App and game reviews by Mobilism's Android Reviews team
May 4th, 2017, 4:57 pm
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App: Nova Launcher v5.4.1
Developer: TeslaCoil Software
Category: Personalization
Price: $4.99
IAP: N/A

Nova Launcher is arguably one of the most popular replacements for stock Android launchers on the market that presents an amazing array of options to customize your Home screen to your tastes. Every manufacturer ships their relative devices with their own custom version of Android that is accessed by the main user interface, which is called a launcher. These limited launchers dictate how the Home screen, App Drawer, Widgets and folders look, operate, scale and behave for a general user experience of the device. Most modern Samsung devices include the infamous TouchWiz UI that runs as an overlay on top of Android to cater to hardware features, but can gobble memory and cause conflicts with apps at times. Google's stock launcher is probably the most seamless, but does not allow for much customization whatsoever, much like every other stock version of Android out there.

For those who are stuck with a glowing white Google search bar on top of their Home screen, I feel your immense disdain and anguish. Some devices only have a few panels available for the Home screen to swipe between with no option to loop infinitely. Others have fixed amounts of icons and folders at set sizes at the bottom within the shortcut tray. Quite a few launchers throw all your Widgets haphazardly within countless pages to scroll through with no rhyme or reason to order. Then there are the prankster developers who decide it's a great idea to permanently color your notification bar bright orange, just because they can. For all these irritating issues and more, Nova Launcher comes to the rescue to put aesthetic control into your hands where it belongs with Android. Not all devices are capable of running a custom launcher without some tweaking or root access such as the Amazon Fire devices, but those that can will be treated to a streamlined experience that is simple to revert back to stock. There is nothing to lose by checking it out either way, so ditch that boring UI and let's launch some awesomeness!


Home Improvement

Most of my devices were running stock Google with various versions of Android, but over time I decided that I needed to take control with more features that make sense to me, not to Google. Desires started coming to mind like the size and numbers of icons in the shortcut tray, gesture support, a better Widget system, unread notification badges for icons, transparent windows, smarter folder management, function shortcuts, a more functional App Drawer and spiffy transition effects that are only seen on expensive new phones. As comfortable as I was with the stock Google launcher, it was time to throw in the towel to gain all of those benefits in a single exhaustive package of robust options to play with. I knew exactly the look I wanted and how I wanted things to work, so upon installing Nova Launcher I dove straight into the daunting settings page starting with the top group of options, then worked my way down after some trial and error. After a mere fifteen minutes of tweaking, I had just about arrived at my vision of a perfect Home screen and user experience that suited me much better than before.

Nova Launcher Prime offers a plugin called Tesla Unread that creates an inset badge graphic with a number count of unread notifications for email, calls, SMS, and social networking app icons. Like most modern devices, this allows you to see at a glance if you missed anything by simply looking at the shortcuts. This is something Google has ignored with past devices for some reason, so I was thrilled to finally be treated to some convenience after manually checking apps for years. After more tweaks in search of complete perfection, I reached my goal of obtaining "My Device" well within an hour of loading Nova Launcher. The settings page is chock full of options that will have you trying things just for the sake of experimentation, but it is time well spent to understand the power and capability of this marvelous launcher. There are quite a few launchers on the market that are build for speed, one-handed operation or slim memory footprints, but Nova Launcher offers a full suite of goodies that is unrivaled in function. I actually saved some memory with Nova Launcher as the stock Google launcher had quite a bit larger memory footprint with hardly any options to show for it. The results were crystal clear; I was never going back again after this change.


Top Drawer Customization

One of the settings groups to customize pertains to how the App Drawer appears and functions as a whole. Most devices I have seen offer pages that are swiped either horizontally from the first page to the last, or vertically as one long scroll fest to reach the bottom with no quick way to get back to the top. Some have a blinding white background in Material Design, others have very little options other than wasting your time. Nova really shines here to allow you to decide how you want the interface to navigate, function and appear in general. Icon grid resolution can be scaled both horizontally and vertically, text style and color can be changed, background color and transparency are options, infinite scroll can be toggled and quite a bit more to cater to your personal tastes. My ZTE ZMax Pro phone could signal ships like a lighthouse with the stock configuration, but after Nova was installed, it turned into a fast, efficient, sexy, dark, transparent haven for all my icons.

