Pure Android experience; Intuitive improvements; Large number of customizable options; Can choose new themes
Few new widgets compared with GO Launcher; Slightly slower performance than stock Android
Apex Launcher delivers a pure Android experience along with a host of customizable options and handy gestures.
Android home screen replacements, such as Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher, have carved a niche for themselves by offering users an experience as close to pure Jelly Bean as possible. Where Apex stands out from the pack, however, is in its large array of customizable options, special effects and themes. If you want a pure Android experience but don't want to commit to Jelly Bean's aesthetic, should you make Apex your new launcher?
Themes and Appearance
MORE: Best Apps 2013
Infinite scrolling allows you to cycle among your home screens without ever changing directions. Apex Launcher also lets you enable or disable elastic scrolling, which causes the desktop or app drawer to bounce slightly when you've scrolled to the end of the page.
Long-pressing apps and widgets opens a pop-up menu, with options for Remove, Resize, App Info and Share. This handy feature saves you the trouble of having to drag icons to the trash at the top of the screen.
Apex Launcher lets you customize the app drawer as well, including its style (Horizontal Paginated, Vertical Paginated, Vertical Continuous or Vertical List), the method of sorting and the background transparency. Apex Launcher also allows users to hide unused or unwanted apps from the drawer, a feature available only on the paid version of Nova Launcher ($4). Anyone frustrated with excessive bloatware will relish this ability.
MORE: Best Smartphones 2013
Widgets and Plugins
Although Apex Launcher doesn't offer any new widgets or plugins, the paid version allows you to use your existing widgets in innovative ways. Small one-by-one size widgets can be placed in the dock, for instance, and widgets can be made to overlap.
Apex Launcher offers four transition effects for home screens and the app drawer, including Tablet, Card Stack, Cube In and Cube Out. (More transition effects are available with the paid version.) This isn't as many as GO Launcher EX, but more than the two effects offered by Nova Launcher.
Like Nova Launcher, Apex boasts a backup/restore feature that saves your settings to a microSD Card in case you need to wipe your device. When the system wipe is complete, you can quickly reload your settings and get back to browsing.
The paid version of Apex Launcher ($3.99 on Google Play) boasts a plethora of features. In addition to the premium features mentioned above, such as the ability to place widgets in the dock and overlap widgets on the home screen, Apex Launcher Pro nearly doubles the number of features and offers even greater customization.
Former iOS users will appreciate unread count notifications, which creates badges for home screen, dock and drawer icons that let you know how many unread messages you have. While the paid version of Nova Launcher offers a similar feature, GO Launcher EX provides unread count notifications for free as a plugin.
Launcher enthusiasts will also appreciate that Apex Launcher Pro offers flexible theme options. If you love your GO Launcher EX theme but are sick of the launcher, not a problem -- the paid version of Apex Launcher allows you to use themes from other launchers.
On our tests using the Google Nexus 4, Apex Launcher delivered slightly slower performance than stock Jelly Bean. The launcher managed to open the home screen in 0.36 seconds and the app drawer in 0.38 seconds, narrowly beating Jelly Bean's times of 0.4 seconds and 0.5 seconds. On the other hand, Jelly Bean proved faster when unlocking the phone (0.42 seconds) and opening apps like Google Maps (2.23 seconds) and Gmail (1.54 seconds). Apex completed the same tasks in 0.46 seconds, 2.42 seconds and 1.7 seconds, respectively.
Nevertheless, Apex Launcher felt snappy when using it for activities such as gaming and browsing. We didn't experience any hangups when switching between "Angry Birds: Star Wars" and "Eternity Warriors 2," for example, or browsing in Chrome with 12 tabs open simultaneously.