Handcent SMS, an enhanced SMS and MMS application, lets you spruce up the look and feel of your phone’s messaging function, and attach and send media files within IMs.
The app gives you a lot of customization options. It puts text message conversations in a bubble design that some users will find easier to follow–and more pleasing to look at–than the default messaging system in Android.
When you open Handcent on your phone, you see a list of your contacts, which Handcent has borrowed from Android’s contact manager. You can choose an existing contact or hit a button at the top of the screen to start a messaging session with a new contact.
After choosing a contact to message with, you see a screen containing the message stream from your most recent previous messaging session with that contact. You simply begin messaging and continue the stream. The interface includes a phone button at the top of each messaging screen, in case you decide to bail out of the messaging session and call the person.
Handcent lets you change the background color of conversations, choose from several types of message presentations, and import new font packages to fancy up the lettering. A Handcent widget for your phone’s opening screen tells you if you have new messages–and how many there are.
You can customize alerts in various ways that will enable you to identify the source of a message at once based on an LED light, a vibrate mode, or a ringtone you specify for a particular contact.
Handcent also simplifies the task of sending multimedia files through your messaging system. The app integrates with your phone’s camera and image-view system to attach a photo (just-taken or in memory) to a message. Once you’ve attached it, the image shows up as a thumbnail in a new bubble in your conversation stream.
I also found that adding videos and music to the conversation was a breeze, but the size limit on the multimedia files you can send is so strict that when I tried to send some relatively small MP3 files to a friend, I encountered a size-limit error message each time.
Overall I found Handcent easy to use, and I’d recommend it for any heavy messager who feels inhibited by Android’s baked-in messaging system. The app is free and available from the Android App Market. It’s ad-supported, but the only ads you’ll ever see are at the bottom of the Settings page–so you can use the app on a daily basis and rarely be distracted by an ad. Nice.