Arrow Launcher – An Android Launcher…by Microsoft?

Change your Android home screen

If you were not already aware, in most instances, regardless of the Android devices you may own, or the manufacturer skins that are stuck on which can be a root cause of many Android annoyances, there is a way to exchange your phones default ‘Launcher’, which means that the home screen can be customised to look, work and fit better according to your taste and preference.  Whilst the underlying parts of Android are set by how the manufacturers would like you to have it, at least there is an essence of your phone that you can control with a bit of granularity.

When people usually think of the most popular launchers out there, such as Nova and Apex, or even Google’s own ‘Home’ Launcher, they are usually done by a passionate group of individuals or very small companies with a vested interest in Android.  The company you would least expect to create an Android specific launcher is Microsoft, who are not only very large, but one that has it’s own Windows ecosystem that competes with Android.  They have just unveiled their ‘Arrow Launcher’ in closed beta, and from initial tests, it’s surprisingly rather quite good!

Solid, simple and smart

One thing that the Arrow launcher doesn’t do is shove any Microsoft branding, or associated Bing/Cortana brands down your throat, in fact, you might have a hard time seeing any Microsoft branding at all, since I have yet to find any trace of it with my short play thru.

Home screen that dynamically adapts to user behaviour
Home screen that dynamically adapts to user behaviour

With this launcher, Microsoft are pushing smart simplicity as it’s mantra, and I’m really enjoying it.  The home screen is marked as ‘Apps’ along the top, and dynamically changes what apps show based on your general phone usage.  The top row is labelled as ‘Recent’ and will change to the 4 most recent Apps that you use on your phone.

Underneath this, there are three rows marked as ‘Frequent’, which represent the 12 most frequent Apps that you like to use.  What makes this different to most launchers is that it will learn your habits, and change the Apps that show as the most frequent over time.  This will make your phone use extremely efficient, as I’ve already found that I hardly ever need to visit my main App drawer after only a little use.

Along the bottom dock is the usual assortment of Apps that can be customised, however if you swipe up from the bottom up, the dock extends into a further row of useful Apps, that can also be further customised, as well as the 5 most recent people you’ve been in contact with.  In the far bottom right of this screen, you have Settings (to check for updates and other miscellaneous launcher info), Feedback which you can provide to make the launcher better in subsequent updates, and Wallpaper, which obviously allows you to change the picture on your home screen.

Sliding the Arrow up!
Sliding the Arrow up!

Other screens

Aside from the main home screen, you have two other screens which act just as smart.  If you swipe right, you will get to a screen called ‘People’, which is again split by the most recent call you made/received, and your 4 most frequent calls.  Also, helpfully in the top-right of this screen is an icon that gives you direct access to the phone dialler of your choice for making calls, and another to get you straight to contacts.

Your most recent contacts at a glance - Direct dialer access
Your most recent contacts at a glance – Direct dialer access

If you swipe all the way to the left, you get a screen marked as ‘Notes & Reminders’ which is essentially like Google Keep, but with it’s own dedicated screen.  I absolutely love this, since I tend to use Keep all the time, and it doesn’t look as elegant as the solution provided here by Microsoft, which actually looks and feels part of the phone launcher perfectly.  I would love Microsoft to just give us the option here to use Keep and I’d be really happy with it, however I might take the plunge and start generating some separate notes on it.

Very akin to Google Keep, but with deep launcher integration
Very akin to Google Keep, but with deep launcher integration

Lastly, there is the App drawer, which you access as usual by pressing the centre button in the dock.  All your Apps are arranged in alphabetical order, and the menu is scrollable vertically.  There is also an alphabet slider on the far-right, which allows you to quickly reach your App by tapping the letter that corresponds to the first letter of your App.  If that’s not quick enough for the hundreds of Apps you might have installed, along the top bar is a search field that lets you find your Apps by searching each letter you stick in.  Very useful!

Very intuitive and searchable App drawer!
Very intuitive and searchable App drawer!

Conclusion

This launcher is as simple as they come, but it is also the most dynamically intuitive launcher I’ve ever had the pleasure of using on Android so far.  It’s easy to overlook this, since many may question the motivations of Microsoft, and why they would release a launcher for Android in the first place, but I am personally very impressed with it.  It epitomises everything a great launcher should be, without any extra fluff.  It helps you to find what you need fast, and adapts to your own habits, so that you have less screens to scroll through and will inevitably make things a hell of a lot more efficient.

If you would like to have a go with the launcher, as mentioned, it is in closed beta, but it is possible to still download the APK and install this directly on your phone to play with.  Your two options are as follows:

  1. Official way – Request to be added to the Arrow Launcher Beta Google+ community.
  2. Non-Official way – Download the APK file and manually install Arrow Launcher.

I for one will be keeping this on my device, as it has seriously streamlined my phone usage.  No matter the motivations of Microsoft, and whether or not they are prepping their own Android device, and testing the waters with this launcher, I highly recommend it, and as an escape from the norm it is certainly worth a try!

Source: Android Authority

Jassen Payen

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  • Neil Daniels

    Hmmm reminds me of the old Donut launcher with some smart stuff tacked on