For all the things that Android does really well, messaging is the one area that is still a little subpar compared to that other popular mobile platform.
That’s because manufacturers have traditionally preloaded a utilitarian texting app that looked like it was built in an overnight jam session right before the ship date. You can do better. Here are four solid options that will give you a better texting experience and throw in a few extra tricks to make things more personalized and efficient.
If you want the quick and simple answer for what texting app to get, go with Android Messages. Formerly known as Google Messenger, it’s the focus of Google’s efforts to build a better texting system through a technology called RCS. When that future arrives, you’ll get real-time typing notifications, more reliable messaging, and support for sending images at a higher resolution. Carriers are just now rolling out support for the RCS universal profile, so until then it just does basic SMS and MMS like most messaging apps.
Since your carrier may not support RCS, you may want to focus on the current benefits. The app lets you differentiate conversations by assigning different colors to contacts, which is very helpful for keeping conversations straight. It also supports app shortcuts, so you can hop right into a conversation with someone specific. I’ve sent a text to the wrong person about a billion times when using an iPhone, but it’s never happened with this app since it’s easier to differentiate.
The apps also flawlessly implements GIFs and emoji to liven up the conversations. Other options are relatively straightforward, such as getting SMS delivery reports (kills the excuse of “I didn’t get your text”) and tweaking the sounds. The real benefit is that Google is finally taking messaging seriously, and has made Hangouts more of a corporate solution, so you can trust this app should see future development.
Hands down the best alternative to Android Messages is Textra SMS. In my day-to-day usage I stick to the former because Google has finally decided to put effort into it, but I know that many people love and swear by Textra.
Textra is a great choice if you really want to jazz up your text interface and you love customization choices. You have what feels like a limitless way to tweak the interface, changing up the colors and aesthetic view of the message bubbles.
The animations are also nice, putting some extra spunk into your texting. Also, be sure to download the Textra Emoji add-on so you can get access to everything from the latest Unicode standard.
A great power user feature is the ability to force the texts to go from SMS to MMS for longer messages. This avoids the garbled message groups that sometimes happen with longer conversations. Spend time in the settings to customize this and many other tweaks available.
A lot of people have taken a greater interest in privacy these days. But getting everybody to get on board with your new secret messaging app is the pain point of any over-the-top messaging service. Signal might have the solution for you, as it provides over-the-top end-to-end encrypted messaging, but will also do regular ol’ texting.
You can tell the app to be your default SMS application, so it can receive both those encrypted messages through the service and standard texts. A banner will appear at first at the top of conversations sent via SMS so you can encourage your friends and family to join you in the world of enhanced privacy.
Beyond that, Signal offers a clean interface and builds a nice bridge to a more secure system that you may want to drag others into. It also tells you right in each text when and if they were delivered, so there’s no question if the contact got the message. You have a few choices for customization, but the main focus is on privacy and eliminating the need for two messaging apps.
Speaking of Google, there’s always the freshly updated Google Voice. OK, so it means you might have to use a different number than the one you have now, but there are some things to consider that might make Google Voice the right choice.
If you miss the ability to message contacts from the desktop, you’ll appreciate the freshly designed Google Voice web app. And if you tend to bounce between devices and like the idea of all your calls, voicemails, and texts easily accessible from any place, then Google Voice is worth another look.
The key will be if Google sticks to its pledge to keep building up the service after the recent revamp. It was essentially abandoned for years, and if Google goes that route again we’ll have to reverse our recommendation.
Life as a green bubble can be tough. You may be shunned by those in iMessage world, but the upside is you have considerably more freedom to message the way you want. With that spirit in mind, take some time to try out these apps or peruse the Play Store to find something that will deliver the experience you’re after.