If you like Android but are either fatigued by or unhappy with Google’s burgeoning product portfolio, then you’re in luck. Android is super flexible and lets you replace any of Google’s popular consumer-facing apps with 3rd-party alternatives. You can do this without even rooting your phone. Simply choose the alternative app over the Google app when given the option, by tapping it and then tapping “Always” in the dialog box:
Replacement: Next Browser
Chinese developer GO Launcher Dev Team, perhaps most notable for their development of a custom Android launcher and a $16 Android app, have created the only Android browser that I prefer to Chrome. Next Browser is WebKit-based and feels fast, which is important since speed is mainly about perception anyway. It has a really fun swipe-from-the-left gesture that gives you an all-tabs view that reminds me of Safari for Mac. It features Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu as search providers and can be customized with a number of extensions, too.
Apps: Google Search/Google Now/News and Weather
Replacement: DuckDuckGo Search and Stories
If you’re tired of tracking and privacy breaches, DuckDuckGo is a good bet. It has a simple, lean search engine that doesn’t engage in filter bias, so you’ll see the same results as everyone else: no “personalized” results based on years of tracking. Founder Gabriel Weinberg aims to make DuckDuckGo the Craigslist of search engines, i.e., a reliable an simple service that sticks to what it’s good at. The DuckDuck Go app for Android also includes a nice news reader that draws from Reddit, the New Yorker, and others.
App: Gmail/Email (stock client)
Replacement: Kaiten Mail
Kaiten Mail is a $5 client (the free version is ad-supported, which I don’t recommend) with lots of customization options for look, feel, refresh interval, and display. It’s fast and has perks like a rich text editor. Most importantly, it features rich Jellybean notifications that you reply or delete a message from a notification. I only wish that it had a scrollable widget or DashClock support, but for now I can work around the latter using AnyDash Pro.
App: Google Drive
This one’s easy. Dropbox does virtually the same thing as Drive, with the exception of spreadsheet creation or saving to .gdoc format (neither exactly a pressing need on a phone in particular).
App: Google Keep
I like Google Keep, but it’s minimalistic. Evernote provides a richer feature set and a better widget. Since it is Evernote’s chief product, it also receives timely updates, wherease Keep can languish for months without one since it’s just a subsidiary of a product (Drive) that isn’t even one of Google’s core assets (I would define the latter group as Search, Maps, and Gmail for the time being).
Replacement: Robin (for App.net)
Google+ is ok as a social network, but the level of engagement is…weird. It has a quasi-forum air to it, and other than family members, I’ve never (yet) met someone there who subsequently became a regular contact/interlocutor.
Enter App.net (ADN). ADN is like a better version of Twitter, with a 256-character limit and far less noise (it has only ~100,000 members). The topics of conversation often focus on technology, much like G+, and they are indeed conveyed via conversations and not endless forum-style banter. Joining ADN has been one of the best moves I’ve made in my blogging career.
Robin is an Android client for ADN with an internal browser, handsome UI, scrollable widget, and DashClock support. It more than fills the gap left in my life by the departure of Falcon Pro.
App: Google Currents
I still prefer Currents’s simple news reading ability, but Flipboard was the original visual-centric reader. You can connect numerous feeds and editions, as well as your social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). The ability to create/curate custom magazines is a unique Flipboard feature.
App: Google Maps
The only real competitors to Google Maps at the macro level are Bing Maps and Apple Maps, neither of which is available for Android. MapDroyd is a clever app that lets you have offline access to maps, which can be handy if you just need a map and not an overwhelming social data mining solution.
Another easy one. WhatsApp and Skype both have more users. Tango is a comprehensive VoIP, messaging, and video conferencing solution. IMO is a hybrid messenger app that has support GTalk, Facebook, AIM, and others alongside its own Broadcasts service, which is similar to Twitter/ADN.
App: Google Voice
Google Voice is probably on its last legs as a standalone service. It shouldn’t be long till it is walled-off behind G+/Hangouts. YouMail, like most other Android visual voicemail clients, provides basic functionality with the option for more features via subscription.
App: Google Keyboard
Now that Google has its own keyboard app (just a standalone version of the former Android Keyboard), any device running 4.0+ can download it. Swype is a capable 3rd-party alternative that feels slightly more accurate to me, at least for now. It also has a built-in voice assistant called Dragon.
YouTube is tough to replace because it’s a social location/hub more than an app. If you still need YouTube’s unique content stream and critical mass, TubeBox is a YouTube client with better multitasking support. If you’re looking to break off completely, Vimeo is an alternative to YouTube that sadly has only a lackluster Android app (its iOS app is much better).
ZenDay is a unique calendar/to-do list combo (something I’ve always wanted; I see less and less reason to have a standalone reminders app) with 3D animations. It has a steep learning curve, but can be worth it if you’re tired of the corporate doldrums of Google Calendar.
App: Google Wallet
NFC payments aren’t very popular. I keep Wallet around for paying at Walgreens sometimes, but I’ve made exponentially more purchases with the Starbucks apps, for example, which uses a simple barcode rather than an NFC chip.