It’s been a while since we last looked at Android text messaging replacements. For dedicated SMS users, Handcent SMS takes the cake.
- Texting from other devices
- Private lockbox for messages
- Create reminders from messages
- Backup messages
- Customisable themes
- Facebook profile picture sync
- Unique notifications per contact
- Search your inbox for a contact or message
Where It Excels
Handcent isn't always the prettiest app in the bunch (we'll get to those later), but in terms of sheer number of features, this is the one to beat. While services like MightyText allow you to send SMS messages from other devices, Handcent has that ability built in with Handcent Anywhere. You can also customise your notifications based on who's texting you, and search your inbox.
That would be enough to make it a frontrunner on its own, but Handcent doesn't stop there. You can lock certain contacts away in a "private box", in the event you don't want someone snooping on your conversation. You can also back up your messages, sync profile pictures with Facebook, and even turn a text into a reminder later.
Where It Falls Short
Put simply, Handcent isn't the prettiest app. You can give it customisable themes, but you can probably do better than Handcent if you like your apps to have a nice UI to match the feature set. It also doesn't have some non-SMS features like voice calls that Hangouts can offer.
Evolve SMS is was a close contender for the top spot. The app has a much nicer interface that allows you to swipe between conversations, batch delete of messages, customise notifications both within the app and with Light Flow, and more. It also pairs with Pushbullet to let you reply to text messages on the desktop without the need for extra software. Provided you're already using Pushbullet, of course. (Which you should, it's awesome.) Handcent just barely edged it out by supporting reminders, private conversations, and inbox search -- all of which Evolve lacks -- but if you don't care about those features, it's worth a look.
The other obvious competition is Hangouts. While it's a strong contender, most of its extra features don't relate to SMS at all. With the new Hangouts Dialer not-quite-plugin, you can use Hangouts to place VoIP calls at no cost. You can also make video calls to other Hangouts users and the app merges with your existing IM conversations.
Of course, SMS replacements are one of those categories where there's no end to the alternatives. Feel free to let us know what you prefer in the comments below. You can also check out our alternatives to texting if you want to ditch SMS entirely for an IM-centric experience.