Live wallpapers, a feature of Android that lets you set an animated or interactive scene as your phone’s background, are a great way to spruce up an otherwise static home screen. While the first crop tended to suffer from technical shortcomings such as excessive battery drain and poor performance, live wallpapers have come a long way in the time since.
The newest offerings are eye-catching and lush, providing fluid and attractive backgrounds that feature everything from simple textures to quirky spaceships that quietly chug through the void of space. 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.
Setting live wallpapers
Before you see what beautiful backgrounds Android’s developer community has to offer, you should know how to apply them. Luckily, the process isn’t challenging. The first step is installing a live wallpaper (or several) from the Google Play Store. Once that’s done, you’re nearly home free.
Step 1: Press and hold on any home screen.
Step 2: Tap Wallpapers in the resulting menu.
Step 3: Tap Live Wallpapers.
Step 4: Select a live wallpaper from the resulting list.
Step 5: Tap the gear icon in the upper-left corner to adjust the live wallpaper’s settings.
Step 6: Tap Set Wallpaper to set the live wallpaper as your background.
Great live wallpapers
For many people, nothing is more soothing than a coniferous countryside. Forest Live Wallpaper depicts a dense forest set against majestic mountains and boasts a bevy of dynamic features. An intuitive day-night cycle gradually brightens and fades the wallpaper’s colors to match the time of day, and a star-peppered sky appears after dusk. The trees also move as though they’re experiencing wind. The scenescape’s weather conditions even mimic your local forecast — customizable wind, rain, snow, and clouds are all present and accounted for.
There’s something mesmerizing about water droplets dribbling down a pane of glass, and it’s a feeling Raindrops Live Wallpapers captures perfectly. But the live wallpaper, which features high-definition video footage of raindrops on a window pane, has more to offer than just rain and gray skies. A subtle blur effect prevents the drops from obscuring your shortcuts and widgets, and the wallpaper is optimized to “consume low resources” and preserve your phone’s battery. It’s the best parts of a rainy day … without the water.
If you’ve ever wanted a cat without the hassle of changing litter or stocking your living room with squeaky toys, Stalker Cat Live Wallpaper might be your best bet. The live wallpaper features a mischievous, silhouetted cat that moves around the edges of your screen. It pops up from random locations along the edge of the screen and gets smug if it thinks you haven’t spotted it. Anne Pätzke — the artist behind the wallpaper — describes the little creature as “subtle and enchanting,” and we couldn’t agree more.
It may not be on par with Naohiko Aoyama’s beautiful artwork in Paper Mario, but, nonetheless, Paperland is a beautiful realization of a two-dimensional parchment world. The free version features five themes — Beach, Silent Night, Desert Migration, and Grass — each of which comes with the same customizable aesthetics. You can choose a fixed time of day, or let the sun rise and set in accordance with your current timezone. Additional options let you alter specific scenic elements, like tree leaves and the height of various hills, not to mention kinetics like scroll speed.
The Galaxy collection is a fairly robust offering when you consider some of the threadbare wallpapers in the Google Play Store. You’re afforded the choice of Ice, Inferno, or Vortex Galaxy renditions, though we prefer the Shadow version given it functions as a dark, subtle background. The wallpaper essentially puts your device in the middle of a star-blazoned galaxy, much like a spacecraft surveying the universe. Changeable parameters include the number of stars and the animation speed of celestial bodies, but we were pleased with the defaults. It’s eye-popping.
More cool live wallpapers
There’s a cheaper way to travel than on an airplane or ship, and it’s called the City Night Live Wallpaper. The wallpaper features a curated collection of animated metropolises that’ll take your breath away, including a glistening Tokyo, a shining New York, a chilly Toronto, and dozens of other locales. Each features moving landscapes and flashing lights that reflect the changing time of day, a selection of several different background themes, and a social button that lets you share particularly picturesque backgrounds with friends. It supports horizontal orientations and packs a battery-saving feature, too, one that dims the screen automatically when your phone is inactive.
