The market for Android home screen replacement apps (or “launchers”) has long had some heavy hitters – ADW Launcher, Go Launcher EX and LauncherPro. But one of Android’s main advantages is that it’s a very open system, and it is built to encourage healthy competition. Today we’ll be looking at some of that competition, in the form of Hi Launcher, a free launcher for Android 2.1 and up.
Hi Launcher is not yet a household name, but with 929 reviews awarding it a 4.5-star average, and over 100,000 installations so far, this is one launcher worth checking out. It’s different from the other launchers in at least two important ways.
When you first start Hi Launcher, it walks you through a quick six-step introductory slideshow. The slide above is worth noting, because it introduces the Groups feature, one of the most unique and useful aspects of the Hi Launcher experience. Now, let’s look at the launcher itself:
While the aesthetic of this particular theme may not be for everyone, you can see the important differences in layout right off the bat. The top part of the screen is devoted to widgets, while the bottom half is for apps, divided into groups. These are two completely separate areas, and you can scroll them independently:
This screenshot was taken as I was swiping the top half of the screen, so you can see the clock/memory widget scrolling away to reveal the search widget – while the bottom half wasn’t moving at all (it was set to the Games group before I started scrolling).
So, in a nutshell, these are the two major differences here. A separate area for widgets versus app icons, and built-in app groups. App grouping is a much-needed functionality, and something new launchers seem to be adding (we’ve looked at sophisticated grouping functionality on Sweeter Home, another new launcher). Since other launchers don’t feature this functionality, Hi Launcher offers a helping hand (or a finger, actually) to get you started with categorizing your apps:
Some of the apps are already categorized for you, but not nearly as many as I would expect. Auto App Organizer does a much better job of auto-categorization, at least at the moment.
Like any other self-respecting launcher, Hi Launcher supports themes; and like Go Launcher, it features a built-in market for themes:
The market also offers wallpapers, as well as a handful of widget skins (nothing to write home about really). This is one of the less refined part of the app, as you can see below:
What you see here are theme thumbnails that refused to load on my device. No amount of waiting, refreshing or retrying would make them reload. The good news is that it seems to be a sporadic issue: Most themes did show thumbnails, and you can also view each theme in full-screen mode to see exactly what it would look like on your device:
This particular theme was interesting because it used a two-state image to show what it looks like both with the bottom menu open and closed. The image would alternate every few seconds automatically, pretty useful. And this is what it looked like on my device once I applied it:
Also, note the new category I created for camera apps. Creating the category was not difficult, and populating it with applications took just a bit of dragging and dropping.
The Major Differences
Above is the Group Management interface, which stands for one of the two major differences I see between Hi Launcher and other launchers – Groups. The other difference is the innovative split home screen setup with separate scrollable areas, which I really like. Themes have a long way to go until they match Go Launcher’s sleek aesthetic, and animations can definitely stand a bit of speeding up. Still, those parts are incremental improvements.
As it stands, Hi Launcher introduces a couple of interesting innovations, and I can only hope other launcher makers notice.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Hi Launcher or whether you prefer one of its competitors.