Fifteen free apps to customise your Android phone

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Android is a flexible mobile operating system, you can really customise it and make it your own. You can swap out everything, from the browser to the app drawer, for something better. Although rooting your smartphone may be the best way to customise it, the process can be complicated. For quicker, easier options look to the Android Market, which offers a wealth of apps that can get the job done better than any of the stock software that shipped with your phone.

Here are my top picks for the best apps to customise an Android phone.

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ADW.Launcher

If you want to change the look and function of your home screen or app drawer, the easiest way is to download a launcher replacement app from the Android Market. ADW.Launcher gives you a wide variety of controls over most of aspects of your home screen. For instance, you can change the colour of the app drawer or hide the status bar. ADW also supports themes, allowing you to change the look of your home screen and app icons drastically.

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LauncherPro

LauncherPro, much like ADW, gives you the power to alter the look of your phone. You can download special widgets that work with Twitter and other services, and you can revamp icons by downloading and installing icon packs. LauncherPro is probably the most popular launcher replacement, mainly due to the sheer amount of settings you can tinker with to get your phone's home screen looking exactly the way you want it.

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GO Launcher EX

What really stands out about GO Launcher EX isnundefinedt the way it lets you customise your home screen, but rather what it does to your app drawer. With the help of this tool, you can rearrange apps however you like, and quickly uninstall any that you donundefinedt use anymore. And if your phone seems to be slowing down, the 'Close All Programs' button will kill all running apps to free up some RAM. GO Launcher EX is great if you desire more control over your apps' organisation and storage.

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Launcher 7

Launcher 7 replaces the vanilla Android interface with that of Windows Phone 7. Apps such as Gmail or Messenger will even show up as live tiles, updating automatically when you receive new text messages or email. Though this launcher does not add much functionality, it is nice to look at. I really like it because it makes basic tasks such as checking text messages or calling someone that much faster.

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Myxer

Tired of the basic Android ringtones? Myxer can help. With hundreds of free ringtones to choose from, youundefinedll spend quite a bit of time browsing for the ringtone that best fits you. The app will even help you create your own ringtones using any .mp3 files you may have in your phoneundefineds memory. While the app does suffer from a few minor graphical glitches, it gets the job done.

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Backgrounds HD Wallpapers

It can be hard to find a wallpaper photo for your Android phone. Most of the time youundefinedll set an image only to find out that itundefineds the wrong size, and that the phone has cropped it in a funky way to fit the screen. Backgrounds HD Wallpapers is a very basic app that lets you browse thousands of images that have been sized to fit a mobile phone screen. You can find everything from cute puppies to weird and wacky abstract images. Not all of the images are winners though, so you may have to do some extensive digging before you make a final choice.

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Retro Camera

Jealous of your hipster friends and the funky photos they take? Retro Camera is here to even the odds and help you capture some classy "vintage" photographs. The app gives you a couple different types of retro cameras, each with its own set of filters and effects. Once you take your delightfully hipster photo, you can show it off to pals via email, Facebook or Twitter from within the app itself.

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Little Photo

Little Photo is your Android camera, simplified. The interface is very plain: You have options to set a timer and toggle the flash on or off. Once you snap a picture however, the app presents a massive number of filters and effects with which you can jazz up your photo. In addition to classics such as sepia or black and white, it also has slightly more artistic-sounding options such as "Ink Dye" and "Dry Rose."

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Winamp

Winamp is a great replacement for the stock Android music player. The app allows you to listen to Shoutcast Internet radio, and has a very simple yet intuitive interface. If you are a Last.fm user, Winamp will automatically scrobble the music to your Last.fm account. Winamp can also help you expand your music collection, giving you access to thousands of free songs from Spinner or from Full CD Listening Party. Once you have Winamp, youundefinedll wonder how you got by with the stock media player for so long.

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DoubleTwist

DoubleTwist isnundefinedt as full featured as Winamp, though the app will also play video and will allow you to rate songs and radio stations. What makes the app a little different from Winamp is AirSync, which lets you sync your music wirelessly with a PC or stream music to your Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Apple TV.

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Handcent SMS

Handcent SMS replaces the standard messaging app with a much more flexible messaging system. You can change the look of your text messages using different skins, and even schedule messages to go out on a certain time and date. When you receive a new text message, a box pops up on your screen, allowing you to reply quickly without having to open the messaging app.

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GO SMS Pro

Like Handcent, GO SMS Pro allows you to customise text messages with various themes. You can even create your own themes if you don't like any of the ones available in the app's theme shop. GO SMS comes with a pretty decent set of security options, allowing you to blacklist and block unwanted messages with ease.

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ChompSMS

If you love the look of the iPhone's messaging system, ChompSMS is for you. The app somewhat accurately mimics the iChat bubble icons that the iPhone uses, though it doesn't do much beyond that. Use ChompSMS more for its novelty factor rather than because it adds any real functionality to your messaging app.

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Dolphin Browser HD

Dolphin Browser HD adds a whole new level to how you browse the web on your mobile phone. The webzine function is fantastic for stripping away all the unnecessary junk and accessing the real content on a web page, and gestures make navigation a cinch. With gestures, you can do things such as reload a page just by drawing a circle on screen. Dolphin HD also has tabbed browsing, allowing you to keep multiple pages open at once without having to bounce around among windows.

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Opera Mini

If you're in need of faster browsing, look no further than Opera Mini. This lightweight browser compresses web pages so that they load faster over a 3G connection. Opera Mini also supports tabbed browsing, and even contains its own app store where you can download Android apps.

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