Sunday, 22 July 2012

Top 10 Apps to customise your Samsung Galaxy S3

Time to customise this baby?

Perhaps you recently read our article about the top 10 standalone apps for the Galaxy S3 and wanted more, or perhaps you've just bought a Samsung Galaxy S3 after reading part one or part two of our review. Frankly we aren't fussed about where you came from as long as you're keen on customisation. One of the best things about Android is the ease and breadth of customisation. Even with a phone as great as the Galaxy S3 there will be things that you might like to change.

Once again this is where we come in. This article is part two in a series about Top 10 Apps; this time we're covering apps you can use to customise your S3 to your liking, all without the need to root your phone.

If you're interested then read on after the jump!


In the world of smartphones, widgets are a key differentiator for Android. They are something you don't get on iOS or Windows Phone. Widgets allow you to customise your home-screen to display information at a glance and allow functionality without the weight of a full blown application. This means you don't have to open apps to do what you want - its right at your fingertips.

Beautiful Widgets ($3.19 NZD)

While the Accuweather clock widget that comes standard on the Galaxy S3 homescreen is sufficient for most, you might like to customise things to suit your own sense of style. This is one area where Beautiful Widgets excels.

Not only does Beautiful Widgets provide a very customisable weather clock for your homescreen, it also has a variety of weather and toggle widgets.

The main draw or attraction of beautiful widgets over the built in weather clock is the ability to choose from a myriad of different skins that are available for download. Almost all of the widgets have customisable skins, with a lot of different colours, fonts and images. There is even a battery icon that is skinnable and provides a quick shortcut to your battery statistics.

If you do any sort of customisation to your S3 at all you can't go wrong with all of the options that Beautiful Widgets provides.

Feel free to go download Beautiful Widgets from the Play Store here.

Android Pro Widgets (Free or $3.11 premium version)

Too many widgets!
Android Pro Widgets provides a huge number of differnet widgets that act like miniature applications. Some of the widgets to choose from are Bookmarks, Calendar, Facebook, Messaging , People, Timeline (Twitter + Facebook), and Twitter.

If you get the premium version you'll be treated to mamy additional features including the ability to use different themes. One of the great things about the Android Pro Widgets is that most of the widgets are scrollable, meaning you can scroll up and down much like you can in an ordinary application. You also have the ability to resize each of the widgets to suit your configuration.

You can get the free version of APW here and then purchase the license for $3.11 NZD from here  you may also want to download the Google Reader widget here.

GTasks (Free or $6.49 premium)

GTasks is a to-do list application that syncs with Google Tasks. While the application itself is very simplistic it does have some great features such as notifications for tasks with a due date/time and is very easy to add tasks or mark them as complete.

As this section is about widgets it would be quite daft for me to ignore the main draw of this application; the GTasks widgets. This allows you to view current tasks in a scrollable list, mark them as complete when finished and easily add new tasks when required.

The main difference between the free and premium versions is access to themes and modifying the sync settings. I would suggest giving the free version a go first by downloading it here and if you like it support the developer and purchase a premium key here for $6.49 NZD

Alternative Launchers

If you're not sure what a Launcher is then check out this article over at AndroidCentral. In terms of the Galaxy S3, the default launcher is called TouchWiz. While the latest TouchWiz is a huge improvement over previous iterations, it still has a couple of limitations that you might want to overcome.

One of these is the lack of scrolling background wallpapers, meaning most images you want to use will need to be severely cropped as part of the process of selecting them.

Another issue is that TouchWiz does not let you drag icons on top of each other to create folders - a stock Android feature since ICS was released. This is the main reason I started trying out alternative launchers on my S3.

There's no risk in trying out an alternative launcher so give it a go and see whether or not you like it better.

Apex Launcher (Free or $4.99 NZD for Apex Launcher Pro)

Apex is a launcher developed by AndroidDoes who make Fancy Widgets. It is based on the Ice Cream Sandwich stock launcher. This means it supports a lot of cool features such as:
  • resizable widgets
  • drag and drop folder creation
  • a large number of screen transition animations
  • scrolling shortcut dock at the bottom
  • customisable app drawer
  • scrollable wallpapers

The paid version also has a number of impressive features such as:
  • ADW, LauncherPro, and Go Launcher theme support
  • multi-touch gestures
  • shortcut dock gestures
  • heaps of other cool stuff
In general there are a lot of features to try out and change things to your liking. While the feature set of Apex is fairly impressive and it is quite a big improvement over TouchWiz in many ways there are still a couple of areas where it is not so impressive. 

I found the performance to be not quite as smooth as TouchWiz with some animations slightly stuttering and folders with a large number of apps having a very jerky animation. Apex also lacks a dynamic interface for adding or removing homescreens, it merely has a setting for changing the number of homescreens available. 

If you want to give Apex a go then go get it from here and if you're impressed feel free to purchase a pro version key for $4.99 NZD from here

Nova Launcher (Free or $5.00 NZD for Nova Launcher Prime)

Nova Launcher is a direct competitor to Apex but is developed by TeslaCoil software - the makers of WidgetLocker and is priced nearly identically.

