If you’ve ever taken a look at a few Android phones, one of the first things that you’ll notice is how they all look a little different when you use them. That comes from the style every manufacturer can exert over the Google operating system, but you don’t have to keep the look of Samsung, Sony, LG, or HTC, and you can change it all very quickly.

There are, of course, multiple ways you can make this go: you could go for the look of Android and clean it up, the look of a phone from another company, or go to something completely different, and while we haven’t sampled all of the launchers, we have taken a look at quite a few.

You will need an Android phone to try these, but they should work across all devices with Android 4.0 and above running on them, with only a few niggles here and there, so when you’re ready, it’s time to explore how you can really make your phone look different.

Android

It may not have been the first smartphone operating system, but it’s still a pretty solid one, and while Google has changed its look over the years, we think we’re at a pretty solid spot in regards to the interface.

But there are still some tweaks developers are finding, and that’s why if you don’t like the look or functionality of your current incarnation of Android but still want to keep it close what Google thinks, the Android-esque launchers are worth checking out.

Google Now Launcher

Price: Free

About the easiest launcher you can try, Google’s Now Launcher is basically the interface Google makes for Android, and can be seen on its Nexus products, as well as the handsets Motorola produces.

Icons are big, flat, and the launcher is one of the fastest you can use, with Google’s Now search bar across and ready on most screens, waiting for you to call out “OK Google” so it can get to work interpreting your voice into a command. We highly recommend checking this launcher out.

Nova Launcher

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

One of the better Android launchers out there, we’re fans of all the flexibility on offer in these launcher, such as the way to change spacing, shortcut actions, and knowing that the themes made for Apex also work on Nova.

While we haven’t covered it, Apex — another homescreen replacement app — is just as good, and worth checking out if you like what you see on Nova.

Samsung style

There’s Android, and then there’s Samsung, because while you might like Android’s take on minimalism, there’s also Samsung’s take on Android’s minimalism, which results in an interface Samsung calls TouchWiz.

TouchWiz has been around for a while, and you can see it in pretty much every Samsung phone released in Australia since the Galaxy S2 (it was probably referred to by the same name in the original Galaxy S, but we can’t recall).

That said, you might not have a Samsung, and you might want the look and feel of one without spending as much money. If that is you, here are your options.

Galaxy Launcher

Price: Free

Don’t call it TouchWiz because it certainly isn’t, but it is something close, bringing a near identical dock, homescreen, and menu system to any Android of your choosing.

And hey, unlock the implementation of TouchWiz Aussies have had for a couple of years, you can at least move the dock icons around!

S Launcher

Price: Free

Yet another launcher that emulates the look of Samsung’s TouchWiz, this one feels like it has been modelled off the KitKat launchers we’ve seen around the place, except with different icon packs made to emulate the style of Samsung’s interface.

iPhone

What if you really wanted an iPhone but didn’t want to fork out that money, or prefer the interface and look of an iPhone but are after the features of an Android phone? Well, we can help with that, or rather developers of these fine homescreen replacement apps can.

Espier

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

One of the original iOS styled launchers, Espier works well, but hasn’t really evolved the way other iOS launchers have. While it’s technically free, other parts to turn your Android into an iPhone copy now cost money, so just be aware of that.

iOS 7 Launcher

Price: Free

Modelled on iOS 7, iOS Launcher is pretty much like having an iPhone on your Android, only without the operating system being made or run by Apple.

It’s not an iPhone, you need to be aware of that, but if you fancy the look of an Apple iDevice, this will let you have it.

One Launcher (iOS 8 Launcher HD)

Price: Free

Probably our favourite iOS launcher of the group, One Launcher seems to do the best job of emulating the iOS experience, letting you swipe between app menus, drag down for a search bar, and uninstall apps quickly. It’s iOS without the iOS.

Windows

iOS and Android are great, but what if you really like the high contrast heavy colours of Windows Phone, but don’t want to be stuck with an application ecosystem that just isn’t there yet?

Windows Phone can work on Android too, or the look of it, anyway.

Launcher8

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Developed by one of the makers of the first Windows Phone launchers for Android, Launcher 8 is the sequel to the aptly named Launcher7, bringing the look of WP8 to Android phones. There are big icons, semi-live tiles, and the ability to pin any app you want to the main screen. If you had to choose a Windows Phone 8 launcher, we’d probably go with this one.

Launcher 8

Price: Free, with a paid version available for under $3

Not to be confused with “Launcher8,” Launcher 8 (with the space in its name) is a Windows Phone 8 launcher with a similar style to what Windows Phone 8 offers, a few settings, and some reasonably responsive tiles. It can slow down a bit, but could prove a good option for someone who really likes the look of WP8.

