Tip: Handcent SMS For Android

Handcent logo, blue speech bubble with dots in it.
The Handcent logo

As some of you will know I’m an Android user and my current phone is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It’s a lovely device, it’s very powerful, it get’s direct updates from Google and overall I’m pretty happy with it. However, there was one minor problem nagging at me and I thought I’d share the solution with you. I’m running Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and the built-in SMS client is rubbish. A lot of people don’t care about SMS these days with emails, Tweets and other things all available on your phone, but I still do. When someone sends me a contact card via SMS, a simple VCF file, I want to be able to see it!

A screenshot of a blank message in standard Android SMS
Contact card in default SMS app, blank and un-clickable.

A friend sent me a contact from her phone and it just showed up as a completely blank message. No text, nothing. Perplexed I pinged her to ask what had happened, “I just forwarded you the contact” she said. Clicking on the blank message achieved nothing. After searching online I discovered this is a common problem with the built in Android 4.x SMS client. It doesn’t let you see address book attachments in lots of cases.

Luckily I discovered an alternative SMS app called Handcent. It’s available in the Android Market – sorry Play Store as it’s now called – and it’s completely free. I opened up the same SMS thread in Handcent and it showed a .vcf file linked to the message. All I had to do was click on it and say “yes please, put it in my address book”, or whatever wording it used. Job done.

Contact card in Handcent. Shows .vcf attachement and can be saved to address book
Same message in Handcent. Notice the .vcf attachment 🙂

Since then I’ve made Handcent my default SMS app and it’s infinitely better. I’ve themed it to my taste, I get nice pop ups when there’s a message, I can even reply without having to open the full thread and I love it. I can schedule messages, create groups and do all kinds of other cool stuff, I’ve barely scratched the surface. So that’s my tip for the day, if you have an Android phone don’t use the crappy built in SMS app, download Handcent and improve your life. You can also get free extensions and enhancements for it.

To make Handcent your default SMS client just open the app and go to Settings -> Application Settings -> Default Messaging Application, <see screenshot below>.

Handcent Application settings menu. White text on black background.
Setting Handcent as default SMS app is easy.

Sadly I don’t think Handcent is Open Source but I haven’t confirmed that one way or the other yet. It is worth a look though and I encourage you to try it out. Apparently it’s also available on the iPhone, whatever that is 😉

Enjoy, and let me know how you get on,



  1. Like you, Dan, I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and like you I have installed Handcent for my messaging needs.
    My problem is group sms’s. This morning I send a message to a group of about 90 people. Seemingly the first 64 went through, then Handcent croaked. The undelivered messages was put in the “Undelivered Messages report” – which is fair enough.
    Then I choose the option “Resend All Undelivered messages”.
    It might send one of the outstanding messages, and then just stop. So I have to tell it maybe 10 times to Resend All Undelivered messages, until they would all be gone – seemingly.
    There is more, but let me stop here for now.
    Any advice?

    • Hi Jos, that sounds like a lot of people to send a group SMS to. I’ve never tried to send to that many people so I don’t think I can really offer any useful advice. Have you had similar problems with any other SMS apps? I’m wondering if your network blocks multiple text sending at some limit, like the 64 you mentioned. Is it always 64? A spam prevention measure maybe. Then it really limits the number you can send concurrently for a little while to discourage you. It’s only a theory but it could be a network thing. In which case I’m not sure how you’d get around it. It could just be a limitation with Handcent as well though. Sorry I can’t be of more use on this occasion.


  2. Hi. I just downloaded the handcent app and am having a lot of trouble. I have a samsung s and can only send short messages like Hi. If i try to send a longer message, it gets returned as message not sent. Can you help?

    • Hi Tim, I’m afraid I haven’t seen that error before. So I don’t know what to advise. If it’s sending short messages ok then it implies the app is working, at least partly. Could it be a problem with your phone provider limiting your messages? Sorry I can’t offer anything more useful at the moment. Good luck! 🙂

  3. Hi Dan, someone gave me a korean phone I’m from Manila.What bothers me is this phone can only send 80 chars so I installed Handcent. Now I was able to see the number of the sender but I always get “SMS not sent” whenever I try sending one.Pls. advise.Thanks in advance.

  4. Hi!I just installed this app.I have an alcatel one touch 991 and i have no idea how to make the app be the deffault messaging app.can you help? thax!

  5. hopefully you can help me. I have a Samsung Galaxy S4. Using handcent and love it. One problem. I use this for work and people leave me messages with their phone numbers. When the text comes in, it comes in on some sort of black box instead of the usual thread. I can’t just press on the phone number to return the call. I need to close the box then open handcent to see the message thread and then press on the phone number in the message.
    I guess my question is: can an incoming message just default to opening up in the regular handcent screen with the complete thread?
    PS. It also helps when someone returns my text several hours after I sent it so that I can remember what I texted them in the first place!

  6. I want all my threads to have the same settings but, everytime I go into a different thread it doesn’t have the settings I want it to. How do I change that?

  7. I have a Samsung Galaxy S5. I love handcent however when I get a text it opens the regular messaging. I have configured the handcent application to “default messaging application to disable the stock and other third-party applications for SMS or MMS” but it still opens in what I am guessing is the stock app.
    Is there something I am not doing right?

  8. Just updated android OS and Handcent SMS. Now, all of a sudden, all my texts are forwarded to email! How do I turn this off?

    • @bryan – I’ve never actually seen that behaviour, sorry. I’m not sure what you would do to stop it but I suppose check the Handcent settings. Hopefully someone else can comment with more info. Good luck!

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