As great as Android is, the default experience and app selection can be a little bit... dull. A little bit... Windows 95.
The standard Android email client is basically just a list of text, as is the SMS client. And while the WebKit browser is fast and free, it doesn't exactly lead the curve when it comes to offering interesting things to fiddle with or a genre-defining feature set.
Even if you're using a phone layered down with a custom user interface like Sense, TouchWiz or that blue thing Sony Ericsson puts on its Android phones, there are many alternatives to your pre-installed tools and settings.
And don't worry about experimenting - if you don't like the look of your new email client or browser, simply delete it - your old one will still be there.
So, if you're after a bit of an OS refresh, these are our 10 favourite alternate Android apps. Add a few more options and some different colours to your phone. It's almost as good as blagging an upgrade.
1. Best keyboard for Android: SwiftKey Beta
Just launched in beta a few weeks ago, SwiftKey is a larger, more useable alternate keyboard for Android, which introduces more text prediction options. It doesn't just predict the word you're typing, it also tries to guess the next word - letting users auto-type entire sentences. As long as you don't use too much flowery language.
2. Best Android email app: K-9 Mail
The incredibly simplistic official Android email app is very bland - you get your emails, nothing more. K-9 Mail lets you edit fonts and colours, combine email inboxes, use gestures to page through your emails, also giving users the power to customise separate individual display options for each folder. It's a tinkerer's dream that's miles ahead of the Android default.
3. Best Android Facebook app: Bloo
If you're a little fed up of the official Android Facebook app what with all its glitches and limited functionality and the way it often just doesn't work, give Bloo a go. It's the same, only different, plus the maker has announced a plan to completely rebuild and open-source it - so development of Bloo ought to power further ahead now the community has it.
4. Best Android home screen: ADW.Launcher
Available in two versions on the Android market for both Android 1.6 and 2.x OS versions, ADW.Launcher is a complete reworking for your Android Home screen. If you're stuck on Android 1.6, ADW brings the new floating dock to your Home screen, rearranges the app drawer and lets you specify how many Home screens you want. It's a new phone in app form.
5. Best Android camera app: Camera Zoom FX
Not just an enhanced zoom tool (which is of debatable use anyway on a crappy mobile sensor) but an entirely new camera app for Android. It adds a timer, image stabilisation, geo-tagging, burst mode recording, sound activation and more to Android phones from OS version 1.5 and above. Don't slum it with the stock camera.
6. Best browser: Opera Mini 5.1
Offers a whole different approach to browsing. Opera comes with the option of using it in desktop page layout mode or mobile option, so if you're bored of being automatically thrust into the simplified mobile versions of your favourite sites it's a handy manual override. The app also supports Opera Link, for syncing bookmarks with your desktop.
For the full lowdown, check out Best Android browser 2011.
7. Best Android texting app: ChompSMS
The default Android text messaging app is literally nothing more than a collection of plain text on a plain background. It is not inspiring or conducive to conversation. ChompSMS adds a level of design to the process of texting, colourising the layouts and making message threads much clearer and more legible in the process.
8. Best Android music player: TuneWiki
No one has yet cracked the Android music-playing market with an agreed winner, but TuneWiki is a contender. It's rather over-complex, giving users the option of streaming in song lyrics and integrating itself with Twitter and Facebook so you can annoy everyone you you've ever known - but it has a nice widget and simple user interface. Ignore the fancy stuff and it's a solid, usable player.
9. Best Android IM app: Nimbuzz
Google Talk is lovely, but chances are you have an army of friends who all prefer separate instant messaging clients. Which is why you should bin it in favour of Nimbuzz, which boasts to anyone who'll listen to it about supporting Google Talk, Facebook, MySpace, Skype and many, many more forms of time-wasting messaging apps.
10. Best Android MP3 browser: MortPlayer
MortPlayer is for old fashioned types with enormous MP3 collections painstakingly gathered over the years and organised by folder. It doesn't work by playlists or tags, it simply loads up the contents of a folder and plays them. In order, one after the other. No fancy stuff. A great, simple app that fills a tiny gap. This is why people love Android.
Liked this? Then check out Top 80 best Android apps
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