Metro 8 Launcher

Price: Free

More like a take of how Windows 8’s desktop and laptop interface could exist on a phone, Metro 8 is very different to Launcher8, and frankly, while it offers very large icons — which can be great for new users — we found plenty of slow downs on a top of the line smartphone (LG G3) when testing it.

Home8

Price: Free, with a paid version available for under $4.

If none of the aforementioned Windows-styled launchers do it for you, there’s always Home8. We’re not big fans of this one, mind you, as while it’s colourful, it also looks and feels very clunky, offering a Windows-esque experience. Ish. Very ish. Stress that ish.

For the designers out there

If none of these looks have your attention and you’d prefer your phone to look totally different, there are options for that as well. These are things we highly doubt manufacturers will ever try as they’re just not consumer friendly enough, but if you’re game, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Buzz Launcher

Price: Free

Offering more designs than you can shake a stick at, Buzz Launcher is about the unorthodox interfaces we’ve always dreamed gadgets from the future would have.

With Buzz and its Buzz Widget, anyone can be a designer, but the really good ones will get a mention and favourites from people using the Buzz Launcher, with lots of possibilities through this system, currently catering to over 450,000 homescreens. Sheesh!

Themer

Price: Free

Like Buzz Launcher, Themer is about designing your phone to look nothing like any other launcher, with small widgets and graphic placements that make the handset look totally out of the blue, with screens that almost look like they animate in and are actually just pulled in from the side.

If you’re curious as to what some of the themes in Themer can be like, it’s worth taking a browse through My Colour Screen, which is a showcase site for people creating themes in and for Themer, sharing these unique creations with the world and letting you redefine your handset to be different from the person sitting next to you on the bus.

Widget Home

Price: Free

Placed squarely in the “less is more” category, Widget Home is one of the more unusual designerly launchers that offers some flexibility on what sort of things exist on your home screen, but uses simple widget blocks to get there. Quite a few options are included, and you can place any widget of your own choosing here, but the sort of options available from this launcher appear to be more typographic than others, which we can see winning friends of design over.

Atom Launcher

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Take one part conventional Google launcher and another part designerly control, and what you’ll have is Atom, a standard Android launcher with a bunch of themes and some widgets that you can really play with.

It too holds the “less is more” message close to its chest, but lets you play with it and fill your home screen with as much as possible if that’s your choice.

Big buttons, little options

Smartphones have more or less killed the dumb phone, or the button phone for those playing along at home, and that’s not good news for people who like big icons, obvious buttons, and the idea that they’re pressing something of substance compared to a tiny icon on an otherwise big screen.

That’s where these launchers come in, making the phone easier to use for people who might have eyesight issues, or prefer seeing something bigger and working with that. This might be your mum, dad, grandparents, or even your kids, making it possible to customise any Android phone so that you don’t need a degree and a half to use it.

Big Launcher

Price: $10

One of the first to try this concept, Big Launcher provides everything a user needs for a phone, and some extras thrown in.

There’s the time, battery life, and reception at the top, and then big icons for calls, messaging, camera, picture gallery, sending out an SOS alert message over phone or text, and then a listing of all apps.

You can replace these icons if needed, change the order around, or add your own shortcuts, ditching the all apps shortcut if you so choose and replacing it with a big Facebook icon instead.

But the icons aren’t the only thing that’s big, with massive text available for people who really do have eye-sight issues, making it easier for them to read messages and alerts.

Crescendo

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Another of the options catering to a different crowd, Crescendo is less about the big buttons and more about a lack of options, offering a quick guide to your day — weather, what you have on — and then offering the basics to you.

There’s a bit more to the app, but not much more unless you decide to spend money and unlock the real version, with the amount of apps you have at your disposal limited by the locked menu.

Smart Launcher

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Only want a few apps to choose from? Smart Launcher has you covered, with six apps arranged in a hexagon, making up your six most important apps — messages, camera, phone, photo album, music, and web browser — with the rest available on the side.

Provided you can remember the icons, it’s a pretty simple mix.

…and everything else

And then there are the launchers that don’t really fit into any category, with styles and designs that don’t really match anything else, and yet offer solid homescreens that can do more than you’ll expect.

Aviate

Price: Free

One of the more playful launchers and one of our favourites, Aviate is about tracking your activities and offering you the best homescreen for whatever you’re currently doing at the time.

Getting up in the morning? There’s a specific screen for that, with a clock and weather forecast. Going to work? Have your calendar and a map screen. Are you out and about somewhere you’ve never heard of? Here’s what good for the area.

