Thursday, March 08, 2012

Cutting Edge Review: Sweeter Home Launcher For Android [1.5+]

Cutting Edge Review: Sweeter Home Launcher For Android [1.5+]:
Today I’ve got something special for you guys: While I review Android apps all the time, I usually stick to apps that are already on the Market. But Sweeter Home is such an innovative launcher, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to review it before it even hits the Market. It’s a free launcher, currently available in Beta from its homepage, and it’s very different from other launchers.
Mind you, “innovative” and “different” are not synonymous with “better”. Sweeter Home introduces some cool concepts, but I really can’t say it’s better than the established options such as ADWLauncher or Go Launcher EX (my personal favorite): That is something you will have to decide for yourself.

Getting Started

Because Sweeter Home isn’t in the Market yet, installing it is a bit different from installing a regular app. This is a review and not a how-to post, so I won’t delve too deeply into it here – it is all explained on the Sweeter Home homepage. Once you get it running on your device, this is the first screen you will see:
In other words, Sweeter Home wants you to sign up and log in. This is something you can do right from the device, and it takes just a moment (they want a username, password, and email address – standard stuff). Once you’ve done that, you will see a short tutorial:
And then it’s on to the default homescreen, which will hopefully be replaced with something slicker when the app is officially launched:
This is where you get to see the first special Sweeter Home feature: Tag trays. See that strip near the bottom of the screenshot, saying All Apps, Games, Social, and Call? The first three are “trays”, and tapping them brings up a filtered list of your apps, with no special effort on your part. Check out the Games tray on my phone:
Very slick – Sweeter Home correctly categorized pretty much all of my games. What’s even cooler is that you can customize the trays yourself, and any changes you make are synced up to your Sweeter Home account, and carry across themes! So if you drop Flight Control from the Games tray for some reason, you will never see it in the Games tray of any other theme. The tray system addresses a major issue for many smartphone users: App glut. There are so many apps, that having a system to categorize them all is becoming increasingly important. Because it is community based, it does much of the work for you, and you only have to tweak it as you see fit.
Much like in Go Launcher, themes can be installed from a central in-app Theme Market. In theory, can also review the current theme (yes, I gave the default theme just two stars):
Why “in theory”, you ask? Because it didn’t work for me:
However, the Theme Market is full of reviews by other users, so I assume the issue is local to my device. As I said, Sweeter Home is in Beta and these glitches are to be expected.
Now, let’s look at the Market, and some of the other themes:
The Market lets you sort themes according to rating, date uploaded, or popularity, and also browse themes stored on your own SD card. Each theme contains a full-size screenshot showing what you can expect, as well as user reviews (not just a star rating, but text as well).
This is what the most popular theme (as of this writing) looks like:
Fairly minimalistic. The button at the bottom of the screen pops up a tag tray containing all apps. User Pepe0001 noted in his review that it’s “Ok as a starter for your own theme,” which helped me discover Sweeter Home’s other key feature: On-device theme editing!
Basically, you can customize any theme to bits and pieces. I’m not just talking about moving widgets around like you can do with any other launcher. Sweeter Home lets you set up logic, where some parts of the theme control and toggle other parts. You can set up trays, drag screen elements around freely, and generally enjoy an impressive degree of artistic freedom. Here are the settings for a single block, for example:
If this seems nerdy, it’s because it really is. But if you’re into customizing and modding your software, Sweeter Home opens up some very interesting possibilities.

Two Example Themes

Just to give you a tiny taste of what Sweeter Home can do, I’d like to show off two themes I found on the Theme Market. The first is called “minimalist” and features a gorgeous macro shot wallpaper, and simple trays:
One of the things that make this theme (and launcher) special is that neighboring screens can also reside above or below the current screen, not just to its sides. So in minimalist, you have to swipe up and down to get to some of the screens. Definitely interesting.
The other theme I’d like to show you, and end off with, is called PYE. This is the highest-rated theme at the moment, and it’s easy to see why:
Simply put, this is something you can do with no other launcher at the moment, at least as far as I know. The old-school TV shows one category of apps at a time, and is scrollable. You can also have it show the current time, and there are handy SMS and Phone shortcuts, too.

Final Thoughts

Is Sweeter Home ready for prime time? I’m not entirely sure; the native graphics are a bit rough around the edges, and the system is powerful, but that means it’s also complex. Whether or not Sweeter Home takes the world by storm once it officially debuts, this is one app you should keep an eye on. And if you try it out, don’t forget to share your favorite themes and tricks in the comments!

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