3 Minimalist Android Launchers That Help You Regain Your Focus

Turn your phone into a productivity machine

Photo by Eddy Billard on Unsplash

Our phones are excellent servants but bad masters.

That’s because we didn’t put brakes on where they should be.

When we can access everything from the comfort of our phone home screens, we will do so. On the most basic level, it’s simple conditioning. Over time, we learn to react to the stimuli in the environment automatically. Especially if we’re exposed to the environment often and what we do is often repetitive.

Our phones satisfy both these conditions: we use our phones multiple times a day, and do routine actions like checking our social media feeds, relax with videos, or text.

This often leads us down the rabbit hole where we string multiple behaviors on top of one another, almost unconsciously, and emerge 10, 20, or even 30 minutes later, not knowing why or how we did any of that. But hey, we know a lot about koalas now!

What is, at heart, a problem of the environmental design can be solved via the same means: environmental change. For our Android smartphones, this means changing our launcher, because it’s the launcher that triggers most of our automatic behavior.

In what follows, I will present 3 such launchers which I — either extensively or briefly — used. They will help you regain your focus, be productive, and ultimately, improve your life.

Here we go.

Before Launcher — for the aesthetically-oriented minimalist

Screenshot: Author

Cost: Free (Premium features for a couple of bucks)| Rating: 4.4

Plus

  • Design
  • Batch notifications
  • Icon removal

Contra

  • Search in app drawer could be more intuitive

Now the first time you boot up Before Launcher, you’ll be in the minimalist heaven. Sleek, no-frills design with a beautiful background.

How it works

You can choose out of many backgrounds, all of them brimming with freshness and clarity. Swiping left opens the app drawer that enables you to search your apps. Swiping right shows you the notification screen, which bundles your notifications in the interval you choose.

GIF: Author

True to the word minimalist, this launcher doesn't offer much more.

What I didn’t like about it is the search within the app drawer. As you’ll see in with the decluttered launcher below, the search can be much more intuitive.

Verdict

Overall, Before Launcher is a solid minimalist launcher that will get the job done. It’s an eye candy, whose biggest forte is the design and the ability to batch your notifications.

Get it if you like pretty things.

A decluttered Launcher — for the purist

Screenshot: Author

Cost: Seriously Free (no upsell) | Rating: Early Access

Pro

  • Swiping gestures
  • Quick calendar and clock access
  • Light and dark mode
  • My daily driver

Contra

  • Not updated since October 2019
  • no notification batching

This one might suffer from a bit of fanboyishness on my side. I apologize for that.

A decluttered launcher has everything you need and not more. I find the minimalism of the launcher — literally zero slack — orgasmically pleasing.

How it works

The launcher enables you to place up to 4 apps on your home screen. Swiping left or right can be customized to launch the other 2 apps. When you swipe up, you’re taken into your app drawer and the keyboard to search is automatically opened for you. I find this amazing: by having the keyboard open by default, you’re instantly mindful of your actions — the chance of mindless scrolling is minimal. Swiping down will land you in the search app of your choice (I use Google Go) for the quick lookup when you need to prove you’re correct.

For people with eyesight problems, there’s an option to enlarge the text, too.

The only problem that I noticed during my 6-month long use is that sometimes clicking on the time will crash the launcher (should open the clock app). But since searching the clock app takes a millisecond more, it’s no biggie.

Verdict

I’ve been using this launcher for 6 months and for my purposes, it gets the job done. Its seamless swiping control and inclusion of only the necessary functions still makes me happy even after the initial lovey-dovey period has ended.

This one’s a keeper.

Siempo — for the irredeemable phone addict

Screenshot: Author

Cost: Free | Rating: 4.1

Pro

  • “Time-wasters” are hard to access
  • Intention setting
  • App scramble
  • Notification batching
  • Mindfulness timer

Contra

  • Design

I’ve been using Siempo for a few months during 2019 and my overall experience was very positive. Siempo is the brainchild of Tristan Harris, the ex-Google ethicist who went rogue and exposed all the ways which, by design, our phones steal our attention.

Harris and his team designed Siempo in the spirit of humane technology, the sole purpose of which is to regain control over our lives.

How it works

Now the launcher itself greets you with the “intention screen” that you can set up yourself. Swiping right once lands you in the “tools” drawer. Swiping right twice will show your most-used apps. Swiping right thrice, and this is where it gets interesting, lands you in the apps you labeled as “time-wasters”. So by design, these apps are hard to reach.

But that’s not all.

Each time you reach this time-waster screen, the apps will get scrambled, so you can’t mindlessly tap where you’ve learned you stored the candy, but you’re forced to search for it. A brilliant function for all social media apps to be honest.

But wait, there’s more.

When you enter the app you labeled as a time-waster, a timer starts running. This timer will progressively devour bigger and bigger chunks of your screen and nudge you, gently, into leaving the app. Now sometimes this will drive you mad, I guarantee that. But if you have some hardcore self-control problems, this might be the function you’re looking for.

Siempo also offers notification batching.

Screenshot: Author

So where’s the poo?

Well, Siempo looks like something out of the Soviet Union, to be honest. The utilitarian design is in the stark opposition to the eye candy of Before Launcher.

Verdict

If you’re after functionality and don’t mind that your phone looks like something your grandma would wear, Siempo is an excellent choice. By far, Siempo offers the best for-focus functionality out there. And having people like Tristan Harris behind the project makes it extra trustworthy.

Launchers are only a piece of the puzzle

Our digital habits are strong and with the ever-increasing amount of information out there, there’s a lot of competition for our attention. If you want to be more mindful of your smartphone use, there’s nothing easier than to install a launcher that’s respectful of your attention.

If you’re into eye candy, get the Before Launcher.

If you’re a purist and love minimalist design, get the decluttered launcher.

If you’re a hard case and your smartphone use is off the roof, try Siempo (that’s where I started as well — so you know who you’re getting advice from).

Having a minimalist launcher is not end all be all, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Use it if you value your attention.

If you want to go deeper into the subject, I recommend Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.

On a journey to make my writing suck less.

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