Android for the Windows Guy: Customize Your Home Screen with Widgets

Posted on April 8, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 0 Comments

Android for the Windows Guy: Customize Your Home Screen with Widgets

One of the tough things about moving from Windows phone to Android is that you lose access to the useful and fun live tiles that made Microsoft’s devices so wonderful. But Android does have an alternative that, while not perfect, can help you retain some of that “at-a-glance” functionality you may be missing.

I am referring, of course, to widgets.

Like iOS, Android uses plain, non-dynamic icons to represent each of the apps installed on your smart phone. But unlike iOS, Android also supports another type of object that you can place on your home screens. These objects, called widgets, allow apps to expose live information directly on the home screen. And yes, they work much like the live tiles in Windows, though they are far more limited.

But like live tiles, you can use widgets to effectively reduce the number of times you have to go in and out of apps, a process I call “whack a mole.” My classic example of this is weather: On Windows phone, I place a large weather tile in the upper-left of the screen because I can see the forecast without needing to enter the app. And because that corner of the screen is the hardest to reach (I’m right-handed), it’s a good choice for an app I rarely need to launch.

In Android, I do the same thing, except that I use a weather app widget (in this case for the app Timeline Weather, which is excellent). You can see it here on my actual home screen:

home-screen

I mentioned that widgets were limited compared to live tiles, and that is indeed the weak link in this plan. You will likely find that some of the apps you wish to use in widget form on your home screen simply don’t have widgets. Or if they do, that the widgets aren’t the right size: Widgets are fixed sizes, and can’t be resized as much as live tiles in Windows. (Some widgets are resizable, some in limited ways.)

As an experiment, I spent a bit of time playing around with how I might sort-of emulate my Windows phone Start screen as an Android home screen with a combination of widgets and standard icons. That is, I used large widgets where possible, and icons (or in some cases icon-sized widgets) elsewhere. (As on Windows 10 Mobile, where I often use small tiles for those apps where live data isn’t relevant or useful.) This isn’t a great example per se, but here’s what I came up with.

almost-sort-of-live-tiles

Obviously, you will need to experiment with widgets to come up with a home screen layout that you like. Here’s how you can get started.

First, tap and hold on a blank area of any home screen. (If the screen is chock full of icons, you can still do this by tapping on holding between the icons at the bottom of the home screen grid and those in the Favorites tray at the very bottom.) A screen like this will appear, providing a way to select a home screen and then change the wallpaper, add a widget, or access home screen settings.

edit-the-screen

Select the Widgets icon, and a list of available widgets will appear. The list you see here will be based on which apps you have installed: You cannot install widgets directly from the Google Play Store, instead they come with apps and will vary by app. (And many apps do not included any widgets, of course.)

widget-list

As you scroll through the list, you’ll see that widgets are fixed sizes, like the 2 x 3 noted for (Google) Calendar, meaning that it occupies a space onscreen that is the size of two icons horizontally and three vertically. You will also notice that some apps include multiple widgets, each in different sizes.

You select a widget by pressing and holding on it. Then, you can place it on a home screen. And then you can move it around, positioning it as you please, as you do with app icons. You can also remove widgets from the home screen, again as you do with icons, in this case by pressing and holding on it and then dragging it up to the “Remove” link that appears at the top of the screen.

Because of the less configurable nature of widgets, I tend to use less of them on Android than I did with live tiles in Windows phone. But I do pay attention to various app updates as they happen, especially those made to Microsoft apps, and have found that the quality and quantity of widgets has gone up over time. So while this will never really duplicate live tiles per se, it is getting better.