Not to be outdone by vanity, functionality is right there with it to add folders to the App Drawer that can be set to reside above or below your icons. These can include groups of apps, shortcuts or functions that ship with Nova that interact with the Android system. Tabs can also be created to house categorized groups of the same for even more options with the ability to show them above or below the App Drawer. Another great optional feature is the Drawer can be set to remember its relative position when you run an app or exit, which is handy for switching back and forth between apps. The infinite scroll option remains a favorite as it will cycle back to the first page when you swipe from the last page of apps in the Drawer. This option is also included for the main Home panels and the shortcut tray on the bottom, which can also be shown on the top! You can also hide specific app icons from the App Drawer if you want them gone, which is a great feature for a lot of Live Wallpaper icons that sometimes do very little than to launch the Live Wallpaper Setup screen. There are some other nice additions like select commands you can place in the App Drawer like the Google Play Store shortcut, among other things. Once set up the way you prefer, you will wonder how you lived without this degree of control in the past, believe me.


Wonderfully Wise Widgets

This is an area that truly could use a massive redesign with the stock Google launcher that simply throws hundreds of Widgets on almost a dozen pages to scroll through. Most of time, it was a difficult affair trying to locate that one obscure little resource monitor Widget that was developed by someone I couldn't recall. Google absolutely loves plastering the Widget pages with all their little doodads that nobody uses or cares about, and it clogs up this entire area as their apps can't be removed. Those days are over! Nova Launcher brilliantly decided to group all Widgets together relative to the name of the app with large previews, which ultimately means that things are actually organized and easy to find at a glance. No more searching for that little volume slider thing among a sea of volume slider things in an endless list. Besides this clever new system, there aren't too many revolutionary options for the actual Widgets drawer at this time, however. Also, I am using a nifty Black Color Mod version because, well, black. Unfortunately, only my Widgets Drawer has a teal-blue background while the rest of the design I have set is transparent black. It's not clear if the modified version is doing this, but there is no option to set these color options for the Widget Drawer separately. Perhaps the next modified version will have a more uniform look.

Tied in with the Home screen icon scaling options is a grid resolution setting that is shared with Widgets, or anything you place on the Home screen, ultimately. Higher grid settings will allow you to resize the Widgets much more accurately for that exact fit where you need it. There is also an overlap option that will accommodate setting Widgets on top of other assets on the screen. Looking at the first screenshot below, you can see how I placed the HD Widgets clock snug on top of the bottom of the sexy new transparent Google Search bar, courtesy of Nova Launcher. Getting that degree of accurate placement was absolutely impossible with the stock Google launcher, and a lifesaver feature that made me very happy with Nova. My Nexus 10 tablet had a very large padding on the top of about two inches with the stock launcher that disallowed placement of anything on the screen, which completely went away with Nova. Now I can use every bit of screen real estate to my liking without being hindered by corporate design flaws. In all honesty, I haven't been impressed with Google's version of Android since KitKat v4.4.4, and I sometimes wonder what kind of brownies they are eating over there.


Kind Gestures That Save Time

Included within Nova Launcher is a set of eleven gestures that can be configured for myriad of useful things that will save time, as well as your poor hardware buttons that take a daily beating. These gestures range from the standard variants of two-finger swipes, up and down, to more obscure and difficult actions like two-finger clockwise and counter-clockwise circular swipes. These gestures are the icing on the Nova cake as they can be used to launch apps, run shortcuts or trigger Nova's generous inclusion of built-in system functions to lightning fast commands. As I am normally on top of things using my Nexus 10, I don't care for notification spam as it gets crazy and distracting at times, especially with virus scanning affirmations after installing apps. To remedy this, I set a two-finger down-swipe with Clear All Notifications from Google Play that allows me to clear all notifications with a super quick gesture. I use a two-finger counter-clockwise circular swipe to trigger the lock screen, which turns off the screen in my case. The opposite direction clears my device memory of running apps by pairing it with a shortcut from 3C Toolbox. Marvelous I say! You are limited to your imagination regarding combinations you can devise to make your life easier, and to boost your efficiency in the process. These gestures should be a standard feature with Google's Android, but instead they focus on hardware toenail monitors and sensors for the surface temperature of Uranus. Again, brownies.


