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Best alternatives to popular Android apps

Because mainstream is overrated

A single utility or function will have an exhaustive number of applications on the Play Store. For example, you will find several third-party keyboard apps other than SwiftKey or Gboard. Some of these alternatives turn out to be well-made and they become popular rapidly. And once that happens, you will find more developers delivering their take on the category. There are high chances that you haven’t changed your default gallery application for years. Or maybe you have been using the same email app since you bought your first Android smartphone. Are you a power user who’s always on the lookout for alternatives to stock applications? Are you bored of using the same app for years and want to try something new? If you answered yes to both the questions, this compilation is just for you in no particular order.

Launchers

This category used to be ruled by Nova and Go back in the day when third-party launchers started appearing. Although both of them are still doing well, the Play Store has been flooded with several other options. Recently, we’ve been using Evie Launcher and Lean Launcher. Evie Launcher offers a minimalist launcher while offering a lot of customisation features similar to Nova. Its advantage is a live preview of the changes you’re making. This is not supported on Nova. However, it’s limited in customisability for animations and you can’t add a home screen dock.

Lean Launcher

If you’re interested in a more minimalist approach and don’t need a lot of customisations, go for Lean Launcher – which does the job of adding sleekness to your phone in a small package. Apart from the basic home screen and app launcher settings, you also get the Google Now feed with a left swipe.
Evie Launcher
Lean Launcher

Wallpaper

Searching for images online and turning them into wallpapers can be tedious. Additionally, this only works when you know what kind of wallpaper you need. Wallpaper curating apps make it easier to discover good ones. You must have heard about Google’s Wallpapers or Backdrops that compile wallpapers across several categories and styles.

If you want a bigger collection and better curation, you should check out Walli. We know that there are numerous wallpaper apps but our search stopped at Fondo. Apart from curation, all the wallpapers are categorised appropriately. You can also explore popular wallpapers within the app and add them to your favourites to access them later.
Fondo

Music player

With the rise of music streaming services in India along with price drops on data connections, local music playback has probably been forgotten. But if you’re one of those who still carry their own music with them, you should probably move past the default music player. Phonograph is a great option for a minimal music player that supports almost all audio formats including FLAC.

You can customise the look of the app and even switch between a light and dark theme. If you’re not a fan of listening to a flat sound signature, you can play around with the in-app equaliser according to your taste. The app follows material design, so you can expect a card-style user interface.
Phonograph

Speed test

Ookla’s Speed Test has become synonymous with speed testing of data or internet connections. The Speed Test app does its job pretty well. However, wouldn’t you prefer an app that offers better features while also fulfilling your basic need to know your internet speed? If you answered ‘yes’, you should check out OpenSignal’s Speed Test.

Apart from giving you numbers on your bandwidth, it will also point out mobile towers and Wi-Fi hotspots near you on the map. It can also show you the areas where you can expect consistent network coverage.
OpenSignal

Gallery

Whether it’s memes or selfies, your gallery app is something you’d open quite frequently. Phones with stock Android usually ship Google’s Photos app, otherwise, you get the manufacturer’s gallery app. Ideally, a gallery app should have low load times and basic customisation options. Recently, Optic Beta caught our attention.

The app lets you change the grid and theme easily. Images load times are pretty low and it lets you crop the image in various aspect ratios. If you’re looking for a clean and fast gallery app, you should check out Optic Beta.
Optic Beta

Email

A Gmail account is mandatory if you’re using an Android phone. Naturally, your choice of email client is likely to be the official Gmail app. It contains tons of features but sometimes, it can get sluggish. Long email threads, especially the ones with attachments would simply freeze and load after some time. While looking for an alternative, we came across Email by Edison.

Being heavy Gmail users, we could actually see the difference in speed in both the apps. Email by Edison seemed insanely fast. A subscription tab is present in the app that analyses all the subscriptions from emails that you most probably don’t remember signing up for in the first place. All of them are listed at one single location, making it easier to unsubscribe from them. Another feature that we liked was the attachments tab where all the emails with attachments were listed in one location.
Email by Edison

Web browser

The mobile web browser is another app that doesn’t get much attention unless you’re a power user. You would either use the default browser or make an effort to download Google Chrome. Most of the mobile web browsers almost have the same synthetic performance varying in optimisation and resource utilisation. But there is a certain app that offers something else other than great performance.

