How-To Geek

Five Ways to Customize Android that iOS Still Can’t Match

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Android is very customizable–many of its features are just defaults, and can be swapped out for third-party alternatives without any rooting required. When it comes to iOS, well…not so much.

Here are five ways you can customize the heck out of Android, that still aren’t available on iOS. Some of these things are possible on jailbroken devices, while some are flat-out impossible.

Tweak Every Corner of Your Home Screen with a New Launcher

Android’s home screen is just another app that can be swapped out for something better. If you’re looking for something with a completely different look or more options, you can install a third-party launcher from the Play Store. There’s a thriving ecosystem of third-party launchers out there, with Nova Launcher being our favorite for customization.

With it, you can change and customize home screen icons, set a custom action for the home button, hide apps from the app drawer, and so much more. It also brings the newest Android features to the table as soon as they’re available (sometimes even beforehand!). For example, Nova already has an option to use the new Pixel Launcher’s style of app drawer. Check out all the best launchers here.

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Add New Features to Your Lock Screen

You can change your lock screen, too. And while this isn’t as popular as it once was, there are still a handful of excellent lock screen replacements out there that offer different themes and additional functionality. One of the most interesting (and popular) choices is Microsoft’s Next Lock Screen: it’s a clean-yet-full-featured lock screen replacement that blends in exceptionally well with Android’s overall look.

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Set Your Default Browser

Shockingly, iOS still doesn’t let you change your default browser away from Safari. Android, on the other hand, allows you to install third-party browsers and set them as your default, so all links open in the browser you want–and you can ignore the built-in browser entirely if you want. When you tap a link after installing a new browser app on Android, you’ll be prompted to select your default browser. Otherwise, you can change this setting in Applications > Default.

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Since Google doesn’t place the same restrictions on developers Apple and Microsoft do, these third-party browsers are proper browsers that use their own rendering engines, too. For example, Firefox for Android uses the same rendering engine that Firefox on your desktop does. On iOS, these browsers must be “shells” around Safari. In fact, although Chrome for iPhone is forced to be a shell around the built-in Safari browser, Chrome for iPhone isn’t even as fast as Safari because Chrome isn’t allowed to access Safari’s optimized JavaScript library and can’t include its own.

Although you can switch browsers on a jailbroken iOS device, iOS browsers like Chrome and Firefox will remain shells over Safari with inferior performance.

Use a Different Messaging App for SMS

Unlike iOS, you can also install a different messaging client and set it as the default app to handle all of your text messages. There are many SMS clients out there, with different features across the board. Google’s Messenger app is among the most popular, as its simplistic, clean, and fast nature make it a great choice all around.

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What’s more, there are apps that allow users to also send SMS from their computer or tablet by syncing messages with their Google account. Pushbullet and MightyText are the most popular of such services, but it’s worth mentioning that these generally place some sort of limitation on the free service and require a free (oftentimes a monthly subscription) to unlock the full potential.

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Customize Android from the Ground Up with a New ROM (or Xposed)

Android is open source, so the community can build on its source code and create modified versions of Android with additional features. These are known as “custom ROMs”, and installing one is the coolest way to get the most out of your device.

The most popular custom ROM is CyanogenMod, a custom ROM that can replace the included Android OS on a wide variety of devices. CyanogenMod is made possible by Android’s open-source nature–it isn’t just a series of hacks on top of a closed-source operating system build; the CyanogenMod developers start with Android’s source code and build on it to create their own community-developed version.

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Alternatively, you can use the very cool Xposed Framework to add custom features to Android yourself–almost like creating your own custom ROM.

While the other things on this list can be done on essentially any Android device, installing a custom ROM and using the Xposed Framework require unlocking your bootloader, installing a custom recovery environment, and rooting your device–things that aren’t necessarily possible on every Android device out there, and aren’t for the faint of heart. But if you truly want to customize, these will give you more options than iOS users–even those with jailbroken phones–can even dream of.

Image Credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.


Cameron Summerson is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys on the 'net, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, chugging away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  • Published 10/29/16

  • Pablo Pastore

    That CM picture! :wink:Was it CM7?

  • Pradip Shah

    Why even speak of or compare customisation between Android and iOS? iOs simply sucks big time and regardless of implementing what ever is allowed it does not even come close so far as out of the box usefulness is concerned. Just one example is mail attachments. First I download the mail and view the attachment in some third party application. But if I want to save it for use on some other device then I first must upload it to some cloud storage and then again download it from there. Can't save or print any mail or text document attachments in pdf format. I must say one has to be really stupid with money to burn to buy an extremely overpriced piece of crap.

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