Huge number of customizable options; Unique widgets and plugins; Tons of special effects
Annoying advertisements; Microtransaction-heavy; Looks awkward on tablets
GO Launcher EX offers a huge amount of customization, themes and widgets, but you'll have to pay for many of those nifty extra features.
One of the most feature-rich Android launchers on the market, GO Launcher EX boasts a huge number of customizable options, a plethora of unique widgets and wonderful special effects. However, you'll be disappointed if you're looking to install GO Launcher EX on your tablet, or enjoy all of its features without shelling out extra cash. Read on to find out if you should replace your current Android skin with GO Launcher EX.
Themes and Appearance
Dozens of additional themes can be downloaded and managed from the GO Themes app. Most of the themes are quite cartoonish, featuring oversize icons and wallpapers that look like they were ripped straight from DeviantArt. There are a few diamonds in the rough, however, such as the nature-themed Green GO Launcher Theme and the minimalistic Vita GO Reward Theme. Unfortunately, many of the best themes aren't free -- once installed, you'll have to pay for them using either Google Play or GetJar Golds, a form of virtual currency. New themes can also be applied to the lock screen, although like the desktop themes you'll have to pay $1.99 for many of them.
Functionally, GO Launcher EX uses the same layout as Android 4.2, with virtual buttons for back, home and recent apps at the bottom of the screen and the app dock directly above them. From here, however, the launcher lets you customize the desktop to your heart's content, giving you the option to increase the desktop grid size to a maximum of 10 rows and columns, or disable the status bar, dock and icon labels. You can also adjust the font and size of icons.
Infinite scrolling can be enabled to allow you to cycle through your homescreens and app drawer pages without needing to change direction when you hit the last page; from the GO Launcher EX settings menu you can also adjust the speed of screen transitions and choose a screen orientation. Long-pressing apps and widgets brings up a popup menu that lets you replace, rename, delete or (in the case of widgets) resize them.
Widgets and Plugins
Many of the time-saving features of Toucher, such as the button to open the recent apps menu, duplicate features that have already been baked into Jelly Bean. We can see them being very handy, however, on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 that lack such features as a virtual recent apps button. The pointer itself proved mildly intrusive on a homescreen full of app icons, but, thankfully, it can be dragged to any edge of the display.
GO Launcher EX boasts a number of other minor plugins, including Multi-wallpaper, which allows you to use up to nine different wallpapers for your various homescreens; Media Manager, which lets you view your music, photos and videos from the app drawer; and Notification, an extremely useful plugin that places a small number on the upper right corner of app icons such as Gmail letting you know how many unread messages you have.
GO Launcher EX offers a huge variety of homescreen transition effects, from the standard gradual transition found on Jelly Bean to visually stunning transitions such as Crossfade, Windmill, Chariot and Roll. We didn't notice any difference in speed when using the more advanced transitions, and you can manually adjust the transition speed in the launcher's menu.
The launcher also lets you map certain apps to gestures of your creation -- a handy feature we would have expected from Samsung's TouchWiz interface. Draw an L-shape on the desktop with your finger, for instance, and Gmail will automatically open. While we wish you could use gestures from inside apps rather than just on the desktop, this feature proved quite helpful when we wanted to open frequently used apps that weren't in our app dock.
Unlike launchers like Nova and Apex, which offer myriad additional features with the paid version of the app, GO Launcher EX provides most of its features for free. There's a trade-off though -- when using the free version of the launcher, you'll have to suffer through advertisements and won't have access to the full features of all of the widgets.
GO Launcher Prime ($5.99 on Google Play) offers a few new features: Multitouch gestures to access the launcher's core functions, four new transition effects and the ability to lock apps. As handy as these might be, however, it's the ads and widgets that will drive you to pay full price for the launcher.
The most egregious problem is the popup ads that occasionally appear while using the free version of GO Launcher EX. These range from prompts to purchase themes to advertisements for widgets. The paid version of GO Launcher EX eliminates these popup ads, but you'll also have to purchase the paid versions of GO-branded widgets to remove ads from those.
In addition, some of the widgets don't offer their full features unless you shell out some dough. The paid version of GO Weather EX ($4.99 on Google Play), for instance, eliminates ads, allows you to change the theme of the widget and offers a 10-day forecast.
GO Launcher EX performed similarly admirably in everyday use. The launcher responded promptly to our input, and transitions between homescreens and in-app menus felt smooth. While playing the game "Metal Slug 3," for example, we were able to switch seamlessly to Gmail from the recent apps menu.