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The Best Text Messaging Apps for Android [September 2019]

Posted by William Sattelberg on September 24, 2019

If you’re a longtime Android user, you’ve probably had friends or family members approach you and ask about why you choose to rock a Pixel 3 XL or a Galaxy S10 over something like the new iPhone XS. Every Android user has their own reason for sticking to Google’s platform, whether it be down to the approach Google’s taken with software design and UI appearances, the modular base of Android, the ability to choose phones from all across the price range and still have a solid experience, or the high-quality camera performance we’ve seen on the likes of recent flagship Android devices. Maybe your reasons are more granular: you like the notification system, or the ability to change home launchers on command for all-new software experiences. Android is a mature operating system; there are thousands of reasons to prefer it over iOS.

Presenting your iOS-diehard friends the same question will likely result in the same amount of varied answers, but more than anything, you’ll likely hear the same word repeated time and time again: iMessage. Apple’s messaging app is exclusive to their own devices running iOS or MacOS, and it’s one of the most popular instant messaging clients in the world today, particularly in North America. While Android has no shortage of messaging clients, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat, there’s no doubt that iMessage is one of the best messaging experiences you can have on the market today, and people are naturally drawn to the app like a social network.

While the cluster of messaging apps on Android make it easy to message friends while gaining the same benefits iMessage can offer users, like read receipts, advanced messaging options, and larger photos and videos, plenty of Android users still turn to SMS to message their friends and family today, thanks to its implementation as a standard. While SMS may seem a bit dated in 2019, it’s still a key way for users, especially in the United States, to communicate with each other for free, regardless of the operating system our phone uses.

If you’re new to Android, you might be tired of using the messaging app that came preloaded on your device. There’s nothing wrong with using Samsung Messages or Verizon Message+, but they definitely aren’t the best applications you can use for texting in 2019. If you’re still relying on SMS, you want to make sure that your application meets a number of key experiences in order to properly satisfy your messaging needs. You want the app to be smooth and fast, responsive enough to not lag when you’re firing out messages to your friends and family. You want to make sure the design is modern and looks good on your phone’s display. And of course, you want to look for the features that matter most to you.

Whether you want a messaging app that can be customized to your liking, an app that can sync your messages or notifications to your computer or tablet to create a messaging network, or you want an app focused on keeping things slim and fast on your phone, we promise that there’s an app you’ll love on Android. If you’re tired of that old, bloated messaging app designed by your phone’s manufacturer three years ago, it might be time to upgrade to a brand new app. Let’s take a look at some of the best picks.

Everyone else

QKSMS impressed us a year ago with its customization engine and the options delivered by the app’s dev team, and revisiting the app a year later has made it clear: this is a fantastic application, one worthy of being praised right next to Textra in our top selections spot. QKSMS’s design is slick and easy to use, arguably representing one of the most modern appearances on this list outside of Android Messages. The app’s inbox interface looks like a cross between a basic SMS app and an instant messaging application like Facebook Messenger, but once you dive into the app’s conversation display, it looks similar to designs from Google, with bubbles that mesh together. We’re looking at version 3.0 of the app, which has made a lot of changes in terms of the app’s visual appearance, and frankly, we couldn’t be more impressed with the direction this app is going.

Diving into the settings option for a moment, we can take a look at the options and themes available to use here. Like Textra, you can choose from a number of shades of colors, which each color having darker and lighter gradients available to be used within the application. There’s a night mode here, that can be activated indefinitely or turned on automatically after sunset, though this has a catch to this we’ll mention below. Font size can be controlled, and like Textra, QKSMS has its own font and the option to use your phone’s system font. Outside of the customization options, you’ll find some very brief options for notifications and delivery confirmations, an option to resync your messages, and the About page for QKSMS at the bottom of the menu.

Last year, we wrote that one of the best features of QKSMS was its open-source nature, allowing for anyone who wishes to change aspects of the app to do so by diving into the openly-available source code. QKSMS remains open-source, but unlike last year, a new “Plus” tier has been added to the app that adds support for automatic night mode (as mentioned above), a full color slider for picking out literally endless colors, and additional upcoming features promised by the dev, including message backup, delayed sending and scheduled messages, auto-respond and auto-forward, and more. There’s no ads in QKSMS, and most people may find the free tier suitable for their liking, but if you want to upgrade, a lifetime license runs you just $2.99, with a license and donate option for $4.99. Overall, we’re quite impressed by QKSMS, even more so than last year. Definitely check this one out.

