Hands-On with Third-Party TV Launchers

When you first boot your Android TV, you’ll see the homescreen known as the Leanback Launcher. This launcher, made by Google, provides you with the ability to quickly open TV apps, games, and view your recommendations. For OEMs, they can add another row to place their own custom apps or recommended apps. The homescreen is simple and not too useful for power users. For those interested in maximizing their efficiency, users have always been able to install custom launchers. Just like what you’d expect, you use other apps as homescreens. We take a look at two popular alternative launchers: TVLauncher and HALauncher.

Disable Leanback Launcher

When you install a custom launcher on your phone, pressing the home button opens a dialog that allows you to select your new home. That’s not the case on Android TV. If the Leanback Launcher is present, it takes priority over any other app. However, there’s an easy way to fix that. If you connect to your device over ADB, you can run a single-line command to disable the launcher.

adb shell pm hide com.google.android.leanbacklauncher

Select a launcher

Now when you press home, a dialog will appear giving you a choice. Now you can select whichever you’d like and by pressing “Always”, you have your new home.

HALauncher

HALauncher
This is definitely the more power-user friendly of the two. It uses the standard Leanback UI to show you cards for every app. There are numerous settings and customization methods.

You have full control over how it looks
You have full control over how it looks

The launcher not only shows TV apps, but also handset apps (hence the name “Handset Apps Launcher”). This makes it a little more convenient to access apps even if they don’t have a Leanback banner.

HALauncher

By default, the launcher is very overzealous with finding apps and showing them to you, even if the app has an applicable TV activity. Of course, these can be removed through the app settings.

HALauncher

If you choose not to connect to your device with ADB, you can still quickly access this launcher through a notification in the recommendations row.

HALauncher

There is a way to transfer apps between your phone and TV over Wi-Fi, although I did not test that feature.

TVLauncher

TVLauncher

TVLauncher is a simple launcher which lets you add shortcuts and apps to various categories. Not all apps have to be present, but the ones that are appear in very nice cards. There are not too many settings, although you are able to switch between a light and dark theme as well as customize the categories that appear at the top.

TVLauncher

You can add apps to each category, as well as shortcuts to specific things or web bookmarks. You get more customization in what appears than the Leanback Launcher.

TVLauncher

If you want to keep your categories clean, you can open the app drawer to quickly see every app that you can open.

I did notice a few bugs. For example, one time an app was added twice to a category. The grid button in the app drawer didn’t seem to work either. Although there are a few quirks, and the banners could’ve been a bit smaller, I found the experience to be clean and somewhat delightful. The app is free to download, but a $3 IAP removes ads.

Conclusion

Of the two launchers we examined, I preferred TVLauncher. It seemed to have better design and provided a comfortable leanback experience. However, the great thing about third-party launchers is that we can all have our own preference. What launcher do you use? Let us know in the comments below.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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