All right, y'all -- semi-creepy confession time: I love watching how other people use technology.
Not in the "staring longingly into your bedroom window" sense, thankyouverymuch. (C'mon now. We know each better than that, don't we?!) More in the "seeing how someone else's phone is set up and what tricks they use to get around it" way -- you know, completely casual stuff between two consenting adults.
Mobile tech is just such a personal thing, and you can learn a lot about someone by seeing what kind of picture they paint with our common virtual palette. That's especially true on Android, where we all start with the same set of tools but have practically infinite options with how we choose to use them.
And that, I think, is what makes seeing other people's mobile tech habits most intriguing to me: the notion of getting a glimpse into someone else's thought process and maybe stumbling onto something inspiring -- a different approach or idea that might provide a fresh way of optimizing or organizing my own Android experience.
That's why I started the How I Use Android series last April -- to give us all a peek behind the curtains at how high-profile people from the Android world use Android in their own lives. And now, one year later, it's time to expand our scope and add in some new terrain.
Allow me to introduce the latest Android Intelligence series: Awesome Android Home Screens. Each month, we'll take a look at a regular user's exceptional home screen setup -- something cool and creative that goes beyond the norm. Most important, it'll be something you can implement easily on your own, without the need for any custom ROMs or crazily complex configurations.
(Got a creative home screen setup of your own? Send some screenshots to AwesomeHomeScreens@gmail.com. Fleeting fame, gaggles of groupies, and a $10 Google Play gift card could be yours!)
Without further ado, here's our first featured home screen -- a little something I like to call the Sliding Stacker:
The Sliding Stacker comes by way of a talented Android user known only as "Jordan X" (no word on what the "X" stands for; unless otherwise informed, I'm going to assume it's "xylophone" and that he just loves to strike those sweet-sounding bars).
The home screens on Mr. X's creation revolve around four panels, each with cleanly presented cards organized into the areas of home, weather, calendar, and music.
The first panel, above, presents a search bar along with an attractive clock widget that shows your current location and a quick link to find yourself on a map. Beneath that, you've got a glimpse at the latest news headlines, a link to your camera app, and a link to your device's image gallery.
Swipe one panel over -- or tap the corresponding icon at the top -- and you'll get a detailed view of the current and upcoming weather in your area. As you can see, too, the custom dock (with customizable shortcuts to your phone, messaging, email, and Web browser apps along with a link to your app drawer) remains in place from one panel to the next.
The third panel is all about your calendar. The Sliding Stacker uses the space to show your latest events and give you a one-touch link to create a new event on the fly. (Notice how each panel has its own color scheme, by the way? As I'll show you in a second, the colors change with a fluid motion as you move between the screens -- a pretty neat effect, if you ask me.)
Last but not least is a panel dedicated to audio. Pretty self-explanatory. You can make it work with whatever player you want, so there's plenty of flexibility.
Part of what makes this setup so cool is its attention to detail. Check out the video above to see how slick and smooth the transitions are as you swipe from one panel to the next. And for perspective, this was captured on a two-year-old phone (my 2014 Moto X) -- nothing cutting-edge or with particularly high horsepower.
Want to try it for yourself?
The best part about the Sliding Stacker home screen is that you can implement it yourself and customize it to work with your own favorite apps. Ready?
To get the Sliding Stacker home screen on your own device, you'll need the following apps from the Google Play Store:
- KLWP Live Wallpaper Maker (free) and KLWP Live Wallpaper Pro Key ($2.99). The whole home screen is technically just a super-functional live wallpaper -- crazy, right? -- and this app is what allows it to work. The Pro Key add-on is required, as it's what makes it possible to import custom skins.
- ShiftingHome KLWP ($1). The specific skin "Jordan X" created. A key element, to be sure.
- Nova Launcher (free). One of the most customizable home screen replacements for Android; it serves as the foundation for our fancy live wallpaper and skin in this arrangement. You can get the Nova Launcher Prime key ($4.99) if you want some extra features for future use (and, of course, to support the app's developer), but it's not actually necessary for this to work.
