The SMS app that comes with your Android phone will serve you just fine to send text and photo messages to your contacts, but many can't do much more than that. Luckily, Google Play is ripe with text messaging apps with modern designs, fun features, and customization options. Some can send GIFs, others are skilled at group messages, and most can help you personalize your notifications.
I've rounded up four apps that offer a little something extra that most of the stock SMS apps. If you don't see your favorite, leave a comment below to share what it is and why you like it.
Just a note that this list focuses on SMS apps only, not social messaging apps such as WhatsApp or GroupMe.
One of my favorite apps, Hello is a minimalist SMS app that creates tabs for each of your conversations so you can easily switch between them. The app has a clean design, with a white background and little clutter. There's also an optional night mode that turns on automatically when the sun goes down.
You can send photos with Hello, and the app recently added a GIF feature, where you can record a short GIF with your camera and send it to one or more of your contacts. The only downside of this feature is that the camera viewfinder in the app is just a tiny circle next to the text field, and it's hard to see what you're recording.
Other features include actionable notifications that allow you to reply or mark a message as read without opening the app. You can also send free text messages to your friends who also use Hello, a feature that's still in beta.
What's great: The app's tidy design doesn't get in the way.
What's not: When you send a photo, you can't send text along with it.
Textra is great if you like a lot of customization options in your apps. For each of your contacts, or just a few, you get to pick the notification icon color and alert tone that plays when you get a new message. That means you can tell, at a glance, the difference between a text from mom and your best friend. You can also pick the colors for the chat bubbles in your conversations, and there are app three themes; white, dark, and black.
Another great feature is the Textra has a pop-up widget that appears with every new text, and you can reply from any screen. If you don't like the quick reply widget, you can turn it off in settings.
What's great: Textra gives you a lot of freedom to customize the app, from the look and feel, to notifications.
What's not: The app's overall design is a bit dated.
Like Hello, EvolveSMS has a streamlined design and organizes your conversations into tabs. What's different, and great, about the app is that you can swipe on the screen to switch conversations.
Like Textra, you can customize the design of the app, but EvolveSMS, you can also use themes to make sweeping changes, but it'll cost you to unlock that feature, and you'll need to download another app from the same developer called Theme Spotlight. There's also a pop-up reply window so you can respond to messages anywhere in your phone.
EvolveSMS also supports group messaging, iOS emoji, and you can block phone numbers from sending you messages.
What's great: The app's design is clean, but you still get tons of features to customize your experience.
What's not: You can unlock extra themes and customization options, but for a fee.
Free, installed on most devices by default
Not to be ignored, Google's video and instant messaging app can also handle your text messages too, and you can switch between chatting over your data connection and sending an SMS message within a thread. It's a great choice if you already use Hangouts on the Web.
Hangouts also supports group messaging, video chats, and voice calls, and you can send your location to your friends in a conversation.
The only downside is that the app often automatically signs you into your Google account when you open the app, which will show you as "online" to people using Hangouts on the Web. You can sign out of your account to only send text messages, but the app is better suited for people who want to send both SMS and instant messages.
What's great: Hangouts comes with several unique features, including the ability to snooze notifications and send your location on a map.
What's not: The app can feel be a bit clunky and it can be tedious to switch between IM and text messaging.