Have It Your Way!

Nova Launcher is indeed one of those apps that you didn't know you were missing until you install it and start tweaking to your heart's content. If you are a control freak, picky about design, often pressed for time, or simply have corporate dissent over inefficiency, Nova Launcher will open your eyes to a new path. As with every app, there are some things I'd like to see added or changed, but it's really close to the mark as it stands at present. The Recent Apps screen is virtually untouched with no Clear All button, which is a heated debate regarding memory management by developers. However, I don't like my app history sitting in a list and taking up memory, and it should be my choice to clear it all out with one button. More gestures would be nice as I'm not sure how they arrived at eleven total, but that's a minor nitpick as that is a healthy number. Another thing is the previews for the Live Wallpapers is much smaller than what I'm used to as it's like scrolling avatars, not full preview images, but the trade-off is that you get more on the screen at the same time. The price is $4.99 for Nova Launcher Prime, which includes Tesla Unread functionality, and some might find this to be a bit steep for a launcher. I have to say you aren't getting a simple launcher with this package as it will take some time to comb through all the options and settings. It's not a complex procedure, but a rather enjoyable time for those who love to customize their devices. In the end, you get a device that looks, functions and performs exactly the way you want it to.

Yet another cool trick is to use the export settings option after you get everything just perfect, then blast that save file to a new device. You can then install Nova Launcher anew on that device, then simply import those settings to clone your set up to that device. I did exactly this going from a ten inch tablet to a phone, and there were minimal tweaks to scale icons and grid size to get it just right. Now you can truly clone Androids all over the place and get the same gestures, features and look of all your devices. This import and export feature also allows you to experiment further, but still retain your preferred settings in case you get too crazy, which is always possible. Trading settings files with friends or downloading from users on the Internet is also a possibility for the brave. I have heard quite a few users install Nova simply to get rid of TouchWiz on Samsung phones, and other devices that also have overlay systems that aren't too popular. This might limit S-Pen functionality with the Samsung Note series, so try the free version first and experiment before committing to a purchase. I'm looking forward to seeing what TeslaCoil Software has in store for future features and additions to this splendid system they created. As you can always revert back to the stock launcher easily, I highly recommend giving Nova Launcher a try to get a taste of the good life, and to take control of your own device, once and for all.

Pros:
  • Customization done right!
  • Make your device yours, finally!
  • Amazing and useful options galore.
  • Fast, efficient, pretty, smart and functional.
  • If you can imagine it, you can probably design it.

Cons:
  • A bit pricey, but worth the cost.
  • Recent Apps screen needs a Clear All button.
  • More gestures and actions would be appreciated.
  • Live Wallpaper previews are a bit on the small side.

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Reviewer rating: Image
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, ZTE ZMax Pro, Nexus 7 2012 & 2013, Nexus 10 / KK v4.4.2 & v4.4.4, MM v6.01

Purchase at Google Play
Mobilism: Nova Launcher v5.4.1 + TeslaUnread v5.0.8 Final [Prime]


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May 4th, 2017, 4:57 pm
May 13th, 2017, 1:14 am
When I first started playing with Android, I went looking for alternative launchers. In earlier days I used a Palm PDA for the sort of things I do with Android now. There were an assortment of launchers available as alternatives to the standard Palm launcher, and I happily settled on a tab based product called Launcher III. My motive was less eye candy than functionality, and I wanted something that complemented and extended how I used my device. Launcher III became a product called Launcher X as Palm moved to ARM based devices and OS 5, and LX became (and remains - I still have a working Palm PDA) my standard launcher of choice and the first thing installed on a new PDA.

Nova Launcher has that status for me under Android. You can download and install the freeware version and likely be quite happy. I was for some time. I bought the Prime version to get access to gestures, which provided some extra convenience.

The current version brings the ability to save and restore layouts, so you can in theory have several completely different layouts on your device and switch between them by restoring the one you want to use this time.

And it's certainly customizable. Someone elsewhere posted detail instructions and supporting files to make your device look and act like Google's Pixel phone when your device isn't a Pixel. My device is a tablet, not a phone, and I don't want it to look like a Pixel, but the significant thing is that with Nova, you can do that.

