Live wallpapers have come a long way from those first introduced in Android 2.1. Whereas the first animated wallpapers added a minimalist flair and meager interaction capabilities, the newest offerings from independent developers like Wasabi and Gauli are incredibly lush and eye-catching, providing attractive backgrounds that feature everything from simplistically-colored textures to quirky spaceships quietly chugging through dense void of space. Some may be overly distracting at times — hell, not everyone wants to look at fluorescent, equalizer-esque light parade when panning through their apps — but at least they will no longer drain your battery with the same fervent drive they once did. After all, that’s what new advances in power efficiency are for right?
Here are our picks for the best free live wallpapers for Android so you can spice up your smartphone or tablet backdrop without having to dip into your wallet. Additionally, check out our quick guide on how to make your smartphone battery last longer to ensure your chosen live wallpaper isn’t the demanding crux of your Android device. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.
There’s no reason your Android background can’t function like a mood ring in times of extreme indecisiveness. Modeled after the icon Phase Beam wallpaper, Custom Beam allows you to quickly alter the wallpaper’s backing colors, gradient angles, animation speeds, beam opacity and other cosmetic components to create a truly custom profile. The animations are simple and fluid, dappled by drifting light spots that utilize two specified background colors and one foreground color for greater color diversity. Although gyroscope functionality would be nice, complaints are minimal.
Shape-shifting triangles can be deceitful. The three-point shapes composing Nexus Triangles are modeled after the standard 4.2 Jelly Bean wallpaper, yet they revel in simplicity despite looking overly complex at first glance. Users can easily choose from a myriad of standard presets, or if they’re picky, take the time to fine-tune the animated background using a combination of different sizes, styles and colors. The shaded animations are lively, yet subtle, but it’s the sheer number of color offerings available via the built-in color palette that give the wallpaper its true potential.
As the name suggests, the Nexus Revamped wallpaper isn’t so much a revolutionary take on the former live wallpaper, but an optimized redesign aimed at improving efficiency and personalized customization. It’s pixelated, featuring a dark background on which alternating trails of light scuttle by at differing speeds, yet the lack of fine details only adds to its retro-tinged, visual spark. Both the minimum and maximum speeds for the light trails can be set, along with the spawn density, and it even maintains support with the LauncherPro app and Android’s Daydream Mode. Still, we can’t shake that Tron feeling.
It may not be on par with Paper Mario per say, but Joko Interactive’s Paperland is rolling world of paper cut-outs and adorable animation. Free users can choose one of four themes — either Beach, Silent Night, Desert Migration, or the default grass one — but each features the same underlying, customizable aesthetics. Users can choose a fixed time of day for the themes, or allow the sun and moon to rise according to real-life parameters, and additional options are readily available for altering the specific scenery dynamics (i.e. hill height, tree leaves) and scroll speed. It’s cute, though chaotic.
The Galaxy collection of live wallpapers for Android is fairly robust when you consider all the offerings available in Google Play. Although you could opt for the Ice, Inferno or Vortex Galaxy renditions, we prefer the Shadow version given the dark background is the least distracting of the four. The live wallpaper essentially pits your device in the middle of star-blazoned galaxy, slowly scouring the expanses of space indefinitely. There are option to reduce the number of stars and adjust the animation speed, but most people will want to stick with the defaults. It’s celestial, if not eye-popping.
A little bit of light can go a long way in sprucing up your Android device. The aptly titled Rays of Light features slow, translucent moving rays of light that gently sway in the background, hovering in front of a nonexistent background or a textured design of your own choosing. Each backdrop is subtle and faint, slightly blurred to avoid distracting ridges, but endowed with various patterns that fill the girth of your Android device. It’s reminiscent of the the Flurry screensaver equipped with older versions of Mac OS X, and though it skimp on customization, it’s not notorious for battery drain like several others on our lineup.
Don’t let the name fool you, Beautiful Live Wallpaper is not as “live” as it might imply. Yes, the paid version of the live wallpaper features real-time weather updates — sun, snow, rain, hale, etc. — based on your current location, but the freemium edition of the wallpaper only supports options for relating whether it’s night or day. Still, it’s not a bad alternative if you’re looking for a simple wallpaper that adheres to sunrise and sunset. The animation is simple, adorned with either a glowing sun and baby blue background or the full moon and star-spotted night sky, but each features ebbing blades of grass for added effect.
