If you took the #IceBucketChallenge did you also donate?

I realise the stated purpose of the challenge is to raise money and raise awareness. It didn’t start out specifically for ALS, but at this point they’re the defacto owners.

It has certainly raised awareness because every time I turn around someone is dumping a bucket of ice-water over their head.
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Alternative SMS Texting Apps for Android Round-Up

Captain, incoming message...

Given my recent disappointment with the way Google integrated SMS texting into Hangouts I went searching for a replacement to the stock messaging app on my Galaxy S3. The recent update to Android 4.3 added some nice little tweaks to the app, but nothing extraordinary. This takes advantage of one of the great features of Android: you can customize just about every aspect of your phone.

TL; DR: I settled on 8sms.

I looked at several aspects of each app. In general they all provided a lot more functionality than the stock app. The most useful was the ability to pop-up a window over whatever else I was doing when a new message came in.

Default Messenger app on Galaxy S3

Every app, including the stock app on my Samsung Galaxy S3, had the following features:

  • Send and receive SMS & MMS to individuals or groups (although MMS seemed to pose problems for some apps, but I’m not a big user of MMS)
  • Integration with contacts to select recipients and show contact photos
  • Drafts, Locked/protected messages, and Scheduled messages
  • Blocked or SPAM message filters
  • Quick send templates
  • Emoticons
  • Basic Android notifications, including previews

The stock app was also able to show previews on the phone’s lock screen. Not every replacement was able to do this. Nor do you necessarily want to, since the point of locking your phone is keeping people out of it so showing message contents on the lock screen is counter-productive.

The apps I tried, in this order, were: GO SMS Pro, 8smsTextra SMS, chomp SMS, Handcent SMS, Easy SMS, and Ninja SMS. Also important to mention are two other apps I rely on: MightyText and SMS Backup+.

Finally, I’d like to throw Fongo into the mix since unlike other VoIP/messaging apps you will get a real working just-like-a-telco phone number with Fongo! Their messenger is pretty basic but it’s interesting for two things, you can interact with non-Fongo users via real SMS messages (but not MMS due to uncooperative telcos); and Fongo can pick-up incoming SMS messages from your underlying phone (but they always send via Fongo). I’m sure Fongo’s users would appreciate the features of some of the other Android Messengers, so either Fongo should add them or somehow allow other messengers to integrate with Fongo.


GO SMS Pro floating window
Floating Window

This app is from the GO Dev Team that brought out a whole slew of Android enhancements. If you’re using any of their other GO apps then this will fit right in.

The app is nicely laid out and the lines are clean, but they follow their own style (which is fine if you’re already using GO apps). They have a lot of themes to choose from, and even a theme roller to create your own. Almost every visual aspect of the app is configurable, including the chat-heads pop-ups and the notification bar icon.

Yes, there are chat-heads when you receive a new message, with your contact’s picture in a circle and tag showing the number of un-read messages from the contact. You can click on the chat-head to open a floating window over what-ever you are doing to read the message and send a quick reply; or you can expand the floating window for a longer reply. You can also delete the message and send it back to the inbox.

The most interesting features of this app are that you can send messages to other GO SMS Pro users via the internet rather than as text messages. This feature was previously a separate app/add-on called GO Chat but was recently integrated into GO SMS. Of course this works best if a significant number of your contacts use GO SMS Pro too – which mine don’t so I didn’t test this feature.

You can also send text messages via their web site, using your phone as a proxy. But to be honest I was never able to get this to work, and I assume that’s related to the recent integration of GO Chat with GO SMS.

One of the in-app purchases you can make is to use your GO SMS account to send all kinds of attachments via the internet, as well as make backups and encrypt your messages. The other purchase you can make is an all-access pass to the themes library. Other than that the app is free to use, but does show ads on the main screen.

I ran into one security issue with GO SMS Pro: if my phone was securely locked and I received a message I could click on the Emergency Call button on my lock screen (which opens a dialler I can use without unlocking my phone) but the chat-head would then appear over the dialler and I could interact with it – even send messages – but I still had not unlocked my phone!


8sms gesture based templates

This is a port of the stock messaging app meant specifically for people on Android 4.4 who don’t like the Hangouts SMS experience (and the lack of Hangouts MMS experience!). It was developed by ThinkLeft based on the Android and CyanogenMod sources.

