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Summary:

Android phone owners will tell you that a big draw of using the Google platform on the smartphone is the ability to tailor the user experience to personal preference. Almost every aspect of the user interface is customizable, and these are my top apps and widgets.

Beautiful Widgets thumb

Android phone owners will tell you that an appealing aspect of using the Google platform on the smartphone is the ability to tailor the user experience to personal preference. Almost every aspect of the user interface is customizable with the right apps and widgets. I’ve been using quite a few of them and offer this list of my must-have apps and widgets to customize the Android phone.

LauncherPro. This is hands-down the best app on my HTC EVO 4G. It is a replacement for the Android launcher that consists of the soft buttons at the bottom of the home screen, and the drawer containing all of the applications on the phone. While LauncherPro replaces the stock launcher nicely, it adds much more in the bargain. Don’t like how many home screens your Android phone provides to use widgets and stuff? LauncherPro lets you use from one to seven depending on your needs. You may end up using seven (as I do) given all the cool stuff you can put on them.

One of the most useful features of LauncherPro is the dock at the bottom of the home screen. You can put any app, contact shortcut or folder that you access regularly right on the dock. The dock is skinnable to make it personal, and you can also have up to three of them if you find five icons is not enough. Using multiple docks is as simple as swiping left and right on the dock to roll through them in sequence. All the docks are accessible from any of the home screens. LauncherPro also enables using the home screens in landscape on any phone, a handy feature.

LauncherPro is free ,but if you upgrade to the paid version, you get a suite of widgets that are pretty good. There are the usual (contacts, calendar, etc.), as well as Facebook and Twitter widgets for the home screen. The paid version is $2.99, and you can upgrade from the free version if you want to try it first.

Widget Locker. This app allows innovative customization of the Android unlock screen; that’s the screen presented when you wake up the phone, and typically it only has a slider bar to unlock the phone. Widget Locker does two things that change the unlock screen into a very useful tool. First, you can put any Android widget on the unlock screen, turning it into a personal information screen presented without unlocking the phone. My unlock screen has a clock/ weather widget which allows me to see what time it is without unlocking it. You can put battery gauge widgets, calendar widgets — any widgets you want — on the unlock screen.

Second, the unlock slider bar can be changed as desired, from a typical Android slider to the curved HTC Sense type of “drag down to unlock” slider. More importantly, you can have more than one slider with different actions triggered depending on which slider you drag, and whether you slide it left or right. Why would you want multiple sliders? In my case, the lower slider unlocks the phone when I drag it to the right, and mutes the phone when I slide it to the left. The upper slider fires up the camera when swiped to the right, and the video camcorder when pulled to the left. This lets me trigger important functions without having to unlock the phone. $1.99.

Handcent SMS. The stock Android text messaging app is bare bones, and if you want to make it easier to handle text messages, Handcent SMS is a good alternative. All aspects of the program are customizable, so tailoring the message window to make it easier to read is a snap. There are free font packs in the Android Market to further customize the app to the user’s liking. Handcent SMS provides batch messaging to work with groups of contacts that many will find useful. Notifications and interface modifications can be implemented based on individual contacts, so the message window can instantly reflect who sent the message.

Beautiful Widgets. Every time I post a screen shot of my EVO on Twitter (user jkendrick), I get swamped with questions about the clock/ weather widget on my home screen. Beautiful Widgets is the culprit that makes customizing the Android home screen as easy as downloading free skins and applying them. Users of the widget can make their own skins and upload them for easy downloading by other users right within the widget. Every aspect of the clock and weather skin is customizable to fit your particular mood, and it’s easy to change skins at whim.

The skins have animated weather — floating clouds, rain and lightning — that eliminate the need to go outside to see what’s happening. There’s an animated wallpaper (pictured) that has the sun and moon rising/setting in real time, along with the sky reflecting the time and weather conditions. $1.95.

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  1. I tried Widget Locker but it ended up just bogging down my EVO too much. Everytime I would get into my home screen, it would give me a message saying to wait while stuff loaded. Had to dump it. Disappointing.

    1. That really surprises me. I’ve been using it for a couple of months with no issues at all.

  2. Based on JK’s recommendations, I have gone to get Widget Locker twice and did to because of the same comment @ahow628 made. Also, how do you use Launcher Pro over the HTC Sense? JK, have you rooted? Or you just got rid of HTC Sense?

    1. I have rooted my EVO, but you should be able to use the LauncherPro launcher in place of the Sense one. Just select it as the default for launcher activities when it’s run.

  3. I used to LOVE Launcher Pro. I even bought the upgrade. I found that after about 10 days of use, it would load very slowly. Through some trial and error – removing other things – I found Launcher Pro to be the problem.

    I am now using ADW on CM6. I have a droid OC’d to 1.2ghz.

    ADW is doing the job, but I really do miss Launcher Pro. I am going to try Widget Locker soon.

    James – Thanks for the great articles on android apps. Please keep them coming. I know that I have found some nuggets of goodness from you. They are much appreciated.

    1. I think you might have something else going on, or perhaps you have a very different set of settings/widgets.

      I switched from ADW to LauncherPro on a lowly HTC Magic, which tends to be underclocked to boot for battery life, and have no slowdown issues with LauncherPro… and that is with almost 80 apps loaded, including a couple of calendar widgets and a weather widget, and 6 home screens full of apps.

      1. That is very possible.

        It seems that regardless of the combination of apps/rom, everything works fine (fast) for a couple of weeks. Then it slows down. I will keep trying.

  4. Does anyone know of an app that will allow me to secure the sms messages. I dont want notifications, or messages to be able to be read unless a password is given. Thx

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