Beyond this context-aware functionality, Aviate offers a bunch of program shortcuts, collections of your favourite programs, and a simple way to dial people by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to see your most called folk. Highly recommended.

Z Launcher

Price: Free

This one came out of left field, offering an unusual experience from a brand not known for doing much with Android.

In fact, now that its Android efforts have been canned — thank you Microsoft — Nokia doing an Android launcher is very unusual, but here we are.

Z Launcher isn’t your regular home screen replacement app, offering your favourite shortcuts at the bottom, and offering apps and contacts that it thinks you’ll be using at various points of the day, such as Instagram or Google Maps when you’re out and about, or the Sonos app (if you use it) at home. If you can’t quickly find the app or contact you like, you can search for it by scribbling in the letters one by one.

EverythingMe

Price: Free

Half Android style, half something else, EverythingMe tries to adapt itself to your life with contextual screens and app choices, similar to what Z Launcher does.

It goes a little further, though, adapting your app collections to include widgets for news if you’re browsing your news folder or maps if you’re looking at what’s around you, trying to find the best way to bring in all the information about yourself to as few screens as possible, and even offering app suggestions here and there.

9 Cards

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Do you like your programs all collected into certain folders for you?

You’ll want to try 9 Cards, a launcher that does just that, while trying to be context aware and changing the apps to suit the way you use the phone. There are themes, too, meaning you’re not stuck with the design 9 Cards gives you in the first place.

Action Launcher

Price: Free, but with in-app purchases.

Another odd mixture, Action Launcher takes the simplicity of Android’s homescreens, but has you instead open your apps from the side, dragging open other applications from the left, which could speed up your life.

Facebook Home

Price: Free

Nowhere near as popular as it once was, “Home” was Facebook’s attempt at creating an Android experience that existed around the social network system that is Facebook.

In theory, the idea made sense, especially with Facebook’s dedicated smartphones, as it offers a Facebook user that ability to really integrate the social network in its life. That said, we haven’t heard much about its development in months, so if it works for you, great, but we’re not sure how long Facebook will keep the development of this one up.

Our favourites

We’ve given you a lot to choose from, and we’ve even missed a few because, quite frankly, there are just so many out there. New launchers are popping up all the time, and the ones that really grab us we’re writing about.

But we do have our favourites, so if you’re at all curious what the GadgetGuy team uses and why, here it is…

Aviate

Price: Free

Now owned by Yahoo, Aviate is easily one of the most different and most useful launchers available.

With a set of application shortcuts that can go as high as 10, collections of apps, and context aware screens that pop up at different times of the day — and usually when you need them — Aviate is by far our favourite, as it not just reacts to your schedule, but also offers a look at what’s around you.

Well worth checking out if you’re always on the move, and are tired of the look of other phones. Highly recommended.

Google Now Launcher

Google's "OK Google" accepting widget. It just stays there.

Price: Free

If you’ve ever wondered how different the interfaces of Sony, Samsung, HTC, and LG are from what Google originally planned (and keeps in its Nexus products), you’ll want to install the Google Now Launcher, as it offers pretty much Android the way Google thinks it should look.

The best part about Google’s Now Launcher isn’t the look, though, and is more about the search, which is always ready and waiting, and always updated, listening out on any screen for you to say “OK Google” just like if you owned a Motorola phone. Simply say “OK Google” and Google Now Launcher whirrs into action, listening to your commands the way we’re told everything in the future will be.

Themer

Price: Free

Playful and very unusual, the looks you can get from Themer really change the way a phone looks and feels, bringing it closer to what you find in a science fiction movie or TV show than what your standard phone manufacturer makes.

You might find the occasional crash here and there, and there’s even a possibility it won’t work on really new devices — LG G3, we’re looking at you — but if you can get it working, it’s worth seeing the sorts of designs you can get working on your phone, and then make some yourself!

Widget Home

Price: Free

We’ve grown to like this one because it’s so playful, offering a designer’s take on an operating system in a way that can be easily changed by you or I, and without a special scarf or beret (we’re making fun of GadgetGuy’s designer with that line).

In all seriousness, Widget Home offers some playful fonts and styles for a launcher, with your choice of apps to make it one of the launchers you’ll love using and showing off.

Big Launcher

Price: $10

Despite it’s big price, Big Launcher is one of those great ideas we wish manufacturers would pick up on, since it brings the big buttons from older phones to big touchscreens, making the new all-screen phones easier for seniors and children to grasp.

If you’ve been trying to work out how to get your relatives on the smartphone bandwagon and they’re struggling with the complexities of mobile operating systems, this is worth the try, as it offers the functionality they’ll understand with large text when they need it, likewise with your kids.