Given this app’s parentage it’s not surprising that it resembles the stock message app almost exactly and adds very little to it. The most interest thing about this app is actually the detailed home page, and particularly the explanations provided for default versus Stand-alone installations.

There are no chat-heads with this app, but when you receive a message you are immediately presented with a floating window in-which to read and reply to the message. If there are multiple unread messages you swipe sideways to read them all (the floating window can be deactivated, as can all the other notifications). If your phone is securely locked then the pop-up will be waiting for you when you unlock the phone.

The other cool thing I discovered with this app was the gestured-based templates. When you create a template text you associate a gesture with it that you draw on the screen. When composing a message you simply reproduce that gesture and voila! your template is inserted into the message.

Textra SMS

Textra SMS floating window
Floating Window

This is the little brother of chomp SMS from Delicious Inc. It’s a very minimalistic messenger that’s barebones out of the box. Out of the box it provides quick-access via a permanent notification icon bar; and per-contact configurations. And it is FAST! Without any time spent doing fancy visual stuff this was the fastest messaging client I tried.

The lack of Emoticons or Emoji (available as an add-on) was annoying but what really bothered me was the pop-up response window only works while the phone is unlocked. Interestingly, Emoji in messages sent to you display properly, but you have no way of inserting them yourself without the plugin.

If your needs a basic, and all you want is speed, then Textra is the way to go. But the moment you want more, Textra will be lacking. Add-ons are a fine solution, but not really for something that everyone considers basic behaviour.

chomp SMS

chomp SMS alternative gateway
SMS gateway

So this is the big brother of Textra (in a loving kind of way – not in a creepy NSA kind of way) by Delicious Inc. There are some obvious similarities but chomp does have a lot more features. It shares the same penchant for add-ons as Textra does and in this case I installed both the themes and the emoji.

The most interesting thing about chomp is it has it’s own SMS gateway. This means if you don’t have a texting plan or you’re travelling and SMS would be expensive you can, for a fee, use chomp’s gateway to send your messages at much lower cost! You can also support their efforts by buying a license for chomp, which as near as I can tell amounts to a donation – there are no additional features un-locked with the license.

I did have a security issue with chomp though: the new message notification pop-up window would be displayed even when my phone was securely locked!!! This is even more serious than the issue I had with GO SMS Pro since it appeared without any intervention on my part!

Handcent SMS

Handcent SMS additional services

Handcent is the product of the Handcent Market, and it is an extremely full featured messenger! It’s only rival in this list is GO SMS Pro. In fact, my first impression when I opened it was that I had re-installed GO SMS Pro!!!

Handcent also features it’s own messaging system, which only works between other Handcent users but avoids the cost of carrier messages (if those messages are more expensive than data for you). There’s also a web portal. And if you’re wondering how they monetize their efforts you’ll find different levels of subscription on the web site that open up enhanced functionality. Basic SMS/MMS is free though.

I didn’t find any chat-heads in this messenger – which is fine with me since I was quite happy to have the quick reply window open up directly. I found the UI cleaner, nicer and better organized than GO SMS Pro. I also found the web site worked better – though not perfectly – than GO SMS Pro’s.

If you’re not in the GO ecosystem but you want a lot of features than Handcent is probably your best bet. There’s an seemingly endless list of plug-ins to further enhance the functionality, from thousands of themes and fonts to location sharing.

Easy SMS

Easy SMS conversation with attachments

Easy SMS comes from Pansi Studio and walks the middle ground in terms of features and presentation. They also rely on plug-ins for a number of things, in particular Emoji and languages. Their web site was inaccessible at the time of this review, so I’m not sure if there’s anything additional there.

The app is monetized either via on-screen ads near the bottom of the screen, a one-time upgrade to remove the ads, and a network to promote other games and apps (presumably with revenue sharing).

The app displays either a conversation view or an inbox view of your messages. In conversation mode all the messages from a single contact a grouped together and the most recently contacted contact is at the top of the conversation page. In inbox mode you see the individual message arrange from most recent to oldest top-down.

Ninja SMS

Ninja SMS floating window
Floating Window

This messenger from Ninja Apps really focuses on the chat-heads. They get their own configuration section and threre are a lot of preferences to configure. Mind you a lot of them only become available in the paid version.

