It’s a sad fact that many developers make apps suited to take advantage of high performance devices like the ones they use. They add flashy interactions, unnecessary features, and neglect to optimize for low-end devices. You don’t need them, and you can do so much better.
Take heart: just because you lack abundant free space doesn’t mean you don’t have great apps to choose from. Read on for options for launchers, browsers, social media, communication, and even the weather.
Launcher: Holo Launcher HD, Smart Launcher 2
Giving your phone a new launcher is such a simple way to breathe new life into a device, and they don’t have to take a lot of space either.
My everyday launcher is Holo Launcher HD, a simple launcher based on Android KitKat, at a very compact 1.3MB. I appreciate being able to remove the Google Search bar from the homescreen, resize the grids to my liking, make my app drawer one long page (instead of split into several pages), and change the dimensions of widgets, too.
The most refreshing thing about Smart Launcher 2 is how it organizes your apps. No longer will you have to scroll or flip through pages of apps sorted alphabetically if you get Smart Launcher 2. It will sort your apps by category automatically!
Smart Launcher 2 may not have all the configurations that other launchers offer, but for the right person, that’s a feature, not a drawback.
The default communication apps on Android are not fantastic. They’re a bit plain, and they miss opportunities to make communication quicker, easier, and more elegant.
Textra is an SMS/MMS (Short Message Service/Multimedia Messaging Service) communication app that looks great and has smooth interactions because it follows Android’s Lollipop Material Design guidelines.
It offers quick-reply from the notification screen, and it even lets you intuitively scroll to see past messages from the quick-reply screen (unlike other apps that show each incoming message on its own page). Textra lets you customize the way different contacts appear, too.
Textra is only 3.5 MB. It made it to our list of best Android apps, so go on and give it a whirl.
Find other Android apps that follow Material Design.
Browser: Naked Browser
Google Chrome and Dolphin Browser (a popular alternative Android browser) both look great and render websites well, but they’re big, slow, and they track your personal information. Thankfully, there are better alternatives.
Chrome uses 66.5MB on my device (not counting 80MB of data), and Dolphin Browser uses 31.9MB. If you’re using either of those browsers, you’ll gain a lot from switching to Naked Browser, a mere 0.115MB. You can also buy Naked Browser Pro for more features. [Note: the Pro version is showing up as $2.00 for some users and $20.00 for others users.]
Naked Browser may be ugly, but the developer put resources where it counts.
Naked Browser has some of the best rendering I’ve seen among the small browsers I tested, and it’s extremely fast. My colleague Kannon reviewed Naked Browser a year ago, but what he wrote is still relevant today. It offers tabbed browsing, it doesn’t track your location, it lets you block images, and it only asks you for a handful of reasonable permissions.
Unfortunately, neither UC Mini nor Opera Mini rendered MakeUseOf or Facebook remotely as well as Naked Browser did, and they’re around 10 times the size (still only barely bigger than a single MB), so that’s a pretty big strike against them as far as I’m concerned.
However, their user interfaces are a little bit nicer than Naked Browser, so if that matters (or if you don’t want a browser named “Naked” on your device), give them a try.
Social Media: Facebook & Twitter Alternatives
You might have heard of this social networking thing called Facebook… as of the end of 2013, it had over 1.23 billion monthly active users, of which 945 million are on mobile devices. Unfortunately, the mobile app is a heavy beast, and devices with low specs can have a tough time with it. Fortunately, Facebook has finally launched an alternative called Facebook Lite. Worth a look, if you just so happen to be one of those 945 million.
Facebook Lite currently uses less than 0.3MB. That’s minuscule compared to the main app, which uses more than 29MB on my device. It’s designed to be small, light, fast, and not use lots of data. Though it’s only officially available in certain countries of Africa and Asia right now, you can manually install (side load) the Facebook Lite’s .apk file from APKmirror.com. I downloaded version 22.214.171.124.14 from February 5, and found it fast, and relatively nice-looking too.
Of course, the app is still being ‘tested’ by Facebook, and they’re not providing it officially for all regions, so no guarantees that it will work as it should for you if you’re downloading the mirror file.
Tinfoil for Facebook & Twitter
Unfortunately, Facebook Lite still asks for lots of permissions, like the Facebook Messenger app does. My colleague Ben previously found Facebook Messenger seeks permissions it shouldn’t require. If you’re looking to avoid official Facebook apps altogether for that reason, Tinfoil for Facebook is a good option — it’s just a wrapper for the website.
At only 0.452MB, Tinfoil for Facebook is a great way to avoid invasive permissions while still getting to send and receive instant messages with your Facebook contacts.
If you like that sort of thing, you can also ditch Twitter’s main app and go for Tinfoil for Twitter. It’s a 0.3MB fork of Tinfoil for Facebook that wraps the Twitter website in an app form.
There’s not a lot a weather app needs to do other than a) tell you what the weather is now and b) predict what it will be later. It shouldn’t take several megabytes of space to do so.
Weather for Android, by MacroPinch, takes up around 3MB on my OnePlus One smartphone. Weather lets you track the weather at your current location (or track it in a variety of other locations) and see upcoming forecasts.
Other weather apps include lots of information that isn’t very important. Do you really need to know the “‘feels like’ temperature, sunrise time, sunset time, wind speed, humidity, UV index, visibility, dew point, and pressure”, as the Weather Channel app provides, for example? Unlikely.
If you’re seeking refuge from Google Calendar’s recent update, which removed the ability to see a week or month view in favour of only a 5-day view, aCalendar is a good alternative at 1.53 MB. It stays synced with your Google Calendar; offers views for the day, week, and month; supports colour coding, recurring events, reminders; and has its own widget for your homescreen too.
The paid version includes more views, tasks, and business-oriented features like invitations and free/busy settings.
What’s Eating Up Your Space?
Even if you have gigabytes to spare, small apps like these are worth checking out just for the elegance in not using more resources than necessary. Plus, choosing to save space on apps means you can make room for more important things like photos, videos, music, and podcasts.
What I want to know now is, what are your devices’ largest apps?
You can find out which apps are hogging your Android’s space and clean your device with an app like The Cleaner or Clean Master. Just be careful to subtract out the data that may be contributing to the apparent size of an app. I looked at my list and saw my largest app was Podcast Addict, at 2.8GB — of course, most of that was podcasts I had downloaded and just hadn’t gotten around to listening to yet!
Let’s chat about the big apps in the comments and help each other find small alternatives. Once you have some more free space, you can also check out 10 other efficient and minimal Android apps.