This is the 2nd part of my previous article, the “Zero Button” Experiment. The first part was all about navigation without any kind of buttons, this article is about the navigation with buttons and a full conclusion of both methods.
You won’t be able to get all of these on stock Android or any OEM Android version.
Custom Rom solutions
Pie is one of the newer software buttons replacement solutions and mostly made for use in full-screen /expanded desktop mode. You swipe down from the bottom of your screen and the pie will appear (but you can also change the trigger area to any other side of the screen). Pie is a half circle with a few buttons. Usually you get back, home, recent apps, search button and the menu button. Some other ROMs even get you the last app button. There are a couple of available options as well like size, trigger size, style and gap. You can also adjust all color as you prefer. The biggest benefit of the pie is you don’t have to see any navbar and have the full screen to use but you can still navigate and do all the stuff you could with the normal stock navbar.
You get buttons similar to the stock navbar, but fully customizable. You can set-up up to 7 buttons with short and long press actions and you can also assign custom icons. The navbar is also customizable in size for both portrait and landscape. Recently added are the menu arrow keys, which pop up left and right besides your buttons when the keyboard is up so you can move the cursor when typing. But there is also a auto-hide option available which will let the bar disappear until you swipe up from the bottom of the screen so it appears again.
The navring is similar in functionality, but works slightly different. If you know the way Nexus phones access Google Now you should already know the navring. It is the very similar but way more flexible than only giving you the ability to access Google Now. You get up to 5 navring target with short and long press actions and customizable icons. You just swipe up from the navbar to the target you want release and the action gets triggered.
The newest solution here is also maybe the most powerful of all here, even if not the fastest one. There is really a lot you can do here. Basically it is very similar to most sidebar launchers like mobile Ubuntu or apps like sidebar, but on steroids. You swipe the side and the ribbon appears letting you tap the action you wanna trigger. Where all the others stop, ribbon seems just to start. You don’t just have the ability to use it on the sides like most but you can also use it on the lockscreen, Notifications, Quick settings and at the bottom. You also get the ability to quickly access an application windows from where you can see and launch all your installed apps. Of course you can place apps in the ribbon, but it wouldn’t be AOKP if that would be all you can use there. You can place all the navigation buttons plus the AOKP extras as well as every possible toggle button for your system. The number of actions per ribbon seems to be limitless since it is scrollable and isn’t limited by the screen size.The ribbons are also very customizable, you can change the icon size, ribbon spacing, opacity, color and more. It is just too much to list here, but you can take a look at the screenshots to see more.
These were the most common known in the custom ROM community but I was also looking in the Play Store for some lesser known which could also be a viable option especially if you don’t want to use that specific ROM. But you will need root on all of them if you want the full functionality.
Edit: AOKP Ribbons has released an update that includes
– Swipe area long swipe
– Swipe area long press
– Animation style (14 different ones available)
– slider to customize the animation duration
All those additions make the already very powerful ribbon even more powerful thanks to its higher customizability.
LMT Launcher (root needed)
This is pretty much the same as the PIE, but way more customizable since it offers a huge load of additional options and possibilities. You can easily put apps and extra actions in the pie, almost any action is available. It is slightly slower than PIE on some devices because it is not directly built into the system like PIE. It also offers some limited swipe gestures called ISAS (invisible swipe areas).
Fullscreen (root needed in order to use everything)
This app when activated turns your device into full-screen mode (according to its name) and gives you 2 buttons which offer you some limited actions and options when compared to AOKP.
You can place the buttons in every corner and they look like a quarter circle. You can adjust the size, color, transparency. You get 3 ways to trigger your actions, short press, long press and swipes. Right now the actions are quite limited in my opinion but you can do all the stuff the stock bar can do, no worries. You get Home, menu, back and recent apps (it doesn’t use the stock recent apps but its own style which I personally like very much because it’s faster and more comfortably to use than stock).
You also get
– Restore system bar (this disables full-screen until you activate it again)
– Show notifications (this shows you notifications in the tablet style not the usual stock way with the pull down notification bar, smart way in full-screen I’d say)
– Open pie menu (yes it has its own sorta pie, with 4 standard android buttons – back, home, recent, menu)
I contacted the app developer with some suggestions and he told me he is already working on a lot of additional functionality like assigning apps and actions. Also the buttons will be more flexible in number, size and position.Of course all of this will take some time but once this will be ready i think I’ll revisit the app for an updated review.
