Top Android Apps to Customize Your Phone

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.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d): To Ship or Not to Ship — Product Launch in the Smartphone Era

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