Google’s Android operating system is revered among geeks for it’s flexibility and high level of customization options in comparison to competing smartphone operating systems in the market today. Unfortunately though, unless you own a Google-branded device such as the Nexus S (or the earlier Nexus Onei, all Android-powered devices come pre-modified out of the box, and depending on the manufacturer, can be quite unwieldy and to a certain degree, ugly. Here’s how you can customize your Android smartphone to your liking.
Get Down with Launcher Pro
For user-interface (UI) replacement, we recommend using Launcher Pro Plus ($4.31). Of course you can do with the free version, but the paid edition comes with a plethora of widgets that you may find useful, as well as the ability to resize them as you please (which is essential to our end result). After you download and install Launcher Pro from the Marketplace, you’ll want to hit the home button and set it as the default action for that key press so you won’t have to see your (ugly) stock UI ever again. Launcher Pro comes with a slew of preferences you can set, customizing your new UI to the exact flavor you like. To access the preferences, hit the menu button on the home screen and select Preferences.
The Primary Screen
There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to UI customization, but if you dig the minimalist look and feel, the widgets we recommend are Power Control Plus ($2.46), Circle Battery Widget as well as SiMi Clock. We’re going with a paid edition of Power Control Plus (instead of free) as you can customise the toggles, eliminate the background and dividers and much more. SiMi Clock is a great replacement for the gaudy Sense UI clock as found on Android-powered HTC smartphones, and along with the Circle Battery Widget, you now have all the information you need on your main homescreen.
For all of the above widgets, you have to add them to your homescreen as per any normal widget: long press on screen > Widgets. Again, each of the widgets has its fair share of options to play around with, so experiment until you get the look that suits your taste!
Making Custom Tile Icons
Now that we’ve got a simple homescreen down, let’s add some custom icons for your most used shortcuts. While it may look complicated, creating custom icons for your phone is deceptively easy. First of all, you will need to know your screen resolution. The HTC Desire Z for example, has a screen resolution of 480×800 pixels. Leaving the dock 480×80 pixels worth of space, you are now left with 480×720 pixels to manipulate and splice into tiles. Since we now have 5 rows and 4 columns from Launcher Pro, a 1×1 icon will be exactly 120×144 pixels, a 2×1 would be 240×144,1×2 would be 120×288 and so on.
With these dimensions you can now go into Photoshop or your other favourite image-editing tool to create the individual pieces of the homescreen “jigsaw puzzle”. Once you’re done (don’t forget to put some text in the image so you can identify what the image is for), save the images to your SD card.
Next, we’ll use those image files with an app called Desktop VisualizeR, which lets you create an icon of any size, using custom images for your homescreen. Desktop visualizeR is added as all widgets are. If you don’t see the size you want, you should be able to resize your widget with Launcher Pro Plus by going one size larger, and then shrinking it back down to your target size. Before configuration, Desktop VisualizeR will appear as a green box. Where it says select icon, navigate to the image you want to use by pressing Select Icon > Image File > Image. Next, choose which application you want to open. If you have already put a text description, you can clear the Label box. Once you are finished and press done, you’ll see your custom icon on your screen.
Where To Go From Here?
Now you have a homescreen many iPhone users would be frothing at the mouth for, what’s next? If you’re not a fan of having to unlock your phone each time you pick it up, the No Lock app (it’s free!) comes in handy to bypass the lock screen, showing your home screen as soon as you turn your smartphone on. There are hundreds of widgets and apps available on the Android Market to download and use. For the more adventurous, you can even download and install custom ROM’s from the many Android fan-forums on the internet, which will aid you in your quest for the ultimate homescreen. Now that you’ve taken the first steps to customizing your homescreen, experiment away in the hopes that you’ll never have to see a boring stock interface ever again!