Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gadget Goodies 16 -- The Face of Your Device, Part 2

My first smartphone was a Cingular 8525, a 2006 Windows Mobile phone.  That was followed by a number of other devices, with varying OSes. Thanks to a device modding site, xda-developers, that I use to this day, there were a lot of not so stock devices in my hands.  When it recently came time to go with a no contract carrier, I got the Note 2 that I'd been craving.  Functional and attractive.  That got paired with a Nexus 7.

Every device has its own UI (launcher), based on the manufacturer's ideas on what users want.  The launcher is usually OK, but more limited than many of the third party launchers available.  We've looked at one of my favorite launchers, Aviate.  Today, we'll look at the other, Action Launcher Pro.

Just to put things in perspective, when I buy a device, I'm primarily looking for something that will do what I need.  So, whatever launcher I use must make using the device better in some way.  I want it to look good, too.  And I want my phone or tablet personalized.  If I put it down next to another device of the same model, no one should ever be able to pick mine up by mistake because they look exactly the same.  I'm not alone in those requirements.  What you use and why you do may be very different from my choices.  It's one of those selections that's very personal.  But this is the second of the two that, as the saying goes, "float my boat".  Screenshots will be from the Nexus 7.  You can click on them for a larger view.

We mentioned this one when we did our Android top ten. That's my homescreen, to the right.  I should mention that my phone is pretty much an exact match.  Over the years, I've found that it's so much easier to have all my devices matching as much as possible.  Then I'm always doing things the same way, from the same place on the device, from one device to another.

At the top, that left button opens a menu that we'll talk about in the next screenshot.  The magnifier is a search button.  You can set that up for any of a number of provider choices.  The arrowhead is the Play store access icon.  The "hamburger" button to the right accesses settings for ALP (Action Launcher Pro) and the system settings.  That whole row, as well as the notification bar, are settable in ALP to be seen or hidden.  If you hide one or both, they're accessible via gestures.  A swipe down in an unoccupied area gets the notification bar.  A tap gets the menu, search, Play store access, and settings menus.  Otherwise they stay hidden, which leaves a much cleaner homescreen.  Simple is good.

I'm using the SC 86 Color icon set, obtained from the Play store.  The clock is Bl@ckClock by King Rollo. The wallpaper is Background Dark Blue.  I know both are publicly available for free, but I don't recall where I got the wallpaper.  So, I've made it downloadable from the mention, here.  The clock name links to the xda-developers download page.  The Bible widget is Bible Verse  of the Day, by Squarkware. That's available for free in the Play store.

Let's get to the special features.  The first three of which show in our first screenshot.  The first one is the dock, which can have the separator visible or hidden. You have a choice of using it or not.  I chose to use it because you can have a different row spacing from that on your homescreens.  My homescreen is five icons wide, but I use seven in the dock.

Shutters are icons that, when swiped, will show an app's widget.  Tapping will get you to the app itself.  If you just need to view info, it's very handy and conserves space.  Three of the four icons on my homescreen are Shutters.

Covers are similar, except for apps instead of widgets.  Some other launchers do something similar, using an icon stack paradigm.  ALP uses the icon from the first app.  Tapping opens the app, swiping opens the menu of attached apps.  I have my dock set up with my most used apps in seven categories all readily accessible.  If you recall Aviate's Collections from last week's review, these are my ALP equivalent.  Which brings us to the menu I mentioned earlier.

The Quickdrawer menu (shown above) has all the installed apps and widgets in separate areas, available by sideways swiping to open the menu, then tapping the app.  The menu has two features that make it a "killer feature" for me.  One is the fact that you can hide the things you're never going to access from the menu, like icon sets. So, it's clean.  The other feature is the alphabetized tab along the edge.  You can tap on a letter and get to that section of the menu without having to manually scroll through.  Very handy, if you have a lot of apps.

Those are all standard features.  I happen to be running the latest beta for the next version.  Among the things added are the Quickpage, that swipes out from the right side.  If you've ever used one of the add-on side menu apps like Swapps, this is much like the favorites and most recently used functions. Except you can include widgets on Quickpage.  So, whatever combination works for your needs can be done.  Right now, Covers work in the Quickpage, but Shutters don't.  There are settings for both Quickdrawer and Quickpage to make them accessible while in an app.  As I said, these are beta features, so there are likely to be improvements and fixes.  Between the standard features and the beta features, I'm down to one homepage.  Which simplifies things considerably.

All in all, Action Launcher Pro is a class act.  For me, it's a keeper.  I like Aviate just as well, for similar reasons.  Both ought to give you plenty of customizing love.

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