Google added live wallpapers to Android way back in version 2.1, which first appeared on the venerable Nexus One. At the time, it was little more than a curiosity, a gimmick. Most live wallpapers guzzled battery life and were entirely too flashy to have moving around behind your icons.
Four years later, live wallpapers have evolved into something that can make your phone feel alive and personal, without the obvious drawbacks. Let's check out five live wallpapers that are as easy on the battery as they are on the eyes.
This live wallpaper is a newer arrival in the Play Store, and it does operates a bit differently than most other apps in this category. Muzei (a transliteration of the Russian word музей, meaning “museum”) pulls in beautiful high-resolution images and rotates them in as your background.
The "live" part of the wallpaper comes in the way it applies dim and blur filters, which keeps the home screen from being too busy, but you can double-tap at any time to see the unblurred image for a few seconds.
Perhaps the best thing about Muzei is the fabulous ecosystem of extensions that add new sources of images; there's always something new with Muzei. It's completely free in Google Play.
The Phase Beam live wallpaper has been included in most builds of Android since Ice Cream Sandwich. It's easy on the battery and doesn't get in the way of icons too much, but it's a little boring, and completely lacks options. A good alternative is Custom Beam, which allows you to produce the same effect, but with all manner of variables to tweak. If you don't like the blue/purple default look, you can change it to anything you like.
Custom Beam includes settings for the speed of the animation, shape of the lens flare effects, and even the angle of the color gradient. It can also change based on your battery state as a subtle reminder it's time to plug in. The basic color-changing features are included free, but it will cost $1.49 to unlock everything else.
Google Now is at the center of Google's Android plans—so much so that the art style seems prevalent in everything Google does. The Mountains Now live wallpaper imagines what it would be like if that cute little Google Now header image came to life and took over your homescreen.
The result, as you might imagine, is adorable. Little ships float past, mountains appear in the foreground, and the clouds drift onward as your perspective shifts.
The real killer feature in Mountains Now is that it can use your device's gyroscope to produce a parallax effect as the phone is tilted. Even with the animation speed and motions sensing turned up, I never see Mountains Now show up on my battery monitor. The clean lines and solid colors don't get in the way of your icons, either. The full app costs $1.63, but there is a free version with a subset of the features.
The Wave live wallpaper is a bit like Custom Beam in that it's absolutely overflowing with settings. It produces a series of smooth waves and lines of glowing energy that undulate across the screen. It's vaguely reminiscent of the background you see on a Playstation 3 or PSP.
The colors, speed, and magnitude of the waves can be altered to produce very different effects. Because Wave includes such extensive settings, you can easily tune it to your device so it's smooth and power efficient.
Even at a modest frame rate with the detail level turned down, Wave can look impressive, but higher settings have never caused me any unacceptable battery drain. Wave costs $1.49 in Google Play, but there's a free trial too.
Space Colony from Maxelus is by far the most detailed live wallpaper on this list, but it's shockingly easy on the battery. This wallpaper depicts a futuristic skyline shrouded in glowing fog on your homescreen. You get to choose from a dozen different backdrops, color schemes, and lighting effects.
The camera slowly pans across the sky and slides through the narrow gaps between the glowing towers, but you can change the camera's path at any time with a quick double-tap on the screen.
Even with the frame rate set reasonably high, this live wallpaper almost never causes any detectable battery drain. For the full raft of settings, you'll need to drop $1.95 via an in-app purchase.