Pulse isn’t the first application on Android to bill itself as an alternative to iMessage developed for Android. In fact, it’s not even the only application on this list to use “iMessage for Android” as a selling point. It’s also a bit of an unfair comparison, because there is no true iMessage competitor on Android right now. On a technical level, what iMessage offers users on iOS can only be done by companies at the size and scale of Apple, and even Google’s upcoming Chat standard isn’t quite what iMessage is when it comes to security. Putting aside that banner for a moment, Pulse actually is a good SMS application, that may just happen to be overselling itself in the process to make it something it isn’t.

Starting with the basics, Pulse is an SMS and MMS application that comes from Jake and Luke Klinker, the team behind EvolveSMS, that features an inbox feature similar to what you may see from email. Instead of sorting your messages in a straight line, Pulse separates your messages into columns, featuring “Today,” “Yesterday,” “This Week,” and more. It’s similar to how Google Inbox sorts their messages, right down to the double-check mark icon in the right corner of each list that prompts you to archive older conversations to clear your inbox. The basic thread display inside a conversation looks exactly how you expect it to, with the option to customize primary and accent colors for the app or for each individual thread. The default bubble shape looks a bit dated compared to modern Android, thanks to the jagged edges along the side of the app, but thankfully, you can enable circular bubbles in the settings of the app.

So Pulse looks pretty good, but the major feature of Pulse doesn’t come down to appearances or app design. Pulse advertises itself as “iMessage for Android” because of its web sync, the ability to send texts from any device you own, including your web browser, native apps on Windows, MacOS, and Linux, your Android watch, your Android tablet, and even a television running Android TV. The one operating system that can’t send messages through Pulse: iOS, where Apple stopped the app from being published on the App Store (theoretically, the web version could still work). This support doesn’t come free, however. You can try it for seven days free to make sure it works well, but you’ll have to chose one of two payment plans to properly use the app:

    • 99 cents per month
    • $10.99 for lifetime membership

Pulse isn’t for everyone. It’s a solid application for messaging, and it’s only gotten better in the year since we first tested the app, improving the visual display and becoming less of a side project to Evolve (which we’ve removed from our list in favor of this app) and more like the app that Evolve would always turn into. Even if you aren’t interested in cloud sync, it’s a solid choice to grab as your main messaging application, but in the end, the people who will benefit the most from this application are those who are looking to send messages from multiple devices, like their laptop or tablet. If you do choose Pulse as your new messaging app, just remember that Android Messages may add similar web clients in the near future, natively and for free.

Mood Messenger was new to us when we reviewed it last year, and revisiting it a year later, it becomes obvious that not much has changed since 2017. That might not be a bad thing, however, considering Mood Messenger has a design unique to its own app, with some interesting choices and options available for its users. Mood offers a unique design, something not brought to the table by any of the other SMS apps on this list, and honestly, it’s pretty interesting. The first thing you’ll notice at the top of the display is a large clock, giving the app the feel of being your home screen, not so much your inbox. It’s interesting, but generally speaking, it doesn’t look quite as good as any number of the applications on this list.

That’s subjective, of course, and thankfully, if you don’t like an aspect of the application, you can change it. The theme engine inside of Mood operates closer to that of Samsung’s own skins and themes on their devices than what we’ve properly seen from apps like Textra or QKSMS. Each theme customizes the clock font and the background behind the app, giving your app a brand-new look that changes the top portion of your home display and the colors of your conversation threads (you can change these outside of themes as well, including the bubble shape and the color of both received and sent). Themes are a cool idea, however, and a unique feature of Mood. Outside of the theme options, you can customize your emoji choice (though unfortunately, the default Android Oreo emojis aren’t available) and

Mood has a couple features completely unique to itself, including “Party Mode.” The idea behind Party Mode is simple: once you’ve activated it, you’re unable to send messages with your phone unless you pass a test that requires some functional thinking. The idea behind this is to prevent you from sending messages that may be unwanted by the receiver when you’re inebriated after a long night. You can exclude specific contacts from this test in order to still text your friends or emergency contacts, but ideally, this will stop you from reaching out to your ex again and again. It’s an interesting idea, much like plenty of Mood’s features.

Ultimately, Mood is a unique package that doesn’t live up to the polish of some of the other applications on this list. It’s a quality app, don’t get us wrong, but there’s some interesting ideas here, including the ability to send your mood within a group chat and the ability to hide a specific thread from your home screen. Mood is also free, without in-app purchases or ads, which may make it a viable alternative to Android Messages. It’s not a perfect application, but it’s innovative, making it an obvious choice for anyone looking to try out something new on their phone.

