new twist on an Android launcher, be sure to check out Action Launcer Pro (which is it’s name in the play store). It’s available now in the Google Play store for $3.99 and only for devices running Android 4.0+. A steep price? I don’t know, for now maybe. But it’s definitely a different take on what’s out there and we know more features are on the way. Let us know if you’re using it, or you’re thinking about checking it out by commenting below… fill us in on your thoughts.