Nokia recently launched its N1 Android tablet, showing the world that the sale of its mobile arm to Microsoft wasn't to be its end. While it agreed not to make phones anymore it is still going to be on smartphones thanks to its own launcher, the Z Launcher.
Nokia was made famous by its easy to use platforms on its earliest mobiles, so why not try that again in a modern launcher context? The Z Launcher is available now in beta for Android, allowing anyone to take advantage of this intelligent home screen that adapts to your phone use.
We've given it a go to see if it really can learn and if it's smart enough to replace our current launcher.
Scribble to search
The most striking feature on the Z Launcher beta has to be its use of hand written lettering to find things, called Scribble. If you're looking for Facebook, for example, you simply write an F with your finger on the screen. You're then presented with all F related items including apps, contacts and more all based on the regularity of your use. While this is great for finding what you use regularly it's not so helpful if you're searching for something less used – trapping you in a bit of a loop.
For example with the F we were met with a mate we contact regularly, despite his name having no F letters. His job title, pulled in from somewhere online, has an F so that made him relevant. While that seems a bit much this is with minimal use so it's likely, after more learning, that list will become more broad and helpful.
Users are also able to type a second letter after the first results have appeared. Adding an O for FO as an example helped bring up more results. If you type a wrong letter a swipe to the left will delete it so you can try another – a really clean and effective method of typing.
A learning computer
The homepage list of buttons is smart indeed. We tested it by opening BBC, then Camera then BBc again. The more frequently used BBC app sat at the top of the page with Camera slipping down as other apps were used more. The idea being that the more used apps will be most accessible at the top.
This method works well but we'd perhaps like to see a few more apps on the homescreen, maybe with two or three columns, to give greater access to a wider variety. We certainly use more than the allotted six lines available.
There is space at the bottom for four apps, either side of the app homepage button, bringing up the total onscreen to 10 – a bit limited then.
We did notice that when opening Twitter from a pull down notification the homescreen didn't register that as being opened and didn't leave the app on the homescreen. Something to fix after the beta version perhaps?
At this early stage the only customisation, aside from icon moving, is found in the form of background images. While these can be changed from within Settings there isn't an option to change the top digital and analogue clock. Since these are just repeats of what's already at the top of the homepage they seem like a waste of space that could be used to hold more app icons.
That said, once the Z Launcher learns more it does also show alerts in the top section. So if you like a certain band and have a gig in your calendar it'll let you know when that is coming up.
Changing the four quick access apps along the bottom of the screen is easy. You simply find the app from a list, either by going into the apps or writing a letter, then press and hold and drag it onto the icon you wish to replace.
You're also able to hide notifications from the list of six apps commonly used which will just pull in another in its place.
While the Nokia Z Launcher site says it's currently in testing with the Nexus 5, Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 and S5, we're testing it using the LG G3 and it appears to be working fine. Although with the Nexus 9 and 10 it's not currently available as far as we can see.
Presumably it works best with Android 5.0 Lollipop since that's what it will come with on the Nokia N1 tablet when that launches. Though our LG G3 isn't yet passed Android 4.4 KitKat and that has only crashed once – not bad for a beta.
While we've not been using the Z Launcher for long it's already learning from our use. This is nice for quick access to apps, as is the Scribble function, but it's not a replacement for our current Android Homescreen.
The lack of apps on the homescreen, without scribbling, is a factor that would limit our use of Z Launcher. Sure it will learn, but then most systems are doing that now with Google Now updating the users to events in a way that is customisable. The Z Launcher does it all without your control which can feel a little Apple-like for a regular Android user.
Z Launcher is fun and different. If you like your screen clean and minimalist this might be for you. Since it's free and available now in beta for Android why not give it a try?
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