Android's folders are a great way to keep your home screens organized -- but let's face it, they aren't exactly exciting.
Android's default folder icon is a plain-looking manilla box. And when you've gone to the trouble of pimping out your home screens, it can stick out like a sore thumb.
That brings us to this week's Android Power reader question, which comes from folder-frustrated Android fan Nick C.
I know there has to be a way to change Android's folder icons, but I can't for the life of me find it. Help?
Nick's right: There is a way to change the icons -- and customize your home screens even more while you're at it. You just have to turn to a third-party app to get the job done.
Changing Android Folder Icons
Several apps exist that can help you change Android's folder icons. The one I prefer is a powerful little program called FolderOrganizer, available for free in an ad-supported version or for about $1.25 in its full-featured, ad-free form. (The barcode at right takes you to the full-featured version.) The program is a bit complex, but it can go a long way in helping you create a fresh and original look for your phone.
Now, technically, FolderOrganizer doesn't change your Android folder icons -- it lets you build new custom folders that replace your original ones. But it's the same effect in the end. And the building-from-scratch method is what lets the app inject so much rich functionality into what was such a simplistic feature.
Once you open the FolderOrganizer program, you'll want to focus on the first tab: "Labels." Those are your folders. Tap your phone's "Menu" key to create a new one, and give it whatever name you want. Then, just find your folder in the list and tap the arrow to its right to get started.
After tapping the arrow, you'll find an option to adjust the folder's layout -- you can choose from a variety of grid- and list-based configurations -- as well as an option to select what items are actually in the folder (you can add any combination of apps, bookmarks, contacts, direct call links, direct text links, direct e-mail links, and even other embedded folders). Then, of course, there's the option you've been looking for: the one to change the folder's icon.
You'll find a handful of icons on your phone by default. The coolest choices, though, come from the huge range of icons you can discover and download on your own, generally without paying a dime. Search the Android Market for "icon pack" and you'll see pages upon pages of possibilities (pretty much anything that has "icon pack" in its title will work). Any icon pack you download will automatically show up in FolderOrganizer's list.
Once you've selected your icon and gotten your new folder all set up, simply head over to your home screen and long-press on any open spot. Select "Shortcuts" from the menu that pops up, followed by "FolderOrganizer Label." Then just select your folder's name, and bingo-bango: The deed is done.
Spend some time exploring the options and finding the icons that match your style, and you'll quickly discover the possibilities are endless.
[Related: Want to track Web stats on-the-go? Check out our list of the best Google Analytics apps for Android.]
Android Folder Customization: Final Notes
A couple final notes: First, if you're using the full-featured version of FolderOrganizer, you can edit any folder's contents and properties on-the-fly by long-pressing its title bar. If you're using the free edition, you'll have to open the FolderOrganizer app itself in order to make those changes.
Second, you may want to take a moment to look through FolderOrganizer's preference settings (accessible by tapping your phone's "Menu" key from within the app). There, you'll find additional options to control how your folders look and perform.
You might also notice a tab in the FolderOrganizer app called "Apps." You can use that to assign a custom icon and custom name to any app on your phone. Changes you make will show up automatically in your FolderOrganizer folders; you can also place the custom app icons directly on your home screen by following the same process as above, only selecting "FolderOrganizer Item" and then "Apps" from the "Shortcuts" menu.
(In the screenshot you saw from my phone, by the way, the icons represent a mix of folders and apps. They were all implemented with FolderOrganizer.)
Finally, one caveat: The downside to using a third-party app like FolderOrganizer over the stock system folders is that the response time tends to be slightly less instantaneous. Whereas tapping a stock Android folder causes it to open immediately, sometimes with FolderOrganizer, you'll experience a delay of a second or so before your folder pops up. To me, it's not a huge deal and is a worthwhile tradeoff for what's gained, but it may be a deal-breaker for some people. Check it out and decide for yourself.
And hey, if you have an Android-related question of your own, send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org. It might just make its way into a future Friday Q&A.