SendLeap is an app that pairs with the messaging app you already use, whether it’s the one included on your device by default or one installed from the list above. It allows you to type messages to your friends from any device with a web browser, regardless of where you are. Unlike Pulse, however, you won’t have to switch your messaging app to do it. Likewise, while we’ve seen this kind of accessibility from apps like Pushbullet with its own respective web client, Pushbullet limits your ability to send messages without paying to 100 messages per month. SendLeap is a completely free utility, without ads, in-app purchases, or subscriptions. Being a work in progress, it isn’t perfect—not by a long shot—but it’s a step in the right direction, and one we’re excited to see develop in the future.

Signing up for SendLeap is simple. After downloading the application, SendLeap asks you to login with your Google account, after which you’re asked to accept the required permissions to send and receive texts, sync contacts, and use the phone radio in your device. Following setup, you’re asked by the application to load into the SendLeap web application. After signing in there with your Google ID (you’ll be asked to enable web notifications), you’ll see your recent messages appear on-screen, with the option to read back the content and to send new messages.

SendLeap’s web app is basically just as powerful as what we’ve seen from similar utilities and from your mobile device itself. You can continue a thread that already exists on your device, including single and group texts. You can compose a new text to any of the contacts in your phone as well, by hitting the new conversation button on the left-side panel of the display. SendLeap supports SMS and MMS, and you can attach photos from your computer by using the clip button in the lower-right hand corner of each conversation thread. Full emoji support is here as well, which means you can send texts as you normally would from your computer. And to reiterate, there’s no need to change away from your current SMS app to something new. Everything here is sent through your existing SMS app, whether it be the standard one included on your phone, Android Messages, or Textra.

Still, it’s not perfect. SendLeap had a few small quirks that made it a bit of a frustrating experience. Like many apps that run in the background, SendLeap requires a dedicated notification to always run in the background. Annoyingly, this means that you can’t get rid of the notification from your tray. While Android does have the ability to disable notifications on a per app basis, as soon as you trigger this setting, SendLeap set off the battery monitor on our test Pixel 2 XL, constantly showing a “This app is using battery” notification. It was frustrating, to say the least. SendLeap also seemed to have a bit of a slow response at some times when texting from the web, taking up to twenty seconds in our tests to send the message. And as with using Google Assistant to send texts, you won’t get any sent receipts from messages sent from the web client on SendLeap.

Overall, SendLeap is an impressive start. Some frustrating user experiences aside, we can’t think of another application like this that offers the same functionality without any of the limitations imposed by other applications. Considering the app is completely free and doesn’t require ridiculous limitations on how you can use the app, it’s a solid offering for those looking to text from their computer—cheaper and comparable to Pulse (reviewed above), MightyText, and Pushbullet. SendLeap currently puts a pretty clear emphasis on being free. We hope the app stays that way for a long time to come.

(SendLeap was originally called Textto. Despite the rebranding, it appears to work the same way.)

Like Pulse, invi pushes itself as an iMessage competitor for Android, something that we often look at with a skeptical eye on the Play Store. invi isn’t a clone of Pulse, however, nor is it a direct take off of what iMessage offers users on iOS. Instead, it’s a combination app, offering users SMS and MMS support while also acting as an instant messenger client like Facebook Messenger, giving you plenty of the same markings of iMessage like typing signals, read receipts, and more. invi does a lot here that’s interesting enough to keep it in the conversation, but ultimately falls victim to some bloat and a small user base.

invi gets a lot right, starting with its visual design. It isn’t quite as striking as apps like Messages, Textra, or QKSMS, but it looks good. The inbox display is clean and clear, using the basic design we saw from both of our top picks, and the conversation display is solid, albeit with two nitpicks. The first is minor; each conversation display has a background with visual elements that, while it doesn’t look bad, is a little busy as far as design goes. You can disable it though, and some of the backdrop choices actually look pretty clean. Ultimately, it’s up for you to decide what you like most in an application.

The second problem with invi comes with the bottom of the conversation screen, sitting above the keyboard as you type out your messages. Perhaps in an ode to the iMessage composition bar, the app gives you no shortage of options, including an emoji icon, a gallery and camera link, and a sliding menu that loads options for gifs, stickers and more. Known in-app as the “Awesome Bar,” it’s incredibly busy, and because it’s sandwiched between the composition box and the suggestions on the top of your keyboard, it’s also really easy to accidentally trigger. There’s no reason for invi to have so many shortcuts in such an easy-to-access space when they also feature even more multimedia—including, of all things, a meme generator—inside an extended menu, and the app would be better off hiding that content behind its own menu.

