13 tricks for more efficient Android messaging


No matter what type of Android phone you carry or how you usually use it, one thing is a near-universal constant:

You’re gonna spend a ton of time messing with messages.

The messages may be from clients, colleagues, or your cousin Crissy from Cleveland (damn it, Crissy!). But regardless of who sends ’em or what they’re about, they’re all popping up on your phone and cluttering your weary brainspace.

My fellow Android adorer, I’m here to tell you there’s a better way.

Google’s Android Messages app has gotten surprisingly good over the years. That’s no big secret. If you only rely on what you see on the surface, though, you’re missing out on some of Messages’ most powerful and underappreciated efficiency-enhancing options.

[Hey: Want even more advanced Android knowledge? Check out my free Android Shortcut Supercourse to learn tons of time-saving tricks for your phone!]

Today, we’ll explore the Android Messages app’s most effective out-of-sight superpowers. They may not be able to cut down on the number of messages you send and receive on your phone (DAMN IT, CRISSY!), but they will help you spend less time fussing with ’em. And they might just help you have a more pleasant experience, too.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

(Before you splash forward, take note: The tips on this page are all specific to the Google Messages app, which isn’t the same as the superfluous and wildly unnecessary Messages apps made by the likes of Samsung, OnePlus, and Verizon and baked into devices associated with those companies. If you’re using a phone where the Android Messages app wasn’t preinstalled or set as the default, you can download it from the Play Store and give it a whirl. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.)

Android Messages trick #1: Custom notifications for important people

We’ll start with what might be my favorite little-known trick within Google’s Android Messages app: With a couple quick adjustments, you can turn any of your contacts’ faces into a custom notification icon. That icon will then show up at the top of your phone whenever that person messages you for extra-easy visibility and access.


A quick bit of simple setup, and bam: Anyone’s face can become their notification icon (for better or for worse!) on your phone.

JR Raphael, IDG

The only catch is that your phone needs to be running 2020’s Android 11 operating system or higher for the feature to be available. (And honestly, if your phone isn’t running Android 11 at this point, you’ve got bigger fish to fry, Francesco.) Also, Samsung has screwed around with this system for no apparent reason — a frustratingly common theme with Samsung’s heavily modified approach to Android, especially as of late — so you may or may not be able to take advantage of this on a Galaxy gadget, depending on how recently its software has been screwed up updated. (Exaggerated sigh. What more can I say?!)

On any reasonably recent Android device that sticks close to Google’s core Android interface, though, here’s how to make the magic happen:

  • The next time you get a message from someone, press and hold your finger to the notification.
  • That’ll pull up a screen that looks a little somethin’ like this:
Android’s Priority conversation setting is the key to creating custom notifications that really stand out.

JR Raphael, IDG

  • Tap the “Priority” line, then tap “Apply” to save the changes.

And that’s it: The next time that person messages you, you’ll see their profile picture in place of the standard Messages icon in your status bar, and the notification will show up in a special section above any other alerts.

Hip, hip, hoorah!

Android Messages trick #2: Important contact prioritizing

Ever wish you could keep your most important messaging threads at the top of the list for easy ongoing access?

Poof: Wish granted. No matter what kind of Android phone you’re holding or how needlessly meddled with its software may be, just hold your finger onto the conversation in question on the main Messages app screen, then tap the pushpin-shaped icon in the app’s upper bar.

You can pin up to three conversations that way, and they’ll always appear above all other threads in that main inbox view.

Android Messages trick #3: Swift appointment scheduling

The next time you’re working to plan a meeting or event with a fellow Homo sapien in Messages, make yourself a mental note of this:

Anytime someone sends you a message that includes a specific date and time, the Messages app will underline that text. See it?

That underlined time is a covert link from an incoming message to your Android calendar agenda.

JR Raphael, IDG

You’d be forgiven for failing to realize, but you can actually tap that underlined text to reveal a shortcut for opening that very same day and time in your Android calendar app of choice. It’s a great way to get a quick ‘n’ easy glimpse at your availability for the time you’re discussing.

And if you then want to create a calendar event, just look for the “Create event” command that should appear right below that very same message. That’ll fire up a new calendar event for you on the spot, with the appropriate day and time already filled in.

That button to the left of the text suggestions is a spectacular time-saver for on-the-fly event creation.

JR Raphael, IDG

Don’tcha just love simple step-savers?

Android Messages trick #4: Seamless message scheduling

If you’re ready to hammer out a response to a message right now but don’t want your reply to be sent for a while, follow the advice shared by a reader in my Android Intelligence newsletter recently and simply schedule your message for some specific future time.

The Android Messages app’s scheduling system is spectacularly useful. You can rely on it for setting reminders to be sent to clients, business-related messages to be pushed out the next morning, or context-free middle-finger emojis to be delivered to your cousin in Cleveland at ungodly hours in the middle of the night.

To tap into this productivity-boosting power, just type out your message normally — but then, instead of tapping the triangle-shaped send icon at the right of the composing window, press and hold your finger onto that same button when you’re done.

No reasonably sane person would possibly realize it, but that’ll pull up a hidden menu for selecting precisely when your message should be sent.

Send any message, anytime — no matter when you actually write it.

JR Raphael, IDG

And the person on the other end will have no way of even knowing you wrote the thing in advance.

Android Messages trick #5: Important message saving

When you run into a message you know you’ll want to reference again, save yourself the trouble of trying to dig it back up later and instead star it on the spot to make it fast as can be to find in the future.

It couldn’t be much easier to do: Whilst viewing an individual message thread, just press and hold your finger onto the specific message you want to save, then tap the star-shaped icon that appears in the bar at the top of the screen.

Then, when you want to find the message again, tap the search icon at the top of the main Messages screen and select “Starred” from the menu that comes up. That’ll show you every message you’ve starred for exceptionally effortless resurfacing.

Android Messages trick #6: Advanced message searching

Speaking of that Messages search system: Starring is sublime, but sometimes, you need to dig up an old message that you didn’t go out of your way to save.

The Android Messages app makes that even easier than you might realize. Tap that same search icon at the top of the app’s main screen — and in addition to searching your entire history message for any specific string of text, take note:

  • You can start typing out the name of anyone in your contacts, then select them from the suggestion that appears — and then type in some text to look for something specific only within messages from that one person.
  • You can use the options within the main Messages search screen to look specifically at images, videos, locations, or links people have sent you.
  • And you can combine any of those variables for even more granular finding — looking for links you sent to a particular client, for instance, or locations an out-of-town colleague sent to you.
The Android Messages app’s search system is chock-full of helpful info.

JR Raphael, IDG

How ’bout them apples?!

Android Messages trick #7: Easier-to-read text

File this next Android Messages feature under “accidental discoveries”: The next time you find yourself squinting at something in a messaging thread on your phone, try a good old-fashioned zoom gesture on the screen — placing your finger and thumb together and then spreading ’em slowly apart.

You’d never know it, but the Messages app supports that standard gesture for zooming into a conversation. The inverse applies, too: When you’re ready to zoom back out and make everything smaller, just bring your two fingers closer together.

And if those actions aren’t working for you, tap your profile picture in the upper-right corner of the main Messages screen and select “Messages settings,” then make sure the toggle next to “Pinch to zoom conversation text” is in the on position.

Android Messages trick #8: Custom conversation colors

While we’re thinking about easier reading, a brand spankin’ new Android Messages trick that’s trickling out as we speak can let you create a custom color palette for any conversations you’ve got goin’.

That way, you can always remember that texts with your significant other are in, say, purple, whereas messages with your most important client are in red. (Best not to get those two threads confused.)

This one works only with messages sent using the modern RCS messaging platform, which basically means messages involving other people on Android at this point (though that will allegedly expand to include iFolk soon — if Apple actually follows through on its years-late promise to stop deliberately dumbing down messages between iPhone users and people on other platforms).