While Nova Launcher has virtually all of the same features as Apex it adds a few extra features that are worth mentioning.

The ability to add folders to the app drawer is one area of improvement that will please the ocd types who need to categorise everything. The app drawer can additionally be divided into groups. For example I have Apps, Widgets and Games tabs to make it easier to find what I'm looking for. Bear in mind this is a Prime feature so you won't get it if you don't pay.

Nova Launcher also has the ability to add/remove home screens from the zoomed out screen preview. This is accessed by pinching to zoom out on any of the home screens. This is a vast improvement over the laborious method used in Apex launcher.

I also found Nova to be a bit smoother than Apex and it seems to have nicer transition animations such as Revolving Door (a Prime only feature). The configuration menu is also fairly logical and is much simpler for  fiddling with all of the settings.

You can get the free version of Nova Launcher here and purchase a premium Nova Launcher Prime key from here for $5.00 NZD

While I personally use Nova over Apex, I would urge you to give them both a try before deciding which one you would like to buy.

Alternative Keyboards

Swype Beta

Swype is a keyboard developed by a company called Nuance, who might sound familiar if you have ever used Dragon Naturally Speaking. The aim with Swype was to create a new way of predictive typing on a smartphone with a touchscreen. You type by moving your fingers in a continuous motion around the keyboard to 'swype' words. This makes it a lot faster than hen pecking in most* situations and Nuance claim you can input text at over 40wpm.

The only issue with Swype is that it can be quite painful to actually install. Technically it is still in Beta and has been for years - go figure. This means you have to sign up to the Swype Beta here and then login and download the installer application. This will mean you have to enable installation from unknown sources in Settings > Security > tick Unknown sources.

After the pain of install you will be led through the setup process and after a small learning curve you'll be more efficient than ever.

*Some users may find other predictive keyboards more efficient for their purposes so if swyping just isn't your style then you may want to check out our next keyboard recommendation:

SwiftKey (Free 1 month trial or $4.99 NZD)

Holo Themed SwiftKey
SwiftKey is another predictive keyboard, but takes a very different path to that of Swype. SwiftKey is all about learning your typing style and then either predicting what you want to say, or correcting what you mistyped. This is based on whether you said you were Precise - a careful typist who often chooses predictions or Rapid - a fast typist who relies on auto-correction.

How SwiftKey manages to be come incredibly accurate is through an incredibly advanced language engine as well as learning from your Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and text messages. Most people who use SwiftKey find it uncanny how well it predicts what you want to say.

SwiftKey also has a number of very attractive themes available to customise the look to suit your tastes.

If you're keen to start typing swiftly then check out the trial version of SwiftKey here or purchase the full version here for $4.99 NZD.


Light Flow - LED Control (free Lite version or $2.50 NZD full version)

One of the great things about the Galaxy S3 is the full RGB notification LED. This means you can have notification lights that are any colour, well you can if you get Light Flow. This is a pretty amazing app that lets you do the following:
  • completely customise the colours that the notification LED flashes
  • set the frequency of the LED and patterns
  • set notification priority
  • set repeating notifications
  • scheduling to disable the notification LED at night
  • custom colours per person and per notification type
  • Much more
If you want to see the difference between the Lite and the paid version you can look at this chart here.

One thing you do need to be aware of when using Light Flow is that it can cause excessive wakelocks, draining battery a lot faster than if you don't use it. 


Wallbase (Free ad supported version or $2.39NZD Pro version)

Wallbase is a pretty simple app at it's heart. It scrapes a website for images and you can look at random selections, popular wallpapers, wallpapers by tag, or simply search for whatever. What's so great about it is that the images are uniformly of an extremely high quality, which really makes a difference if you're looking for wallpapers for your tablet or HD smartphone, and the UI is just really nice. It doesn't hurt that it's theme is quite dark, which is something you should always look for as the Galaxy S3 has a Super AMOLED HD screen.

I now find myself regularly browsing it for new wallpapers and switching them up quite often, which I suppose means I've finally fallen into the obsessional wallpaper trap that I've seen so many others consumed by. Oh well, as long as you've having fun right?

A final note: While I now 'get' wallpapers, I still don't get why people want to have images of scantily clad women (or men) adorning their homescreens. If you on the other hand like a bit of soft porn on your phone to titilate bystanders/public transport commuters/your teacher, you'll be pleased to know that Wallbase has an option to make 'sketchy' images available too.

You can download the free version of Wallbase here and purchase the Pro key here for $2.39 NZD

Image 2 Wallpaper

Image 2 Wallpaper is the perfect companion app for Wallbase as it lets you resize the wallpapers that don't completely fit. This is especially important if you are using TouchWiz as it does not support scrolling wallpapers, meaning you only get a small 720 pixel slice of an image that was probably designed to be widescreen.

This is also a good place to once again recommend an alternate launcher such as Apex or Nova which both support scrolling wallpapers. 

Image 2 Wallpaper is free so there isn't a lot to decide, go download from the Play Store now.

If you like our app recommendations or have alternatives you think people should consider, feel free to leave a comment or two.