Review: good SMS apps for Android

Why do we need this?

In a bizarre move, Google deleted the perfectly good SMS app from Android. Yeah. Hmm. Well, read this TechRadar piece for some thoughts on that.

Sadly, Google’s corporate policy is that the consumer is always wrong: you’re not allowed to simply “use the app I already had, that worked great”. Time for a trip to the Android App Store…

I tried:

Quick review of each

TextSecure

  1. does what it’s supposed to: show all conversations, send texts
  2. uses the “standard” view of SMS that we’re all accustomed to

…Deal breaker

  1. there’s no widget. Without a widget, you can’t get your phone to show “at a glance” new and recent SMS texts on the home screen / dashboard

Evolve SMS

  1. has a widget that works

…Dealbreakers

  1. enormously unpleasant “forced swipe” control system. I’m not sure why. Maybe: “Facebook did it, and it sucked, so Facebook stopped. But we want to be Facebook, so let’s copy their failures!”
  2. the back button is actually broken. This is a core feature of Android, one of the biggest improvements compared to iPhone. And Evolve broke it. (Sad face).
  3. the widget can’t be resized. Fixed size widgets are a real pain – you can’t place them where you want, cant put the things you want on same screen, can’t control the info displayed

HelloSMS

  1. basically works

…Dealbreakers

  1. stupid forced-swipe control (see above)
  2. On first start, requires you to swipe in wrong direction
  3. no widget

Go SMS Pro

  1. has a widget!
  2. basically works, but ugly

…Dealbreakers

  1. The widget WILL NOT DISPLAY incoming/recent texts. Instead it displays ONE text, and you have to hit buttons to “scroll” the widget to next / previous text. Wat?
  2. The app hangs if it’s not your “default SMS app”: you type something, it hangs. No other app had this problem, they all did a popup explaining, including a single-tap “fix this” button.

chompSMS

  1. has a widget
  2. looks really nice

…Dealbreaker

  1. The widget … is simply “an ugly resized version of the app icon” … and it does nothing. Seriously, a developer chose to add this feature, and implemented … nothing. Wat?

Summary / Winners

TextSecure is a perfect recreation of ” an SMS app that just works, the way its supposed to” … Apart from the lack of widget (essential!). It even has Apple iPhone style “free text messages to other users of the app”. If they’d fix that missing widget, it would be worth paying for…

chompSMS is very much like TextSecure, perhaps slightly prettier (personal preference). But the broken widget is just as bad as TextSecure’s, maybe worse. And it lacks the “free SMS” mode and “secure SMS” modes of TextSecure.

Evolve has the only working widget (essential!). But … you’ll frequently exit the app unintentionally when you hit the back button. And it’s unusable unless you like “swipe all the time to control UI instead of using the back button” behaviour.

Final thoughts

The rest … are not winners. I’m using TextSecure for now. When people say “people on Android don’t buy stuff”, partly it’s because the apps are incomplete: most of these apps haven’t been fully developed (how can you have a broken widget? Why did you launch without a widget? etc).

NB: as a developer, I can attest that “adding a widget” is very easy. It’s stressful the first time, and then you read the docs and examples, and realise “wow! this is going to be super quick to implement!”.

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