Action Launcher brings Oreo features to older Android phones

If you have one of the many smartphones that isn’t getting updated to Android Oreo, there’s still a way for you to try out several of its most noticeable features.

Action Launcher, one of the many apps that let you customize Android’s home screens, is now able to bring three of Oreo’s launcher features to older phones: notification dots, adaptive icons, and restyled app shortcuts. They’re supposed to work on phones going back to 2014’s Android Lollipop.

I installed the app last night to give it a try, and it does a convincing job of mimicking Oreo. Notification dots appeared on app icons when they had a pending notification, and I was able to press and hold the app’s icon to see what the notification was. It would also pop up, along with app shortcuts, in a box with rounded corners, instead of the split apart options seen in prior versions of the OS. That one’s not a huge difference, but it looks a bit nicer.

Adaptive icons work, too. I was able to choose which style of icon I wanted — square, rounded square, even more rounded square, circle, or teardrop — and my home screen and app drawer would refresh and fill with icons all in the same style. Action Launcher even provides custom icons for some apps that don’t support the new feature, so you might see more consistency here then you would on actual Oreo.

Action Launcher has been around for years now, and it does plenty more than just port these — all things considered — relatively minor Oreo features to older phones. It includes a handful of new ideas for the home screen, including a slide out app drawer and a slide out widget tray. There are also a bunch of granular tweaks you can make to things like the dock, shortcuts, folders, and color schemes. Another nice bonus: it lets you add a Pixel-style home screen, complete with Google Now panel, to non-Pixel phones.

But there are some drawbacks to all of this. I installed Action Launcher on my Nexus 5X, and it definitely made my home screen a bit more sluggish. It’s not a huge slow down, but there are occasionally stutters that I didn’t get using my default launcher. So if you’re already on an older, slower Android phone, getting these features might not be worth it. When you first install the app, it’ll mess up your existing widget configuration, too, which isn’t a huge deal but means you won’t want to install this until you have some free time to get it set up to your liking.

And while Action Launcher is free to download, and some of its more basic customizations are free, you’ll have to pay to get the Oreo features. It costs $4.99 to get Notification Dots and some other theming abilities, and then you have to buy a companion app, called AdaptivePack, for $4.99 (though it’s currently on sale for $3.49) to swap out your icons. (If you want the Google Now panel, you’ll also have to install an app from outside the Play Store.)

I think Action Launcher is fun to play around with, but if an Oreo update is eventually coming to your phone, I don’t know that the additional features are worth paying for.

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