Today, Nothing made the Nothing Launcher available to download. You can try it out if you have a Galaxy S21, Galaxy S22, Pixel 5/5a, or a Pixel 6/6 Pro. As of the writing of this article, compatibility with OnePlus phones is coming soon. I was able to try out this launcher, so I’m going to give you my first impressions.
The Nothing Launcher has the aesthetic of an older stock Android phone
With all the talk about Android 12 and Android 13, we’re forgetting about the Material Design aesthetic established by Google a few years back. Thankfully, Nothing is here to remind us. The overall look and feel of the software is really reminiscent of Android between version 5 and version 11. The icons are large and round. Also, the size of the Google search bar also reminds me of older versions of Android.
Nothing does something interesting with the app grid settings
Using my phone on the Android 13 beta, I can see that the icons on the Nothing Launcher are actually bigger than those on the Pixel Launcher. By default, the app grid is set to 4×5, which allows the icons to take up quite a bit of space. However, even changing the grid to 5×5, the icons are still a bit big.
What the software does is keep the icons basically the same size, but squeeze everything together more. The widgets, on the other hand, become noticeably smaller.
One thing that stuck out to me is how the launcher handles the icons when you switch between grid sizes. It actually saves the size and position of all your apps, folders, and widgets when you switch. By that, I mean this: Say, you have your icons arranged one way in 4×5. Then, you change it to 5×5 and arrange your apps in a different way. If you switch back to 4×5, you’ll see that all of your app icons, folders, and widgets are back to the exact same way as when you last had them in 4×5.
In a way, the launcher saves each grid size as a “profile” that remains the same when you switch back. I found that pretty interesting.
The software looks old, but what’s new?
For starters, Nothing saw fit to equip its launcher with possibly one of the weirdest wallpapers launched by a company. It looks like a hand behind a textured glass window. It’s pretty creepy, to be honest; imagine a horror movie when the killer’s hand slams up against the window.
Wallpaper aside, the Nothing Launcher has some functionality I was able to try during my hands-on. Holding down on the home screen will give you the Wallpaper & style, home screen, and widgets buttons. The Wallpaper & style button takes you to Google’s own theme picker. There, you can still apply the dynamic Color theme. None of the app icons will change their colors, but the widgets are affected by the light/dark theme options.
When you dig into the widgets, you’ll finally start seeing Nothing’s own unique aesthetic in play. There are three widgets that come with the launcher. Two of them have the “dot” aesthetic that Nothing wants to pervade the software. The first one is a digital clock with all of the numbers made of dots. When you place it, you have the option to give it either a solid or transparent background.
Next up, there’s a weather widget with the clouds/sun presented as dots. You can’t alter the background for this one, but you can change the units between Celsius and Fahrenheit. Also, you can set it to either use a specific location or your current location. The last widget is an analog clock widget. The second hand is animated, so you can watch it going around.
Opening apps has a slightly different animation compared to the Pixel Launcher. When you tap on an app, the splash screen would originate from the actual app on both launchers. However, on the Nothing Launcher, the animation would be rectangular rather than a circle.
You can enlarge app icons and folders
One unique thing about the Nothing Launcher is the ability to enlarge app icons on the home screen. When you tap and hold on an app, you’ll see the additional functions. You’ll see what looks like two arrows facing away from one another. Taping that will quadruple the icon’s size. It will then take up 2×2 blocks of space instead of 1×1.
Not only can you increase the size of apps, but you can also increase the size of folders. I’m not sure why anyone would need app icons and folders that big, but someone is bound to find it useful.
How to install and use this launcher
Again, you can only use this launcher if you have one of the eligible phones. The beta should be easy to get, as it’s available to download from the Google Play Store. Follow this link, and you’ll be brought to the page. Tap the green Install button and wait for it to download. It’s only 15MB, so it shouldn’t take long at all.
In older versions of Android, right after installing a launcher, you’ll have the ability to switch when pressing the home button, but not with newer versions. You have to go into the settings and set the launcher.
If you have the Pixel 5 or 6, then you will want to go to your system settings. From there, tap on the Apps button. Scroll down and tap the Default apps button. Then, scroll down to the Home app option. Tap on that button (but, don’t tap on the gear icon). There, you should see the Nothing Launcher option right above the Pixel Launcher option.
If you’re using a Galaxy Phone, then the process is pretty much the same. When you go to your settings, the App button will be closer to the bottom, but you’ll tap all of the same buttons as with the Pixel phone.
The Nothing Launcher falls into the same trap that the Essential phone’s launcher fell into: it’s pretty much just stock Android. Nothing is aiming to make a streamlined and trimmed-down version of Android to keep things lightweight. It’s a nice and clean interface, but there’s not much to differentiate it from what we’ve seen before. If a person showed me this skin, I’d think that it was just Android 11 with some interesting (but nice-looking, in my opinion) widgets.
This is where the dilemma lies. It’s hard creating a truly unique Android skin without making it heavy. Thus, the company had to choose between weighing down the software with a heavy skin or sticking to a near-stock Android experience.
I personally don’t have much of an issue with the software, but there’s just not enough to really get me excited about the Nothing Phone (1). 50% of the smartphone experience is software. No matter how exciting the phone’s hardware is, you’re interacting with the software when you use it. Hopefully, Nothing adds some new and exciting additions to the software before the phone launches this summer.