So all in all, you'll spend about four bucks. The first $3 will go toward an app that opens up plenty of other possibilities for home screen customization beyond this one specific skin, while the last dollar will go toward supporting the guy who created this configuration. Not too unreasonable, all in all.
Once you have the above ingredients installed on your device, follow these steps to get your new home screen up and running:
(Fair warning: This may seem like a lot of steps -- and the KLWP app doesn't exactly have the most intuitive user interface -- but if you follow these exact instructions, it's really not that bad and shouldn't take more than a few minutes from start to finish.)
1. Hit your device's Home button, then select Nova Launcher and tell the system to do that same thing every time. (You can always change this in the "Home" section of your main system settings if you later decide you want to go back to what you were using before.)
2. Open up Nova Settings, which should be available as an app either on your home screen or in your app drawer. Tap "Desktop," then look for the option labeled "Page indicator" and set it to "None." Next, tap "Dock," then tap the toggle in the top-right corner of that screen to disable the dock entirely. Finally, tap "Gestures & inputs," select "Home button," and then select "Default page" -- and make sure the toggle next to "Only on default page" is disabled.
3. Head back to your home screen (either by pressing your device's Home button or pressing the Back key a couple of times), then open the KLWP app from your app drawer. The app may prompt you to set it as your live wallpaper at some point in this process, but don't do that until the very end -- when I specifically mention it.
4. Tap the hamburger menu icon in the upper-left corner of the screen, then select "Load Preset" and pick "shiftinghome" from the tab labeled "Installed." Tap once on the screen that appears next, then tap again on the confirmation screen that appears after that.
5. You should now be back on the KLWP app's main screen. Tap the rectangular-shaped icon in the upper-right corner, immediately beneath the plus sign (it looks kind of like a computer monitor and may have some numbers inside it). Make sure the "x" value is set to "4" and the "y" value is set to "1."
6. Tap the save icon -- the lovely floppy disk shape on KLWP's top navigation bar -- to save everything you've done. Then tap your device's Home key to head back to your home screen.
7. You're almost there! Now we just need to get a few final things squared away with Nova Launcher so it'll play nicely with the theme. First, one by one, touch and hold each item on your actual home screen -- everything, including all shortcuts and the Google search bar at the top -- and remove it by dragging it up to the "x" at the top of the screen. You want a completely blank canvas.
8. Once you've done that, touch and hold anywhere on the home screen. Swipe leftward, and you should see a circle with a plus sign inside of it. Tap that plus sign three times. Now swipe back to the far left end and confirm that you have four blank pages next to that plus sign. This is important for the theme to function correctly (and I should note that it is a bit different than what the creator of the skin recommends, but it's what ended up working for me).
9. Tap the circular home icon at the top of the leftmost blank panel. This will ensure that pressing the Home key always takes you to that panel as the default.
10. Last step: Tap the "Wallpapers" link, which should be on that same screen. Find the section with live wallpapers and select KLWP (which may be listed as "Kustom" in this menu), then confirm you want to set it as your device's wallpaper.
(If you can't find the command to set the wallpaper, tap your device's Overview button (the typically square-shaped icon next to the Home key) and go back to the KLWP app. Look in the app's hamburger menu for the "Set as wallpaper" option, and select that. It'll take you to the same place.)
That's it! Now tap your device's Home key, and you should be on your new and fully functional (not to mention fully funkified) home screen. Swipe through the different panels and make sure everything works as it should.
Note that you may need to go back into the KLWP app and customize some of the hotspots and settings in order for them to work with the specific apps on your device. You'll find options to change things like the default music player in the app's main settings, located within its hamburger menu.
Within the main KLWP screen, meanwhile, you can scroll toward the left on the gray bar that says "Items," "Background," and "Layer" to find a section labeled "Shortcuts." (I told you: This app's UI is pretty awful.) There, you can see and change the various shortcuts built into the theme so they point to the apps you actually have and use. For the shortcut to add a new calendar event, I'd suggest checking out Today Calendar; it has a direct activity that'll work for that, while the default Google Calendar app does not.
Got it? Good! Now enjoy your snazzy new setup, and stay tuned for even more awesome home screens in the weeks to come.