Whether you’re a budding meteorologist or an atmosphere amateur, there’s a benefit in keeping abreast of the weather. Enter Weather Live, a dynamic background that provides an up-to-date collection of climate stats from around the world. Wanna pull up the current temperature in Los Angeles? That’s perfectly within the realm of possibility. You can also assign effects like raindrops, light streaks, and faded colors, allowing your phone to better reflect current conditions. You can even check the real-time forecast with satellite data, and the built-in algorithms prolong battery life.
These days, emoji are everywhere. They have keyboards. They’re the principle subject of an upcoming blockbuster film. Enter Emoji Live Wallpaper, a high-definition background that boasts cute, cuddly, and sparkly emoji. Each time you swipe or tap the screen, they smile in response or show their affection with cute little streams of animated red hearts. The wallpaper is even customizable — you can increase the speed, size, and density of the elements — meaning you can quickly tailor it to your liking. The wallpaper’s battery efficiency is just a plus.
The ocean’s rolling waves can cure all ills… or at least make you feel a little better on a melancholy afternoon. Luckily, Ocean Live Wallpaper features a beautiful sunset over an undisclosed Florida beach, along with the sound of waves and assorted visual effects designed to match your current mood. The wallpaper is also optimized for both phones and tablets and comes equipped with a battery-friendly feature that extends your device’s off-charger life. Apparently, there’s a reason it remains one of the top wallpapers in the Google Play Store.
The Nebulander may take the crown when it comes to distracting wallpapers, but does so with such artistic flair that you can’t help but ogle. With the Nebulander, your Android backdrop becomes the cosmos, crowding your screen with an array of eye-catching clouds, planets, and the steampunk-inspired Digger airship. You’ll have to shell out a few bucks to access all the features, but the free version doesn’t skimp. You have the freedom to adjust the airship’s elevation, size, and travel speed, and the power to throw garbage into the cosmos, take an astronaut outside the starship upon landing, or launch a scanning probe. It’s easily one of the most creative — and addictive — live wallpapers we’ve seen.
More neat live wallpapers
Sometimes you just want to get lost in space, and when that time comes, the Vortex wallpaper can help. It essentially sends your Android device on a whirlwind tour of distant galaxies, resulting in a veritable rainbow of vibrant nebulae that come speckled with the distant planets, constellations, and other gaseous phenomena. It’s one replete with controls that accelerate the camera angle and toggle stars on and off.
If you’re envious that your friends with broken smartphone screens get all the condolences, or just desperate to convince your parents or significant other that your phone’s in dire need of replacement, you could do worse than Broken Glass Live Wallpaper. True to the live wallpaper’s name, it simulates glass that’s been through the wringer. You’re given four designs to choose from and have the freedom to select the background, “crack type,” and the size of the crack from within a detailed settings menu. The “cracks” in question are triggered with a simple tap, too. Tapping once “cracks” the screen and plays the sound of breaking glass, while tapping twice clears the crack.
If you’re the indecisive type, Muzei’s a good option. The wallpaper app refreshes your home screen each day with famous works of art that recede into the background, blurring and dimming to keep your icons and widgets in the spotlight. If you prefer a more personal touch, it can pull your own artwork and set it as the wallpaper. It can also import galleries from other apps that you happen to have installed.
Prefer something a little more geeky? Take Device Info Ex for a spin. The live wallpaper shows real-time device info taken from your humble smartphone. You’ll see the time and date, your phone’s processor and memory usage, your last known Wi-Fi network, and even the current compass heading. Nearly every setting is exposed, including the background color, background brightness, text color, animation speed, and layout. An aesthetic that takes a cue from an IBM-era byte code completes the package.
Not every wallpaper needs to sparkle and shine in order to stand out — just take Minima Live Wallpaper as an example. The wallpaper channels Material Design, the minimalist design language introduced in Android Lollipop, and features more than 35 hand-crafted themes that respond to shifts and tilts. You can change the colors if you like, and the app’s premium counterpart boasts a theme creator that lets you build a custom background.
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