Nothing promised during its “The Truth” event in March that it would launch its first phone this summer, but the company also wanted to give a look at the software it ships with it ahead of time in the form of a third-party launcher. That day has finally come, and Carl Pei’s new idea has released Nothing Launcher for Play Store. It’s currently in beta and only available for a handful of phones, but if that’s what awaits us in Nothing’s first phone, we’re pleasantly surprised – even though we found ourselves laughing at Nothing’s special Big Chungus’ Max Icons. “
But let’s not get ourselves ahead.
Installation and appearance
The installation and setup process was not very intuitive on my Pixel 6. This is a problem with any third party launcher, but Nothing Launcher seems to work worse than others here. Once you have installed the app in the Play Store, you will only have the option to uninstall it again, nor will you have a shortcut to launch it for the first time from your regular home screen. Instead, go to system settings and set it as your default starter. However, this may be an issue that is resolved when the launcher leaves its beta phase.
Once you’re up and running, you’ll be presented with a minimalist 4×5 layout that shows a couple of your pre-installed Google apps as well as Nothing’s signature background. At first glance, everything feels very familiar when you come from Google’s Pixel Launcher. Even the Google search bar has its dedicated place, but instead of being located at the very bottom, it sits between the dock at the bottom and the individual home screen panes at the top. However, the Google Discover feed on the right is missing.
Other things are just where you expect them to be. You can long press icons for additional options and swipe up to reach the app drawer where all your installed apps reside. Just like on the latest Pixel launcher, you can set the keyboard to launch automatically when you enter the view, making it easy to find the app you want to open without first going through the list. Unfortunately, you actually have to tap the app you want to launch after using the keyboard to find it, and search only works for apps. Pixel Launcher simply lets you press the Enter key to launch the first result and works not only for apps but also for contacts, settings, in-app shortcuts and more.
The launcher also provides a first glimpse of Nothing’s “custom” widgets that come with it. Due to limitations with third-party launchers, look for them in the widget overview and add them manually if you want to play with them – I bet nothing else would have put them on the first screen by default. I do not particularly like the aesthetics. The digital clock and weather widgets are pretty hard to read in an instant because of the font, but hey, nothing forces you to use them (pun intended).
Nothing Launcher has some clever tricks up its sleeve. First of all, it marks an important field by supporting custom icon packages (like most third-party launchers and even some first-party launchers). While Google is working hard to create an overall look with its Material-Them-Themes icons, Nothing takes a shortcut and gives you access to any icon design you’d like right out of the box.
However, the more unique feature is probably something else, and we’ve had a good laugh about it here at Android Police. Nothing has added so-called “Max Icons and Max Folders” to its launcher. If you’ve ever used a Windows Phone, this should be known, as it allows you to increase the size of an app icon or folder so that it stands out from the crowd and is easier to access.
While these oversized rounded icons look absolutely hilarious at first glance and I really would like to hate them, I can actually see how they could be useful and even stylish when used sparingly. The exaggerated icons remind me a lot of how Google approaches things with its over-constructed Material You widgets that become big and bold for the sake of aesthetics more than anything else. And it’s also great for accessibility. Folders actually work really well with this aesthetic – certainly better than individual apps. Unfortunately, you are stuck with either Big Chungus styling or the regular size – there are no granular options to choose from here.
A first look at the Nothing Phone 1 experience?
Aside from the jokes, Nothing Launcher is pretty neat if you want a simple home screen that doesn’t go overboard with bells and whistles, all the while also feeling pretty close to Google’s Pixel Launcher. It’s great to see support for custom icon packs, and it promises gesture navigation to play relatively well with it, which has been a problem for many third-party launchers for a long time.
While you may not love Nothing’s marketing strategy, this launcher feels like more than just a PR grip offering a really useful and thoughtful product. If this is an indication of what awaits us with the Phone 1, we may well be in for a pleasant surprise.
You can download Nothing Launcher in the Play Store, but be prepared to be left out. Nothing says that it is only available for Samsung Galaxy S21 and S22 as well as Google Pixel 5 and newer. Support for OnePlus devices is also expected to come soon. Nothing also has some of its backgrounds and ringtones that you can play with.
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