Ninja SMS also features a pop-up floating response window that puts a lot of functionality close at hand and is one of most functional pop-up windows of this group.

There is a lot you can configure here, but one thing that’s missing is smooth lines. The colours are all very stark and the edges sharp – no rounded corners here (except some of the chat-heads).

I did have one issue, the MMS settings were not imported and I wasn’t able to receive any MMS messages until I auto-detected the settings. It’s the first time I’ve had to do this and I was quite surprised by it.

Important mentions

Two other apps I feel I have to mention since they are a basic part of my texting work flow are MightyText and SMS Backup+.


This incredible tool lets me send messages from my computer (via their web site) or tablet by bouncing them off my phone. There is also a Gmail extension to even more easily integrate texting into my work flow! You can see entire conversations and view media on the big screen!

SMS Backup+
You all know you need backups, so I’m not going to get into that. What’s cool about this app is it uses your GMail account to store the messages and your Google Calendar to log the calls! It’ such genius you wonder why Android doesn’t already have this built-in!


In the end I’ve settled on 8sms. I like the lineage of this messenger; I really got to like the gesture templates; there are no 3rd party integration or plug-ins to deal with; and there’s no annoying advertising. It also works well with Cover, the lock screen replacement.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Google+ vs Facebook (vs Twitter)

I get it Google, you’re on a noble quest to save the world from Facebook. I believe in your vision, I’m on your side, I applaud your efforts.


My phone automagically uploads all the pictures I take to Google+ where they are auto-enhanced to look great. You even animate them, make panoramas, and add sparkles!!!


I can organise them into albums. Google+ is not as good as Picasa Web was, but if you just made it possible to create an Album and an Event in one shot (from mobile as well as desktop) then you’d be a head of Picasa Web in one quick move.


But one of the main things I want to do with my photos of the kids is share them with the grand-parents! The grand-parents are not interested in Google+ or Facebook or Twitter. They don’t want a social network – they have line dancing classes and bus trips to the casino for that!


So just show them the damn album of their grand-kid’s latest activity or recital or performance or antics! Don’t tell them how great Google+ is, how easy it is to get signed-up, or how many people are already using it (trust me, their friends probably are not and never will).

I know they have an Android tablet. I thought that would easier than them getting a computer and maintaining it. But your assumption that using a Google account to activate the tablet, install apps, and receive Gmails means that they want to join Google+ too is WRONG!

Please Google, you do all kinds of cool stuff to open the world up to people from the comfort of their computer screens. Keep that in mind too with your own services and make their availability the highest priority.

Cross-posted on Schultzter’s Blog
Cross-posted on 2FatDads

The Firmware Inside

This is NOT the Hangouts 2.0 I was anticipating!

Hangouts: SMS on the left and messages on the right
Hangouts: SMS on the left and messages on the right

Woohoo! I finally got Hangouts 2.0 on my phone!!! Time to activate SMS integration and enjoy the glorious seamless world of messaging.

Or so I thought!

The SMS integration is half-baked! SMS messages should be integrated into the same thread with all the other contact’s messages.

When I reject a call I often reject with a messagea text or SMS message. So when the person responds it’s via SMS, so if I have a Hangout with that person it gets messy, there’s no continuity.

Also, SMS messages used to produce a lock-screen short-cut for quick access but not any more with Hangouts! I know there’s some bearable work-arounds but the experience has definitely been diminished.

And from my PC or tablet I still need to use MightyText to send SMS (to people who don’t use Hangouts). Google should just buy MightText and integrate their functionality into Hangouts (and SMS Backup+ too while they’re at it – those apps provide essential functionality and they deserve more money than they make from their apps).

So basically, there’s fragmentation everywhere!!!

Ugh! Let see what are the alternatives to the stock messaging app and what they’re like. See what I did there? That’s called foreshadowing! So stay tuned…

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Blackberry Messenger on Android Review

BBM on Android
BBM on Android

Let’s cut to the chase: it’s YAMA!

That’s right, I said YAMA!!! Yet Another Messenger App.

I know the Fan-berries are going to get their panties in a knot because I didn’t say that it’s revolutionary or something like that. But it’s not. In fact it looks indistinguishable from Google+ Hangouts, or Twitter DM’s, or any other messenger on my phone!