Nothing says “serene” quite like a breathtaking sunset. Although Kittehface Software’s flagship live wallpaper will never do justice to the romantic, first-date sunset of your youth, it still radiates with a similar vibe. Featuring a silhouetted, tree-spotted ridge line and sweeping clouds, Silhouette offers a scenic panorama with plenty of customization. Everything from sky color and wind direction can be altered, along with tree animation and cloud speed, but you won’t find the additional foreground silhouettes found in the premium incarnation of the software. Nevertheless, I’ll take trees over skyscrapers any day of the week.
It’s tough to argue with nearly 70,000, five-star reviews on Google Play. As one of several of Wasabi’s offerings on our roundup, the Galaxy S3/Galaxy S4 Live Wallpaper is a throwback to previous wallpapers, feathered with drifting seeds that flutter in front an enlarged dandelion in the background. The seeds are touch responsive and coupled with a water droplet effect, sending them whirling in alternative directions when the tap-initiated ripples wrinkle outward. Additional settings are readily available for adjusting the number of frames per second and and number of seeds, and there’s also an option for swapping to X-ray mode if you like your flowers to look abysmally gloomy.
Not all of us are tickled by the notion of amorphous shapes of light freely spinning upon a lackluster background. However, if that is for you, Symphony of Colors is a thing of pure jejune beauty. The edges are well-defined for added contrast against the black background and the rotating shapes respond effortless to the touch, allowing users to spin and rotate the light prisms for a myriad of viewing angles. Colors don’t fade into assorted hues in the way they do with similar wallpapers — though there are options to customize colors — but the fact they remain static renders the wallpaper less distracting than it would otherwise be.
The Nebulander takes the crown in terms of distracting, but it does so with such an air artistic flare and eye-catching artwork that you can’t help but ogle profusely. With the Nebulander, your Android backdrop becomes the cosmos, filling you sparsely crowding your screen with an array of colored clouds, planets and the steam-punked Digger airship. As usual, you’ll have to opt for the premium version of the software to access all the available content, but the free version still possess the power to refine simple facets such as airship elevation, size, and travel speed. It’s fluid, while remaining one developer Gauli’s more creative offerings.
When you have a collection of Galaxy wallpapers as robust as those by developer Maxelus.net, it’s difficult to prevent more than one from quietly trickling on to your list. Like the aforementioned Shadow Galaxy, the Vortex rendition catapults your Android device into a whirlwind tour of galactic proportions, complete with convenient controls for accelerating the camera angle and toggling stars on and off. Unlike the dark abyss found surrounding that of the Shadow Galaxy however, the Vortex Galaxy is rainbow in nature, teeming with vibrant, greenish-orange hues, and speckled with the distant lights of remote planets and constellations. Though not all that glitters is gold, the Vortex Galaxy just might be.
Although I may have mechanized voice sputtering “Droid” ingrained deep within the trenches of my mind, the Droid DNA live wallpaper doesn’t quite scream “Skynet” like the aforementioned commercials. However, there’s no denying the similarly-named wallpaper isn’t also a product of futuristic visions. The background is primarily static — there’s no sputtering seeds, airships or paper birds to speak of — but it does feature floating particles and a water droplet feature that ripples akin to the one found in the Galaxy S3/S4 Live Wallpaper. It’s inspired by the HTC Droid DNA, and though merely comprised of a network of honeycombs, the varying color choices provide a subtle ambiance that rarely deters or distracts.
Whether or not the Xperia Z wallpaper intentionally took a cue from the PlayStation 3 interface remains disputable, but there’s no denying the majestically flowing beams of light and hovering, wispy particles don’t somewhat register with Sony’s flagship offering. Like the aforementioned Droid DNA live wallpaper, Xperia Z is relatively static aside from a coupled ripple effect, yet the shining beams appear animated whenever the resulting ripples waver across the interface. The design is crisp and bright, regardless of which color gradient you choose. Now if only I didn’t want to boot up Journey every time I saw it…
What do you think of our top picks for the best free live wallpapers for Android? Too little or too much going on in the background? Let us know in the comments below.