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Palm OS Launcherfest: Facer, LauncherX, MegaLauncher, SilverScreen, YiShow, and ZLauncher
Posted Jan. 2004 By Tanker Bob


In the beginning, darkness was upon the face of the Palm. A user pressed the power button, and there was light—the Palm application launcher appeared. But lo, the launcher was austere upon its face and function, and the user despaired. Then, breaking the horizon, the third-party launchers rose to cast more power upon the waters. The user rejoiced, and their functions were very good. But confusion began to rain down as the launcher choices proliferated. The user did not despair, though, because arrived to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Launchers have grown greatly in sophistication. Simple tabbed interfaces have grown to include today screens, file managers, memory savers, and image viewers. Integrating all this power into a coherent, user-friendly interface stands as the key challenge today. Features alone don't always tell the whole story, and each product brings something unique to the mix.

We rounded up what seem to be the most popular third-party launchers as indicated by various polls and general discussions on various community forums. Surprisingly, two companies declined to provide copies for review. PocketCraft and PocketSensi requested that we use their trial versions of Facer and SilverScreen respectively. Normally, I wouldn't bother reviewing trial versions that limit usability, but I made exceptions in these cases for the general users' benefit as both these companies' launchers have significant followings in the community. Draw you own conclusions about their lack of support, but I came to see why they didn't want to play with the big boys.

Facer 1.9.2 from PocketCraft (see our updated review of Facer here)

Facer's claim to fame centers on its today page. When Facer first comes up, you are presented with the current day's appointments and To Do items on the main screen, with the date and time in the top panel. The area assigned to appointments and To Do items can be set to take up half the area each or use the screen proportionally. Tapping on an entry's date brings up its details. You can change the preference to bring up the launcher on opening instead or the last-used view.

The icons on the upper left swap between the today screen and the launcher. Up to five favorite apps can be set and executed from the bottom of the screen. It defaults to three of Palm's hard button apps and Hotsync. The recent app list lives at the bottom right and pops up the last six apps run. A row of icons below the system ones on the launcher screen activate beaming, deleting, and bring up information screens.

On initial installation, Facer reads some of the system category setup, but does so inconsistently. While it seemed to pick up all the categories, it did not populate most of them with system categorized apps in RAM.

Facer supports themes that set the Facer interface elements and background. The screen shots show the Egyptian theme. Facer also has a trash bin where you can send apps you may want to undelete later. Of course, they'll still be on your device while in the trash can until you empty it. This feature proved common to all the launchers in this review.

General operation is simple enough. In fact, what you see is all you get. Facer supports the basic launcher functions of copy, move, and beam, but that's about it. It includes no file manager or memory management. It does support dragging-and-dropping apps across categories and categorizing apps on the card. Tapping and holding on app icons brings up a dialog for beaming, deleting, info, copying, and moving.

I noticed a few issues. Facer has a distinct delay in loading tabs with more than about twenty apps. As a point of comparison, the All tab took a couple of seconds to load on a 400 MHz T3. Also, Facer wouldn't display one- or two-bit black & white app icons, which seemed a bit strange. You can see that exemplified in the screen shot.

The Facer itself takes up 311K of RAM with the holiday theme taking up another 203K, for a total of 514K of RAM. The themes hang out on the card in the /Palm/Launcher/ directory to save space when not being used. Since the Launcher folder quickly becomes crowded with other apps and databases, it would be better if Facer used a dedicated directory under /Palm/Programs/ for this purpose.

Overall, Facer seems like a simple Today app with some basic launcher features included. It proved the least powerful/versatile in this roundup. At $18.95 ($15 for a limited time), though, it wasn't the least expensive as you might expect.

Pros :

Nice Today implementation

Cons :
Lacks any advanced capabilities like a file manager
No background image support

(see our updated review of Facer here)



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