Flynx is a floating window web browser that loads web pages on a floating bubble while you continue doing your work. Essentially, if you’re scrolling through Twitter and you click on a web link, Flynx will start loading the webpage in a minimised state on the floating bubble. Until the website loads, you can continue scrolling and then tap on the bubble to open the link when you’re ready to visit the page. This lets you use whichever app you’re using without interruptions.
Flynx

Screen recorder

Certain manufacturers might include a screen recorder app along with the rest of the bloatware. If not, you might have probably been using AZ Screen Recorder. It definitely gets the job done but the free version is limited in terms of several features. An alternative to this is DU Recorder that packs in a lot of additional features, apart from the premium ones from AZ, for free.

You can trim, convert to GIFs, add backgrounds and music, etc., all for free. One handy feature we found in DU was ‘shake to stop’ recording. Usually, you need to scroll down and then stop the recording which requires you to trim out the ending of the video. Here, the screen recording stops with just a shake.
DU Recorder

Calendar

Even though Google Calendar is probably the best calendar app on Android, it isn’t rich on the customisation and widget side. Essentially, we are speaking completely from an aesthetic point of view since functionally, Google Calendar can do everything well. Several calendar apps are present where some are integrated with their email apps. Out of the lot, we preferred Today Calendar.

Although it’s a little on the expensive side, the free version is enough. You can change the colours of the app and integrate it with your default calendar events. The best part that we liked was the beautiful transparent widget. Give this one a shot to see if you like it better than Google’s official app.
Today Calendar

Camera

You might never bother changing your default camera app. The basic camera app shipped by the manufacturer usually tends to do the job and sometimes includes hardware-specific features. Users who are into photography might want to take things to the next level. That’s where manual camera settings become necessary, something which is either limited or not user-friendly enough. Secondary camera apps that support manual settings will always offer more control over the camera. There are several good paid camera apps out there, but Open Camera is an impressive open source alternative.

For starters, Open Camera offers some easy to use features like auto-stabilise, which makes your disoriented pictures perfectly level. Tweaks to the app let you play with focus modes, scene modes, colour effects, white balance, ISO, exposure compensation or exposure lock, face detection and artificial lighting. Some thoughtful features like UI customisation for left-handed users or the ability to take pictures while recording videos show you the benefits of using a popular, open sourced camera app instead of the default one.
Open camera

File explorer

The file explorer category goes through the same problem that the web browser category suffers from. Most of the people wouldn’t bother to use anything beyond the default app as long as they can access their files. But when you want features like FTP connections, media server sharing, or you simply want to explore the files on your PC using your phone, you will need a third-party file explorer. ES File Explorer has been people’s choice for a long time and for now, we would recommend Solid Explorer. We stopped using ES when the interface started including too many features and ruining the actual user experience.

Solid Explorer follows material design in a dual-paned window. It supports colour and theme customisation, which is always appreciated. If your phone is rooted, it will also give you root access to the restricted folders. With the help of a small plugin, you can set up an FTP server plugin on your phone and connect to your PC. So, Solid Explorer essentially offers most of the features that you would need from a file explorer, even if you’re a power user, without being cluttered.
Solid Explorer

SMS

The SMS app is another ignored application, where users stick with the default unless you have the knack for security or customisation. Hence, we’ll recommend two apps that you can choose. For those who are highly paranoid about their personal details stored in SMS messages, you should install Signal Private Messenger. The app is so secure that even whistleblower Edward Snowden recommends it. You can protect your messages with a password and use the service as a messenger between other Signal users.

You can even create group chats where not only are your chats secure, but even the group metadata, like the members’ list, are absolutely private. Now let us have a look at the customisation aspect. If you want your text messages to look good while you’re reading them, you should try Mood Messenger. The app is really fast and you can select or customise several themes within.
Signal
Mood Messenger

Keyboard

As an Android user, you must have enjoyed third-party keyboards for a long time. Manufacturers try to shake things up by adding changes to the Android AOSP keyboard. If they overdo it, users naturally install a third-party keyboard such as SwiftKey or GBoard. Although SwiftKey includes a massive number of features, we wanted to find something unique as an alternative. Gesture typing is present on almost all the major keyboard apps but Fleksy offers a completely new style of typing. It follows a minimal approach, focussing on gestures to help you type faster.

The keyboard enables different functions based on which direction you swipe. For example, swiping right adds a space and if there’s no character, it adds a period. If you want to delete a word, all you need to do is swipe left over the keyboard. Changes can be made to auto-corrected text by swiping up and down to scroll through the suggestions. It also includes several themes and extensions to improve your typing experience.
Fleksy

Abhijit Dey

Abhijit Dey

While indulging deep into conspiracy theories surrounding comic book movie plots, he can be found rewatching them looking for easter eggs. Otherwise, his weekends are spent on gaming and browsing memes.