One of the more common complaints about Android is its lack of aesthetic appeal or polish, especially compared to that of iOS and even Windows Phone 7. While Android is not by any means ugly, it almost certainly seems to lack that special something its competitors have. In all likeliness, a quick glance at your phone will reveal a random array of icons, widgets, and folders scattered among your home screens in no particular order.
A typical Android homescreen.
Now, if you are anything like I was, chances are your home screen looks pretty similar to the image above. You will have your core apps that you access frequently like Gmail, Maps, and the camera, a few games like Angry Birds that you like to have easy access to when you need to kill some time, and a few widgets lying around just to make things a little more convenient. Its all functional, yes, but its cluttered.
The first of those apps that you need is a custom launcher like ADW.Launcher, Go Launcher EX, Zeam Launcher, or my personal preference, LauncherPro, all of which you’ll find have free versions in the Market. Using any of these launchers will allow you to choose everything from the number of home screens you have, to which apps you will have set for quick access on your dock. A launcher goes a long way in keeping your home screen looking clean, as they will allow you to keep a lot of the clutter that your icons create confined to the dock area. And, importantly, they don’t restrict you to the 4×4 grid of default launchers.
SiMi Folder offers an attractive folder layout.
The second app you will want is SiMi Folder Widget, also available for free in the Market. Unlike Android built-in folder functionality, SiMi Folder Widget gives you the ability to choose a custom icon, hide the name of the folder which usually appears under the default icon, and set how you want the actual folder popup menu to appear. Its a hugely versatile app that does wonders for reducing the amount of clutter on your screen.
There is an unlimited number of ways in which you can customize your layout, all of which I obviously can’t cover, so I’ll just give you a general guide on how to get started. Therefore, I am moving forward under the assumption that you’ve chosen to use LauncherPro.
The first thing you will want to do is set your new launcher as the default. If you downloaded it from the Market, you will find that you get a prompt asking you which one you want to use. Select LauncherPro, tick the box that says “use by default”, and you are good to go.
Once you have that completed, the first thing you are going to want to do is tweak its settings. Do this by pressing your Menu button, then going to Preferences. Here you will be able to change everything from the number of home screens you have to whether or not you want the notification bar at the top to show. Play around with the settings until you find what you’re comfortable with, and restart if prompted.
After getting all that set up, the next thing you will want to do is set what applications you want to have launch from the dock. In the case of LauncherPro, the dock is set to launch the dialer, your contacts, the app drawer, messaging, and your browser by default. To change any of these, simply long press on the icon and you will get a menu that offers you the ability to select the app you want to launch as well as the icon set for it. One of the great things about LauncherPro is that it comes bundled with a very attractive set of icons for you to use by default.
Changing the Look
Go through your home screens and take note of what you really need on there and what can be safely tucked away in your app drawer without being missed too much. Now remove everything. Do not worry, we will eventually be bringing back the apps you need in some form or another, but if you want a clean home screen, you have got to start with a clean slate.
Now that everything cleared out of the way, its time to start repopulating everything. Before you touch your phone, take a look at the list of apps you would considered absolutely necessary for your home screens. More likely than not, you’ll be able to categorize those apps in some form or another. For example, my "absolutely need" apps are categorized as follows:
- System Apps (things that are or affect core functions) – ASTRO, Quadrant, Voodoo Control, Calculator, Notepad, and Market
- Media (sights and sounds) – Camera, Gallery, YouTube, Pandora, Music
- Games (exactly what it sounds like) – The list is too long, but just know that I’ve got about 20 different variations of Angry Birds in there
- Social – Facebook, Reddit is Fun, Yelp, Movies, RedBox, ESPN ScoreCenter
- Utilities (things that make life a little bit easier) – Maps, Goggles, SearchLight, Wikipedia
What we are going to do is make each of those categories you created its own folder. But, before you jump the gun and start using the built in Android folders, remember that the purpose of this is to make your phone attractive and those default icons are anything but.
A completed SiMi Folder layout.
So, now that you have got SiMi Folder installed, go ahead and long press on an empty area of your home screen, select Widgets, and scroll down until you see the SiMi Folder listings. Select the size you want your new folder to be, and you will get pulled into the SiMi Folder application.
SiMi Folder allows you to customize folders with a variety of options.
Once in there, tap Settings, and then select "Add Folder". From there, its straight forward. Choose the apps you want residing inside the folder, the layout, the label, the text for the label, and of course, the icon. After finishing, save the folder’s settings, select it, and voila! You will have your nice, new, attractive folder icon on your desktop.
Play around with the amount of rows/columns in your launcher settings to get the spacing right, then rinse and repeat for your other categories and you are set! No more apps randomly scattered about, and you have got a nice, consistent looking theme throughout as well.