The main idea behind invi is to supplement an iMessage-like experience, offering basic SMS support while allowing users with invi on both ends of the messages to automatically receive messages using data, complete with read receipts and more. It’s a solid effort, but it fails on a few points. First, as far as we can tell, invi doesn’t currently support encryption on their messages. Considering it’s impossible to tell where these messages are going through, that could be concerning. Second, at less than one hundred thousand downloads, you’re probably going to need to convince your friends to download invi before you can take advantage of this. The app obviously doesn’t work with anyone on iOS, and though there have been some promises for features in future updates going forward, as of April 24th, the app hasn’t been updated since October of 2017.

invi is a good idea, with a lot of promise assuming future updates are still to happen. Unfortunately, with Google’s recently-announced Chat standard rolling out over the next year, it may also be out of date before the app can even get off the ground. There’s a lot to like about invi—overall, we found the experience of using the app positive, and some of the features promised on the app’s FAQ are exciting, including the ability to disable the “Awesome Bar,” RCS support (which would be great for the future of Android), and more customization options. Sadly, without an update in over six months, it’s unclear what the future of invi holds. It’s still a good SMS and MMS option, but its idea of a invi-to-invi future seems bleak at best.

YAATA, like invi, has an odd name that might be recognizable when you’re scrolling through a list of SMS apps on Google Play. Unlike Pulse or invi, YAATA isn’t promising to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, the app offers an easy way to send basic texts and photo messages with a fairly simple and clean design. The inbox for your text messages is fairly clean, offering something similar to Pulse’s layout of organizing message threads from today, yesterday, this week, and so forth. It’s accomplished a bit more subtly than what we’ve seen from Pulse, closer in line with Textra’s circular photo icons on the left. All in all, it’s a clean, basic inbox that feel easy to use. A sliding menu to the left of your messages offers some additional options as well, including a night mode shortcut and the options for settings, notifications, and customization.

Generally speaking, we were less impressed with the app’s messaging thread display. It doesn’t look bad, but it is a bit dated when compared to most of the other apps on this list. The bubble shapes, in particular, don’t feel designed for 2018, though thankfully these can be customized in the YAATA menu to make them look cleaner and crisper. Sending a text with just emoji makes them increase in size, and scrolling through large group messages caused some display lag that made the app difficult to use. One thing that was pretty great: the backdrops of each messaging thread use alternating shades of grey to designate different days for each message, making it easy to see when specific messages were sent in the thread.

Though there isn’t much we could do to fight the scrolling lag in each thread, the customization options provided by YAATA were basically able to control the things we didn’t like about how message threads were displayed. Though customizing chat isn’t quite as intuitive as we’ve seen on apps like Textra, disabling or changing everything we didn’t like about the app was pretty simple, controlled through a list by checking or unchecking boxes. Overwide chat messages? Easily disabled. The tail that made the message bubble seem straight out of 2013? Turned off. Those giant emoji inside of the chat? Switched back to their normal size. And again, this is all based on our own personal preferences, not necessarily something that you have to change if you like these visual flourishes inside of YAATA.

Overall, YAATA is a pretty great alternative to both the messaging app included by default on your device and the apps on this list, especially if the visual design of Textra or QKSMS doesn’t do it for you. There’s a wide variety of options available on the free tier of YAATA, and even the paid tier only runs a cool one-time payment of $3.00. Overall, YAATA wasn’t our pick of the bunch, but it is a solid messaging application on Android. Definitely don’t count this one out.

3 thoughts on “The Best Text Messaging Apps for Android [September 2019]”

Tom Olandese says:
Do any of these apps keep the text alert sound assigned to the contact as before oreo or are they all assigned to the conversation and thus have to be set up EVERY time you delete the text thread?
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kevin says:
An app that I really enjoy using is invi. Its very easy to use and it has a built in meme maker.
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d0x says:
Why in God’s name would you save every message from anyone unless you planned on using them for something later
Reply
William Sattelberg says:
Speaking personally, I like looking back on messages from family members, friends, and my significant other, not to mention having access to old messages where people have sent me important addresses, email addresses, or other information that I can search for months or years after originally needing it.
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