I like Android. I really do. But my phone, the Samsung Fascinate, has some little niggling issues, and over time little niggling issues have added up to some serious annoyances with using my phone. I hate the Phone app, the Messages app, the Camera app—basically all of the native applications don’t work right.
Fortunately, the very best thing about Android is that there’s virtually nothing about it you can’t change. At one point I rooted my phone and installed a whole custom operating system, but after never finding one I liked that was reliable and didn’t kill my battery, I switched back to the original settings. Then, one by one, I started to find perfect replacement applications for all the things I hated, to the point where my phone is now totally different than it used to be in the best possible way.
‘Twas but five applications, all free, that made such a difference. Here they are.
By default, my home screen had a moving wallpaper, ugly icons, and weird widgets and navigation. LauncherPro replaced those with a clean, simple layout with a classy dock at the bottom, a scrolling list of apps, and settings so I could make the home screen exactly as I wanted it. I’m a glutton for simplicity and continuity, and LauncherPro brings both. Plus, it’s actually a lot faster than the native home screen on most Android phones.
Samsung’s dialer is awful: Ugly, awkward to use, and nearly impossible to integrate in any meaningful way with contacts. Getting to recent calls takes too long, trying to type a contact’s name to dial their number rarely works, and did I mention it’s ugly? DialerOne does better, splitting the screen between recent calls and a keypad, and letting you tap just once to scroll through all your recent calls. Or, start typing the name of a contact and a constantly-updating list of people you might want to call shows up. Getting to your favorite people is easy too, which is nice because Claire accounts for like 70% of my phone calls. DialerOne just, simply, works in a way the standard dialer doesn’t.
I didn’t have more than an aesthetic issue with the standard messaging application, but once I started using GO SMS I realized everything I was missing. GO SMS does great with canned responses (so you can say “I’m running late, on my way”, which I say about 40 times a day, in one tap), pop-up notifications, and more. You can change everything about the look and feel, and make it as powerful or as simple as you like. GO SMS has become the one app I’ll recommend to literally everyone who has an Android phone.
My biggest point of iPhone envy has long been Instagram. Not because of the social networking features of the app, but because I love the idea of an easy way to take, alter in cool ways, and share photos so they live somewhere other than on your phone. That’s what Lightbox, a new (like today new) application for Android, is all about. You sign up for an account, and you can take pictures, apply effects, and share them on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Foursquare. The best part is, though, the running gallery of your photos that’s available on the Web at all times. It’s a gorgeous application (something Android could use more of), and a lot of fun to use.
I complained on Twitter the other day that I hated the Android keyboard. I don’t always hate it, but it’s just not a great solution, for one-handed typing in particular. “Try Swype!” was the most common response I got, so I decided to give it a shot, and man is it awesome. Instead of tapping to spell words, Swype has you draw a trail from letter to letter, and figures out what word you’re tracing. It’s easy to do with one hand, its predictive abilities are amazing, and after only a couple of days I’m already typing faster than I ever have before.
All of these apps can easily replace their default counterparts (except Lightbox, as best I can tell). After you download, say, Launcher Pro, the next time you hit the home button a menu will pop up, asking which app you want to use, the stock Launcher or Launcher Pro. Check the “make this default” button, and then tap Launcher Pro. From then on, it’ll be the thing that launches every time you hit the home button.
I haven’t noticed anything in the way of instability or extra battery drain with any of these applications, and they all run seamlessly with the rest of Android. The five apps have made my phone make more sense, look nicer, and work much more like what I want it to. I got a new phone, without spending a nickel. Can’t complain about that, can I?