There are three apps — two paid, one free — that I install on every Android phone that crosses my desk. They completely change the look and feel of any phone's interface, and make even the most staid and boring Android handset up to date and modern. If you're getting sick of the way your phone looks, or how you navigate around the touchscreen, give one (or all) of these a try.
Here they are.
Action Launcher, made by Aussie developer Chris Lacy, actually also has a free option, but it's the $3.99 Pro version that unlocks a swathe of useful features — like hiding a bunch of boring system and pre-loaded bloatware apps that you can't uninstall. Even in non-Pro form, though, Action Launcher is utterly functionally beautiful — the Quick Drawer is honestly the easiest method for navigating apps that I've come across, and Covers — folders that launch the first app in the list by default, and must be swiped to access the folder's contents — are really handy if you use one app in a particular category more than any other.
Action Launcher looks and feels like a natural launching pad for the Android ecosystem, and is designed to get you where you need to go, faster. Standout features include: A sliding Quickdrawer for instant access to all your apps and widgets. Covers, an innovative new way to quickly launch apps and shortcuts without compromising the look of your carefully crafted home screen. Shutters, a unique feature that unlocks the power and potential of Android widgets. Swipe an app icon, and that app's widget is automatically created and displayed. Quickpage, a fully featured home screen accessible from the right edge of the screen.
Click UI, at $2.12, is a simple, subtle tweak that really does a hell of a lot to bring the Android interface into 2014. Made by KXNT, it's an icon theme pack that works with a bunch of different launchers — including Action Launcher — and brings a flat, consistent look to your home screen. Click UI's icons are all round, and most of them are made bespoke by the developer, so they all look great and complement each other. Even the standard icons are squeezed into a circle, and if you want a custom-made icon, just request it.
Subtle long shadows. Soft pastel colors. This is the original trendsetter that has inspired many. Click UI is a set of round icons that'll make you fall in love with your Android device all over again. Enjoy. Features: Over 1420+ beautiful icons. 13 HD wallpapers included. Icon request tool. Quick-apply buttons for numerous launchers.
Muzei is the least obvious of the three apps that I install onto every Android phone straight out of the box, and it's the most subtle effect, but also the most impressive when you're showing your new toy off to friends. Muzei is a live wallpaper, but instead of showing gaudy star patterns or laser beams, it's simply a beautifully softly blurred and darkened picture — which doesn't distract from your icons (like most wallpapers I find). Double-tap the background, though, and world-famous work of art unblurs and comes into bright, brilliant view. Backgrounds update daily, and you can install add-on packs like this Studio Ghibli library.
A living museum for your Android home screen. Muzei is a live wallpaper that gently refreshes your home screen each day with famous works of art. It also recedes into the background, blurring and dimming artwork to keep your icons and widgets in the spotlight. Simply double touch the wallpaper or open the Muzei app to enjoy and explore the artwork in its full glory. Alternatively, you can choose your favorite photos from your own gallery or other apps to use on your home screen. To keep your wallpaper fresh, Muzei will rotate through your favorite photos every few hours.
Do you have any favourite apps that make it onto each and every phone you use? Let us know in the comments below.