Deskbar launcher (root needed in order to use everything)
This launcher takes a bit of a different approach compared to the previous ones. It is also mostly using full-screen and the bar only pops up after you hit the small fraction of the start menu button that seems to disappear at the bottom.
The unique and cool feature of this soft of bar is the way it gives you access to your apps. You get a start button very similar to the windows start buttons and you get sort of the same way to access all your apps you know it of windows itself. You can easily setup up some favorites for quicker access.
The bar itself gives different elements to choose from
– lock button
– virtual buttons (standard android navbar buttons)
– music controls
– Volume controls
– experimental fullscreen (needs root)
You can customize the bar a bit with following options
– Desk bar height (small/big)
– Icon size (small/big)
The appearance of the bar itself can also be changed with different colors and start buttons designs.
It also gives you the option to change height and width of both start menu panels. The problem I have with this launcher is that the start menu panels disappear too quickly, with no way to change it.
Conclusion for all solutions
A lot of people seem to like it, even though I don’t quite get why. For me it is just to limited and not fast and convenient enough.Yes you can do all the basic android navigation stuff and enjoy full-screen but other than that, that’s it. But I am sure if you want just that, you should be satisfied. It looks very nice and is well designed, but is just not my cup of tea.
Similar conclusion for PIE. The pros over PIE is that it’s more customizable and offers more options, with the downside of triggering actions slightly slower.
If you can live with having a permanent bar visible at the bottom this is probably the best overall solution I would say. You have a lot of possibilities to customize it as you like. You can access a lot of things very fast and since it is basically an enhanced stock navbar it is the easiest method to get used too.You could also use the auto hide navbar option,this way the bar behaves very much like the ribbons.
If you like the idea of the sidelauncher with the swipe and tap, this is almost the perfect solution for you. For me this solution is slightly too slow,t he animation to appear should be editable, either made quicker or able to turn it completely off. Also I would like to have a quick release option without having to swipe and tap but just to swipe and release. I talked with the developer about this and the idea is at least in the planning. I really hope to see this soon because it would make it so much more appealing to me if done right.
This one could get a nice alternative for some people.You get the full-screen experience, all the necessary actions to navigate and some neat customization options. If the development keeps going on and the developer implements what he told me, it can only get more appealing. Right now, at least for me it is no viable daily driver solution, but I think it is worth trying.
I really like the idea of this launcher in general. With the right options this could be a really great alternative to the navbar with extended possibilities and the nice windows task bar feeling including the start menu. Sadly the right options aren’t quite there yet, but according to the developer some of them are already coded for the next version. If he does the changes and additions I suggested to him, this has quite the potential.
As a side note I think the navbar in combination with the ribbons is the best overall software button solution. You get a quick and powerful way to navigate and do everything without ever having to see your homescreen again if you don’t want to.
Summary of Part 1 and Part 2
Part 1 was all about gestures and Part 2 mostly about a software button solution, so which is the best?
This can’t be answered that simply, it is depending on what you want. If you, like me, want full-screen and still want to be able to comfortably navigate and use the system without any real limitations, the solution of Part 1 is the preferred one. If you want it more or less traditional and don’t want to remember gestures and such, any of the solutions of part 2 should be better suited, of course which one is up to you. I think there are a lot of nice choices available to find the right one.Of course you will need root and/or a custom rom for most ones.
My personal opinion
After using the solution of Part 1 for over a month I have one pretty good opinion about it now. My decision is made and won’t change anytime soon.
Full-screen and gestures(mostly bezel swipes) FTW. This solution convinced me a lot more than I would have ever expected to leave all other methods for good. For me this solution has just too many benefits to ever leave it again. It is more convenient once it is tied to your brain ,the whole experience feels so much more natural and comfortable by now. No looking for any buttons, not having to reach around the whole screen anymore. I set up both sides very similar, so no matter if I use the device (tablet or phone doesn’t matter) one-handed or two-handed I can use it almost the same. Using android never felt better for me and this makes me so happy I use Android which allows me that high amount of customization.
Special thanks to the developers of GMD gesture control and Overlay Launcher making this possible.