Replace your stock Android apps

MOST Android users are quick to install their favorite games but more likely than not to stick to the stock applications that came with their smart phone. For example, text messaging is usually seen as an integral feature of a phone, and not as a separate application that can be swapped out.

For the most part, using the stock applications will get the job done with the least amount of fuss. But the Google Play shop is home to many alternative applications that give you more versatile ways to send and receive text and e-mail messages, browse websites, view photos and videos, listen to music and do simple calculations. Best of all, most of these applications are free, so you can try them out and simply remove them if they are not to your taste.

SMS with style

My favorite alternative to the standard text messaging software is Chomp SMS (4.4 stars in Google Play), which offers scads of customization options that will warm any tweaker’s heart.

For starters, you can change almost every visual element of a text conversation, including the style and color of incoming and outgoing word bubbles, font size of messages, and the background. If you are too lazy to do that, you can choose from extra themes that you can download for free.

Chomp SMS also allows you to lock the application with an on-screen pattern and blacklist or block specific users—handy for people you don’t want to hear from. You can send out scheduled messages, such as reminders and birthday wishes, or send the same text to groups defined in your Contacts application.

Better e-mail

Every Android smart phone comes with the Google’s mobile Gmail application—which is great for Gmail, but not for any other web-based mail service. Another problem with the Gmail mobile application is that it automatically logs you in—a huge security problem if your phone gets stolen or is lost.

For non-Gmail accounts, most phones also come with a stock e-mail application. These tend to be lightweight, however, and short on features.

Long-time Android users swear by the oddly named K-9 Mail (4.3 stars in Google Play), a free and open-source client with search, IMAP push e-mail, multi-folder sync, flagging, filing, signatures and more. I prefer Aqua Mail (also 4.3 stars in Google Play), which has many of the same features and enables you to lock the e-mail application with a PIN number as a precautionary measure against prying eyes. The free version limits you to two e-mail accounts, but you can buy the Aqua Mail Pro key for about P220 to remove this limit. If you access e-mail from your phone a lot, that’s money well spent.

Shooting Gallery

There are many good candidates to replace the standard Gallery, Album or Photos application in Android phones, but a perennial favorite is QuickPic (an astounding 4.7 stars in Google Play). Unlike the plain vanilla Gallery, the speedy and lightweight QuickPic features configurable themes and basic editing tools for rotating, cropping and resizing your photos. The application also enables you to Easily hide your private photos and videos from all Gallery-type apps and protect them with a password, and include or exclude specified folders for more efficient scanning.

Video elan

Video playback has not been a strong suit of Android phones, with stock applications playing only certain file types. It is a testament to the popularity of the open-source media player VLC on desktop computers that VLC for Android (4.3 stars in Google Play) has already racked up 10 million downloads for its beta release. The application warns on startup that it is a beta version and is not stable with this tongue-in-cheek caveat: “Do NOT use, unless you know what you are doing. It might kill your kitten and destroy your house. Use it at your own risk.” Duly warned, I uploaded videos in three different formats (MKV, MP4 and AVI) to my phone—and VLC played each with aplomb.

Just browsing

Although Google Chrome seems to be eating Firefox’s lunch on the desktop, Firefox for Android is a real alternative on smart phones, featuring fast page rendering on par with Chrome. To this it adds support for useful add-ons and synchronization with the Firefox installation on your desktop so your bookmarks are always up to date. As a Chrome replacement, I also like Dolphin, with its quick tabbed browsing, add-ons and gestures.

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