Don’t tell me “but BBM is secure!” Because so is Hangouts! Even Twitter is secure!!!

Forget the tired delivered and read indicators argument in favour of BBM. Back when the carriers were experimenting with data networks and connectivity was minimal this was a comforting feature. But now that I’m pumping data through my mobile phone faster than my DSL modem I think connectivity is taken for granted. And really, I don’t care if you read my message, I care if you acted on it! If I say “meet me at Starbucks in 10 minutes” then you can read that message all you want but if you’re late you’re triple-caramel-pumpkin-spice-skinny-latte-machiato is going to get cold and I’m not buying you another one!!!

Let’s look at the numbers for some messengers that work on Blackberry, Android and iOS:

  • WhatsApp has over 325 million active users 
  • Viber has over 200 million active users
  • Google+ Hangouts (not available on Blackberry) has over 100 million active users (an estimate based on the over 400 million active Google+ users)
  • Facebook Messenger probably has just under 100 million active users (they don’t reveal those numbers so it’s just an estimate)
  • Kik has over 80 million active users – which is ironic since the founders originally worked for Blackberry

BBM clocks in somewhere around the 55 million mark. So you’re more likely to find your friends using something other than BBM.

And don’t forget the grand-daddy of them all: SMS!!! Venerable old text messages, they reach not just smart phones, but feature phones too. And with software like MightyText and iMessage they reach tablets and computers as well! In fact there are BILLIONS of active monthly SMS users! And there’s nothing to install or configure, it just works out of the box!

In my humble opinion, BBM was something that made Blackberry unique, something they could distinguish themselves with. Something for people to say “I want BBM” and they’d have to get a Blackberry to get it.

The reason for having a Blackberry is now limited to inertia on the enterprise side; and nostalgia or pride on the consumer side. Releasing BBM for Android (and iPhone) really just serves to prolong the inertia since IT departments can now re-assure their remaining Blackberry users that they’ll be able to communicate with all their iPhone or Galaxy toting colleagues using BBM.

I sure hope those people interested in buying Blackberry have a better business plan than relying on the inertia of existing customers to carry them forward!

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Swype vs. SwiftKey vs. Google Android Keyboards

One of the cool things about Android is all the things you can customize. And lately there have been a few keyboards coming out or receiving major updates. I took a look at three of them: SwiftKey, Swype by Nuance, and Android 4.2’s keyboard (available for 4.0 and up).

There are a lot of keyboards to choose from, but these are among the most popular and most often cited in the media.

All these keyboards feature gesture typing, multiple languages, and user dictionaries. The aspects I compared include: ease of use, accuracy and prediction, speed, and unique features.

Ease of Use

SwiftKey’s number one feature is that it supports multiple languages simultaneously – no need to switch manually before typing. This is pretty cool for someone who regularly writes in two languages. The keyboard also features arrow keys that are convenient when your fingers are too fat to position the cursor correctly with a stab.

Swype’s number one feature is the Swype short-cuts that enable everything from editing (copy, cut, paste, selection) to changing modes (alphabetic versus numeric). In fact there are enough short-cuts that mastering them would make you a Swype-ninja!

Both SwiftKey and Swype feature alternate characters on each key that are accessed by long-pressing, so it’s much easier to insert symbol characters and numbers.

Android’s keyboard is straight forward and simple to use, and although some of the more advanced features exposed by SwiftKey and Swype are longer to reach the un-cluttered interface is very appealing. One thing that is sorely lacking is the alternates for each key, usually available via long-press, that are found only via symbol mode.

Accuracy and Prediction

Swype is the most accurate keyboard of the three, but SwiftKey is working in two languages (English and French) without missing too many words so that’s quite impressive. The Android keyboard does a pretty good job too.


The fastest of the keyboards for me is Swype. The slowest is the Android keyboard, but only when the hovering prediction is activated. The SwiftKey keyborad is just as responsive as Swype.

Unique Features

Each keyboard has some thing it does a little differently than the rest.

In the case of the SwiftKey it also featured more skins or styles than Swype and has pretty cool looking gesture-trail.

What made Swype stand-out to me was Swype’s crowd-sourced dictionary if you choose to participate in their Borg collective.

Of course the Android keyboard features pure Android goodness! But most interestingly it hovers the predicted word along the gesture trail so you can keep your eyes focussed, no need to keep looking above the keyboard to see which word is being inserted.

