New Xoom Launcher

I recently found a new launcher for Android that’s really awesome!  I had been using ADW Launcher for some time now, and thought it was the best one out there… up until about a week ago.  I’ve given it a week to make sure it didn’t turn out to be another one of those flashy homescreen apps that turns out to be riddled with bugs, very clunky and a terrible experience, before I went ahead and posted something recommending it.  So you can rest assured, it’s a pretty sweet launcher.

I found it after browsing around on and looking at other users’ homescreens.  Several of them were using something called “Apex Launcher Pro”, and that intrigued me.  The next thing I know I’m installing it on my tablet and digging in deep.  This one isn’t for everyone though–it’s only for ICS (a.k.a Ice Cream Sandwich, or Android 4).  So it won’t run on my phone, only my tablet.  That is, until US Cellular finally releases an Android 4 phone… then I’ll be all over THAT.

Anyway, since it’s designed specifically for Android 4, it looks and feels a LOT like the stock Android 4 launcher–everything is there, the very smooth-scrolling screens outlined in their box containers (only seen when scrolling your homescreens), the smooth page-by-page app drawer icons and widget pages… everything is still there, except there’s tons MORE you can now do and change.   Every feature seems to have added abilities.  Everything from Folders (which can now have square outlines, circle outlines, custom outlines, or even take on “iPad-like” grid qualities) to what happens when you press the Home button, to how you want your app drawer to look and act… and yes, you can even adjust your “grid size”, having more or less icons and widgets on each homescreen, whetever you prefer.  You can cram them full with a grid of 10×10 (100 icons per screen!) if you like, or even bring it down to 4×4 to make it look just like a phone display on your tablet!

Apex’s settings screens even look exactly like Android 4’s settings pages, so it all blends together perfectly, making it just feel right.  I think this is really the first launcher I’ve used where, after a week of use, I really have no complaints at all.  I haven’t found a single one of those little “gotchas” yet that spoil the whole experience.

There’s a free version of Apex Launcher, so you can try it out and see if it looks like it’ll work ok for you.  Then there’s the full “Pro” version, which is actually just a key that unlocks all of the free version’s features, for $3.99.  The Pro version includes a bunch more transitions and many additional features that make it a truly great experience way beyond the stock launcher.  Give it a shot if you’re running Android 4… go ahead, add some sprinkles to your Ice Cream Sandwich!  Hey… aren’t those called “Jimmies”?  Ha!


First Impressions of Android 4

Android 4 Screenshot (using ADW Launcher EX)Android 4, also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich” or “ICS”, has been out for a few months in the Android community, first as just a “raw” version from Android, and most recently as the newest OS for Android phones and tablets.  The Motorola Xoom (the tablet I have) was supposed to be one of the first tablets to receive ICS, and it’s being pushed out over the air this week to them.  Kevin got his yesterday, and I got mine this morning.

If they could have been just a few weeks quicker, this would have made a great Christmas present for all Xoom owners!  So far I’m really enjoying all of the new features and enhancements.  The only thing I can complain about (and I have the same issue with ALL Android versions to date) is the way they design their launcher home screens.  They really don’t give you much room for widgets and icons, leaving huge chunks of screen real estate on the left and right sides and between objects, just so you can click the edges to flip home screens and to make everything very clear and separated.  It’s not like it’s an impossible task.  They could at least throw in options to change your grid size & border sizes, and make the defaults what it has now.  That way, geeks like me could always dig in there and tweak things the way we like.  I’m sure there are plenty of Android fans out there in addition to me, who went “the Android way” primarily for the freedom it provides in many ways–from the ability to install apps from anywhere, not just the official Market–to the ability to add all the widgets and icons you want all over your home screens, so why wouldn’t they just throw in all of the options under the hood?  Maybe they’re leaving it open for the developers to build upon… which is exactly where I went to get the launcher I always dreamed of.  Read on.

That’s all I can complain about with ICS though, it’s home screen layout.  And that’s nothing really, because there are plenty of alternative home screen launchers available to give me what I crave.  I settled on ADW Launcher Ex a while back, and I haven’t found a better launcher since.  Particularly for Honeycomb (Android 3) and now ICS.  ADW has been frequently updated and enhanced to work with these versions, and it shows.  This isn’t a review for ADW though, so let me get back to ICS.

ICS is the first version of Android to have built-in screenshot capability!  POWER-VOL-DOWN on the Xoom will snap a screenshot.

All of the built-in apps have been enhanced a great deal: The camera and video recorder both have many new features, including the ability to take great 1-click panorama photos, add live facial special effects to videos, and much more.

A new font called “Roboto” makes the entire interface look much slicker, sharper and clearer, as well many apps which use the system’s default font.

A basic photo editor is now built into Gallery (called “Photo Studio”), so you can do basic editing, color correction and even perform a lot of photo effects without even installing an editing app.

The browser is much better, faster, smoother, and includes more zoom & pan features as well as the new ability to save web pages for offline viewing.

You can create folders by simply dragging one app onto another one. (Nice feature for Android to finally have, but it’s been in ADW for a long time, so it’s nothing new to me)

It has improved spell-checking and keyboard functionality, as well as new options for typing what you speak.  I haven’t tried the speaking features yet though, so I can’t comment on them yet.

You can now resize most widgets whatever way you want, which is awesome, but again, ADW has done this for some time, so it’s nothing new to me.

You can now go directly to the camera from the lock screen, and if you’re playing music, the lock screen also shows the music player options and the album art for the music currently playing.

To sum it up, I think this is an awesome upgrade from Android 3, so if you have the option on your device I wouldn’t hesitate to install it.  This is also Google’s first “unifying” OS–designed for both Android Tablets and Android Phones, so you can expect to hear about it more and more in the future.  You sure can’t beat the price, that’s for sure!


Android Update

How’s everyone like their Xoom?  Mine’s still awesome. I can’t stop changing things though.  I love all the options and I’m constantly trying new apps, new Launchers, and new widgets.  I sure wish there were an app that would automatically switch between my home screens for me. I often use my Xoom on my desk at work as a news, weather, twitter, facebook and e-mail display, but I can never cram all of that information on a single home screen, so I have to keep swiping back and forth between 2 screens to see everything.  A little app that would automatically do this for me would be awesome, if anyone has ever seen anything like this.  Maybe I’m just too lazy.  Actually though, it’s the opposite–I’m busy doing a bunch of other things, so occasionally I’ll glance at my tablet for an quick peek whenever I can.

Right now I’m using ADW Launcher.  They’ve made it very Honeycomb-friendly these days, so I’m giving it another shot.  The last time I tried it, it would crash randomly, but the new features they added and changed for Honeycomb were really nice! This time so far it’s been running for 2 days without crashing, so we’ll see how it goes.  I love how I can tweak it to push everything edge-to-edge and even cram 10×10 rows & columns on the screen and overlap widgets if I want to.  With ADW I can cram more stuff onto the main home screen I use, but still not everything I want to be able to see at a glance on my desk.  The Mac-like icon bar at the bottom of the home screen is awesome as well as the new option icons it adds to the top of the interface.  It also offers some interesting screen transition effects that are fun to use.

Can’t wait to be able to install Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4) on it though!  And I also just might root this thing soon, if ICS doesn’t come pretty quick.  ICS includes a screenshot app, so I can avoid rooting when it finally gets here.

Keep Xoomin’!