Nokia’s Z Launcher: Radical New Homescreen Concept, But Worth Using?

Nokia’s Z Launcher: Radical New Homescreen Concept, But Worth Using?

Jun 24, 2014

Nokia’s Z Launcher takes a curious approach to the homescreen launcher: by instead of having multiple pages of icons, it shows six common apps or actions, like a commonly-texted contact, and allows you to ‘scribble’ handwritten text, sketching out the letters in an app, email message, or web search, to access it from the homescreen.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s still in beta so it could improve by leaps and bounds in future versions, but one thing is clear from having used it since it launched: this is far from prime time, and far from being a realistic replacement for your current launcher.

Z Launcher Beta (1)

The bottom icons are not customizable, which leads to a few problems in this beta. For example, if you use Hangouts and not the default Messaging app on your device, well, you’re not going to have quick access to it. Have Chromecast and the Chrome app installed? Well, Chromecast shows up on the bottom bar and not Chrome. I’m assuming that is an issue. And it’s one that can be fixed, but it hasn’t yet. Perhaps customization of the bottom 4 icons is coming, but it’s a problem right now. As well, if you use a phablet that can comfortably fit 6 icons at the bottom, having 4 feels like wasted space.

But really, let’s get into the ultimate question: is this better than a standard launcher? Handwriting recognition is still an art rather than a science, and if a letter gets mis-recognized, well, there’s no quick backspace, you have to hit the back button to reset it, and that there’s not a button to clear out the letters feels like an odd interface decision. The launcher sometimes takes a few seconds to go back to the homescreen after hitting the home button.

But really, is this quicker? To have to scribble letters to find things on my phone? It felt awkward to scribble “g-r-o” to get to GroupMe on my phone to react to the USA scoring a go-ahead goal to send a message to my friends when my standard launcher has it on the homescreen. And it can fit more than six quick-access apps, and most phones can. Sure, it’s kind of nice to have quick access to anything, from apps to emails to web searches from the homescreen, but isn’t there some balance? I hate losing widgets in exchange for scribbling. And really, I think it’s more important to have rapid access to my most common apps than slightly-quicker access to everything, as compared to a standard launcher.

And that’s the thing that I think Z Launcher is going to have to sort out in the coming weeks and months, however long it takes for it to leave beta and become a finished product. In adding the scribbling aspects, does it remove too many strengths of traditional launchers? Can some of these be restored? Because if so, this launcher feels like a step forward, but too many steps backward to be of use.

But hey, that’s the joy of beta software, huh?