In the end I always come back to the Swype keyboard. I really appreciate the accuracy, the short-cuts, and clean interface.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

What’s the next Google service to be closed down?

Many people are still reeling from the closing of Google Reader. Personally, I lost my innocence when they scrapped iGoogle. So the question is which one of their essential, life-sustaining services are they going kick off the island next?

Google offers so many services and I doubt there is anyone who uses all of them all the time. So my predictions are based on the services I do use and what I see happening in that realm at the moment. Currently I’ve been poking around a few development tools and javascript libraries, and the thing I noticed was that for newer projects Google is using Github rather than Google’s own Project Hosting to share open source code.

So my prediction for the next Google service to go to the big server farm in the sky is . . . Project Hosting on Google Code!

Besides the projects that they’ve started hosting on Github, there’s also the fact they’ve split-off a lot of content that used to be to

Closing down their project hosting service will be more significant than closing down iGoogle or Reader, since it’s not just an end-point but rather a distribution channel for many open source projects (although none of any significance from outside Google – apart from Eclipse Labs and Apache Extras but even they’re in a separate sub-domain).

Although it is not a creation point, so all the data that is there is created apart from Project Hosting and transferring to new service should be almost seamless (for the creator). Even issues created for a project can already be exported quite easily.

It would be disappointing to see Google Project Hosting close down, they offer more features than almost any other hosting service (with the exception of Source Forge). It’s not the prettiest code hosting site on the internet but it has a clean interface and they support multiple version control systems, binary file distribution, and seamless integration with other Google services (like Blogger and Groups).

And of course, you are never being pushed towards a paid version, or restricted because you aren’t paying. Big or small, sucessful veteran or new upstart, all projects are treated equally.

So if we’re going to play Google Service Roulette, I’m betting the next one to go down is Google Project Hosting. They’ll start by no-longer creating new projects, then no longer accepting updates to existing projects, and then they’ll strongly encourage everyone to migrate (probably to Github) as they announce the end date.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

What About the New Flickr

There’s been a HUGE resurgence in Flickr‘s popularity on Twitter lately. Especially amongst me and my tweeps. So what has Flickr done to be cool again? Why is everyone abandoning Instagram, TwitPic, and the rest in favour of Flickr?

In fact, the new Flickr is exactly the same as the old Flickr. It’s still the professional quality photo-sharing/managing/editing web-suite that was hugely popular before. Even their super-powerful mobile apps haven’t changed that much – they were among the most powerful and fun to use even before Instagram came along.

The first thing that happened is Instagram got Facebooked! I said it before, Instagram wasn’t worth $1-billion if Facebook just let it sit there. They have to do something with it; and when they did there was outrage and anger and a stampede back to Flickr!

The other thing, is Yahoo – credit to their new commander-and-chief Marissa Mayer – finally realized their most valuable property is Flickr. No one cares about Yahoo Auto, Yahoo Dating or Yahoo omg! These are copy-cat services in that there’s a million of them out there and if you’re not number one you’re irrelevant.

Although there’s other choices for sharing your photos, the social aspect and the community are very important. Other’s have tried, but Flickr has made professional (community and tools) their priority though they’ve still kept it easy to use.

The others, have just focused on the social aspect. Instagram is all about quirky filters; Google’s schizophrenic Picasa Web aka Google+ Photos is all about something depending on which of the three ways you access it (don’t forget it’s Blogger‘s backend too); TwitPic, Yfrog, etc. are all about tweeting photos on Twitter, which Twitter does by themselves now and prefers; 500px, MyShoebox, PhotoBucket, OpenPhoto, and the rest are trying to find their niche amongst the big players. And Microsoft’s Skydrive Photos fits in there too somewhere, mainly for the clueless and complacent.

The nicest thing about Flickr on Twitter is you get more than the short tweet (126 characters once the Flickr link is factored in) because the integration pulls in the photo, the caption, and the description!!!

Unfortunately your Flickr photos don’t show-up in the Twitter photo-stream, like they do if shared via Twitter, TwitPic, etc.

So, it looks pretty much like Flickr is going to become my photo-tweeting service of choice – replacing TwitPic; but I’ll still edit up the photos using Aviary‘s amazing full-featured editor before posting them.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads