How to change your Android phone’s default browser, assistant, and more

Android provides you with countless ways to customize your phone, from the color and shape of your app icons to your preferred method of system navigation. That customizability extends to your default app for common tasks like making calls and texting. Maybe you’d prefer to use a web browser with more privacy features or swap Google Assistant out for Alexa. You’re free to download the app of your choice and set it as the default — it just takes a few steps.

For reference, these are the types of apps to which you can assign new defaults:

  • Web browser
  • Caller ID and spam blocker
  • Digital assistant
  • Home app (aka launcher)
  • Phone
  • SMS (chat)

These are the steps I followed to change the default SMS app on the TCL 30 V 5G phone running Android 11 that I’m using at the moment, but the process is the same for any of the above apps. The steps are also the same on a Google Pixel 6.

  • Go to the Play Store and download the new app you want to set as the default.
  • Head to Settings > Apps and under “General” tap Default apps.
  • Pick the app you want to replace — in my case, the SMS app. On the next menu screen, you’ll see the current default app along with any other SMS apps you’ve downloaded.
  • Select the app you want to use as the default.

Change your browser, SMS app, and more from the default.

Other supported apps that you’ve downloaded will appear as default options.

These are the same steps you’ll follow if you want to customize your homescreen experience with a new launcher. A launcher like Niagara can rearrange your homescreen and app drawer so it’s easier to use one-handed. Nova is another popular option for its customizability. If you really want to tinker, then a new launcher is a powerful way to change up the day-to-day experience of using your phone. To make your new launcher the default, look for the Home app selection on the Default apps page.

How to handle links

And while you’re in the neighborhood, you can change how your phone handles links. For example, you can arrange it so that Google Play Store links will open in the app store itself, rather than in a web browser. You can see which installed apps are set to open certain links and choose whether the system should do this automatically or ask every time you click one of these links.

  • From the Default app menu screen, tap Opening links at the very bottom.
  • Under Installed apps, select the app you want to change the behavior for.
  • Tap (or toggle on) Open supported links.
  • On some devices, you may have additional options to have the phone ask whether it should open links or automatically open them in the app without asking.

Select an app from the list to change how it handles links.

You can determine whether supported links should open in the app automatically.

Instant Apps

Finally, you can also adjust your preferences for Android’s Instant Apps feature. Provided you’re running Android 5.0 or higher, your device is already enabled to use Instant Apps, which are basically small versions of full apps that will run without having to download and install them. Certain game developers use Instant Apps so you can try out a game without having to download the whole thing. You’ll see this if you install and run the Google Play Games app. Some games have an “Instant play” icon next to them that runs the game without installing it.

Instant Apps are enabled by default, and are used throughout the Google Play Games app.

You can also opt to enable Instant Apps to open from web links.

By default, this feature is enabled and you’ll see it toggled on in the Opening links menu page next to Instant Apps. You can go one step further and enable Instant Apps links in your browser by tapping Instant apps preferences and selecting Upgrade web links.

Android Instant Apps seem to be falling out of favor with developers, so you may not encounter them in the wild, but enabling them via web links doesn’t hurt and could save you the hassle of downloading another app one day.

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