The only area where I disagree with the review is the Con: that it "pricey". I call it cheap at the price, and would pay more for what I get with it.
May 13th, 2017, 1:14 am
May 14th, 2017, 8:01 pm
iluvatar wrote:When I first started playing with Android, I went looking for alternative launchers. In earlier days I used a Palm PDA for the sort of things I do with Android now. There were an assortment of launchers available as alternatives to the standard Palm launcher, and I happily settled on a tab based product called Launcher III. My motive was less eye candy than functionality, and I wanted something that complemented and extended how I used my device. Launcher III became a product called Launcher X as Palm moved to ARM based devices and OS 5, and LX became (and remains - I still have a working Palm PDA) my standard launcher of choice and the first thing installed on a new PDA.

Thanks for the history lesson with the launcher method for Palm PDA, which I am indeed not familiar with as I jumped into the device game later down the line. I almost always gravitate to products that lean toward functionality over form, so I know exactly what you are saying here. I think Nova Launcher strikes a nice balance between the two seamlessly.

iluvatar wrote:Nova Launcher has that status for me under Android. You can download and install the freeware version and likely be quite happy. I was for some time. I bought the Prime version to get access to gestures, which provided some extra convenience.

The gestures certainly lured me to Prime as that was exactly what I was looking for to aid in redundant tasks, almost hourly. They can be easily configured to really save wear and tear on the physical buttons that have limited life spans over years of usage. Even as decent as the basic core package is, Prime really opens the door to creative opportunities to those who love to experiment with their UI/UX scenarios.

iluvatar wrote:The current version brings the ability to save and restore layouts, so you can in theory have several completely different layouts on your device and switch between them by restoring the one you want to use this time.

That brings up a good point that I did not include in the review. Depending on specific tasks, environment, required functionality or a desire for certain efficient routines, you may load up particular layouts to suit your immediate needs. This is definitely a strong suit of Nova as it allows for rapid switching between layouts with minimal fuss in the process, and also allows you to share them with your friends who also run the Prime version.

iluvatar wrote:And it's certainly customizable. Someone elsewhere posted detail instructions and supporting files to make your device look and act like Google's Pixel phone when your device isn't a Pixel. My device is a tablet, not a phone, and I don't want it to look like a Pixel, but the significant thing is that with Nova, you can do that.

It's really limited to your imagination as to what you can do with Nova. I'm still looking at external apps to add to the list of Nova's built-in actions to squeeze that extra drop of performance out of it. I would love to own a Pixel, but there's no way I'll be forking out $1,200 anytime soon, so at least there is a way to get a similar experience without having to take out a loan. However, for me personally, five out of the six devices I currently own are actual Google devices, so my goal was to get as far away from their thinking process as possible to find better ways of doing things. Their particular devices are locked down to practically force users to use their apps, widgets and stock launcher the way they intended with little room to deviate. Nova finally allowed me to break free from the rusty cage to engage in my own thought process, which was a breath of fresh air after all those years.

iluvatar wrote:The only area where I disagree with the review is the Con: that it "pricey". I call it cheap at the price, and would pay more for what I get with it.

This is always a subjective statement as most people I see complaining on Google Play with $1 apps will rage twice as hard if they were paying $5. It really depends on outlook, attitude and relative financial position of the individual to determine whether or not an app is worth a price point above a median average. People tend to get wallet-shy over the $5 price point until they can either afford it with ease, or simply justify forking out that amount for an app. I really have no issues supporting something that brings this much functionality to the table, but others will argue feature per penny until the cows come home. Presenting the same deal to a high school freshman as you would to a business executive, there would probably be two very different opinions in the matter.
May 14th, 2017, 8:01 pm
Jun 16th, 2017, 10:09 pm
Shardz wrote:Thanks for the history lesson with the launcher method for Palm PDA, which I am indeed not familiar with as I jumped into the device game later down the line. I almost always gravitate to products that lean toward functionality over form, so I know exactly what you are saying here. I think Nova Launcher strikes a nice balance between the two seamlessly.

<chuckle> There have been UI replacements for nearly as long as there have been computers.

In the MSDOS days, you could get menuing systems to avoid the dreaded C:\> prompt, which likely reached their peak in DesqView, a windowing shell on top of DOS which added an early form of multitasking.

