When it comes to launcher replacements, there's often not a lot of variety. Many of them are based on the AOSP launcher code and bolt a whole load of features on top. The two most popular replacement launchers, Apex and Nova, are great examples of this. While they do provide a lot of additional functionality, they're not really different.
That is definitely not a complaint you could level at Action Launcher and it turns out to be both a weakness and a strength. A weakness because, when you first start using it, it feels a bit strange, unfamiliar... and it's all too easy to switch back to what you know. I have to confess that when I first bought the application, that's exactly what I did. After the latest major update however, I persevered... and I love it!
Whereas most launchers have a central, bottom button to open the app drawer, Action Launcher does not. Instead it has a button at the top left, which opens the drawer out from the left hand side. In reality you probably won't use that button, as sweeping from the left edge of the screen also opens the drawer. In there you'll find all your apps listed in an alphabetical scrolling list. That sounds like it'd be unmanageable if you have a lot of apps - my concern too - but i've discovered that i'm using the 'quick access' letters on the right of the drawer to go to 'about the right place' for the app i'm looking for and it's actually quicker for me to use than a regular launcher. A sweep right switches to widgets and both apps and widgets can be dragged from here to the desktop.
The desktop itself can have between 1 and 5 panes, with a grid resizable up to 5x5 and also offers the option to hide app labels. A dock area (which can be switched off) can hold up to 6 icons. Screen margins can also be adjusted to get a look and feel you're happy with.
Action Launcher Pro doesn't have a persistent search bar in the regular sense, but in the action bar at the top of the screen you do get a search button (which then displays a search box configurable to use any of your searchable sources) as well as a direct link to the Play Store and a menu button the provides access to desktop lock / unlock, system settings, the system app management page and the Action Launcher Pro settings.
It's all nicely done, but there are 2 signature features that will win you over.
The first feature is Covers. Like other launchers, Action Launcher Pro supports folders, which can contain a number of applications. As normal, the folder preview will show the icons inside and clicking will open the folder for you to choose an app. A little menu button on the folder however will give you the option to 'make cover'. If you select this, you'll notice the folder icon changes to the icon of the first item in the folder, with a small square indicating that it's a cover. Then, clicking the folder will open the first app while sweeping up will reveal the folder contents for you to choose something different. Brilliant!
The second signature feature is Shutters. While Action Launcher Pro of course supports widgets, shutters allows you to sweep up on an application icon and have the application's widget appear in a temporary 'floating window'. It works well and gives you an unusual alternative view of an app's widget. I have to confess I find this less useful personally that covers, but then I am not really a big widget user generally.
So that's all the good points, what about the bad? To be honest, there aren't any real show stoppers.. more power-user niggles. I'd like to be able to have groups in the app drawer (for apps, games, etc. rather than just apps and widgets), i'd like more grid sizes available (particularly on tablets) and i'd like to be able to resize the shutters - but the biggest problem the application has is that there is no trial version available. Sure, you can trust that you can try it before the excessively small 15 minute window is up, but I know this puts a lot of users off.
Action Launcher Pro is a great app that is getting regular updates that make it better and better, so if you haven't given it a go yet, as you can see, it comes highly recommended. But just don't dismiss it straight away because it's 'different'... you'll be missing out.
Ready to download? Head on over to the Play Store.
an aside: the live wallpaper used in these screenshots is Paperland Pro.
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