Win3.1 had Program Manager as the default interface, but you could change that by modifying a config file to specify something else as the default shell. I used a freeware app called Workplace Shell for Windows, an IBM Employee Written offering that tried to make Win3.1 look and feel like the Workplace Shell for OS/2. Among other things, it had icons on the desktop Windows didn't get till Win95.

When NT came along, you could run things like the shareware Window Blinds offering to customize the interface.

And I've quite lost track of desktops for Linux. What I normally use under Ubuntu is Gnome Classic, but I have LXDE, XFCE, and Canonical's Unity installed among opthers, and can select which to use from the Login: screen.

It ultimately comes down to what tasks you perform and what is the best fit for your workflow.

The gestures certainly lured me to Prime as that was exactly what I was looking for to aid in redundant tasks, almost hourly. They can be easily configured to really save wear and tear on the physical buttons that have limited life spans over years of usage. Even as decent as the basic core package is, Prime really opens the door to creative opportunities to those who love to experiment with their UI/UX scenarios.

The only gesture I actually use is a simple one - a swipe to hide and reveal the Dock, since screen real estate is precious. The latest versions that let you save and restore configs is prompting me to be more adventurous, because I now can easily revert to a previous setup if my experiments don't work as planned.

That brings up a good point that I did not include in the review. Depending on specific tasks, environment, required functionality or a desire for certain efficient routines, you may load up particular layouts to suit your immediate needs. This is definitely a strong suit of Nova as it allows for rapid switching between layouts with minimal fuss in the process, and also allows you to share them with your friends who also run the Prime version.

And people already are, witness the effort I mentioned to make an Android phone look and act like a Pixel.

It's really limited to your imagination as to what you can do with Nova. I'm still looking at external apps to add to the list of Nova's built-in actions to squeeze that extra drop of performance out of it. I would love to own a Pixel, but there's no way I'll be forking out $1,200 anytime soon, so at least there is a way to get a similar experience without having to take out a loan. However, for me personally, five out of the six devices I currently own are actual Google devices, so my goal was to get as far away from their thinking process as possible to find better ways of doing things. Their particular devices are locked down to practically force users to use their apps, widgets and stock launcher the way they intended with little room to deviate. Nova finally allowed me to break free from the rusty cage to engage in my own thought process, which was a breath of fresh air after all those years.

What sort of things do you do? I have a lot of things installed here, and may be able to make suggestions.

One caveat: my device is a 7" tablet, not a phone. (My phone is the smallest, cheapest, least powerful feature phone Samsung makes, All it does if calls and SMS. Anything else is the job of another device.)

My tablet is my plastic expansion brain. Its primary use case is eBook viewer, using the open source FBReader for Android app. FBReader gets the nod because it handles a variety of formats and I mostly don't have to care what format a book is in to be able to read it. Preference is given to open source offerings, with freeware next, and payware like Nova Prime for really deserving apps. Strong preference goes to things that don't have to be online and work with locally stored data. I can go online via Wifi, but mostly don't, since I may not be near a hotspot. I have a 32gb microSD external card installed full of data I can refer to when I want to Look Stuff Up.

Shardz wrote:
iluvatar wrote:The only area where I disagree with the review is the Con: that it "pricey". I call it cheap at the price, and would pay more for what I get with it.

This is always a subjective statement as most people I see complaining on Google Play with $1 apps will rage twice as hard if they were paying $5. It really depends on outlook, attitude and relative financial position of the individual to determine whether or not an app is worth a price point above a median average. People tend to get wallet-shy over the $5 price point until they can either afford it with ease, or simply justify forking out that amount for an app. I really have no issues supporting something that brings this much functionality to the table, but others will argue feature per penny until the cows come home. Presenting the same deal to a high school freshman as you would to a business executive, there would probably be two very different opinions in the matter.

In my case, it's amused perspective. I recall the early PC days when a popular application like Lotus 1,2,3 or WordPerfect would cost $500 at retail (and the PC you ran it on might cost $5,000.) Time passes, things change, consumer electronics get steadily smaller, faster and cheaper, and our notions of "expensive" change to match. I'm just bemused by folks who think $5 is expensive.
Jun 16th, 2017, 10:09 pm