With any currently supported conversation, though, open up the thread within Messages — then:

  • Tap the three-dot menu icon in the screen’s upper-right corner.
  • Select “Change colors” from the menu that appears. (And if you aren’t seeing it yet, even in an RCS-enabled conversation, give it a few days and check back again. This one’s actively rolling out right now, so it should reach you soon — if it hasn’t already!)
  • Pick the color scheme you prefer, then tap the Confirm button at the bottom.
Every Android Messages conversation can have its own distinctive color, if you take the time to set it up.

JR Raphael, IDG

Repeat for any other compatible conversations, and you’ll always know exactly what you’re looking at even with a fast glance — and without having to give it an ounce of active thought.

Android Messages trick #9: Enriched inline media

You know a fantastic way to waste time? I’ll tell ya: moving from one app to another just to glance at something someone sent you (like those blasted Bangles video Crissy is always blasting your way).

Well, get this: Google’s Android Messages app can let you preview and even watch entire YouTube videos without ever leaving your current conversation — and it can give you helpful previews of web links right within the app, too.

The key is to make sure you’ve got the associated options enabled:

  • Tap your profile picture in the upper-right corner of the main Messages screen.
  • Select “Messages settings,” then tap “Automatic previews.”
  • Make sure the toggle next to “Show all previews” is on and active.

Now, the next time someone sends you a video link, you’ll see the video’s thumbnail and description right then and there, within the Messages conversation:

Videos expanded in-line within Messages — easy peasy.

JR Raphael, IDG

With web pages, Messages will show you just enough of a preview to let you make an educated decision about whether you want to tap the link or not.

Web links gain useful extra context once you enable the right option within the Android Messages settings.

JR Raphael, IDG

Almost painfully sensible, wouldn’t ya say?

Android Messages trick #10: Smarter shortcuts

If I had to pick the simplest Android Messages trick for enhancing your efficiency, it’d be embracing the built-in shortcuts Google gives us for faster message actions.

From the main Messages screen, you can swipe left or right on any message to perform an instant action — archiving the conversation, permanently deleting it, or toggling it between read and unread status.

All you’ve gotta do is mosey your way back into the Messages app’s settings areas and tap on the “Swipe actions” item to set things up the way you want…

Step-saving swipes within Messages — now available for your customization.

JR Raphael, IDG

…and then, just remember to actually use those gestures moving forward. (That part’s on you.)

Android Messages trick #11: Automated cleanup

Certain services love to send confirmation codes via text messaging when you sign in or try to perform some action. It may not be the most advisable or effective form of extra security, but — well, it’s better than nothing. And for better or for worse, it’s a pretty common tactic.

Core security considerations aside, the most irksome part of these confirmation codes is having ’em clutter up your messages list at every Goog-forsaken moment. But the Google-made Android Messages app can actually take care of that for you, without any ongoing effort — if you take about 20 seconds to make the right tweak now.

Here’s the secret:

  • Tappity-tap that comely character in the upper-right corner of the main Messages screen (y’know, the one whose appearance has a striking resemblance to your oversized head).
  • Tap “Messages settings” in the menu that comes up, then select “Messages organization.”
  • Within that curiously created section, you’ll see only one option: “Auto-delete OTPs after 24 hrs.” OTP may not exactly be an everyday, universally known abbreviation, but fear not — for it isn’t an erroneous reference to an early 90s rap hit with equally ambiguous meaning. Nope: It stands for one-time password, which is the same thing we’re thinking about here.
  • Flip that toggle into the on and active position, then flip a finger of your choice to all the confirmation codes in your messages list and rest easy knowing they’ll be auto-purged a day after their arrival from that point forward.

Who’s down with OTP? Every last homie. (I apologize.)

Android Messages trick #12: Instant reactions

Slack-style reactions may seem silly on the surface, but they serve an important communication purpose in allowing you to quickly acknowledge a message without having to carry the conversation on further. Whether it’s a thumbs-up, a clapping hands symbol, or even perhaps an occasional burrito emoji, it really can be a handy way to say “Yup, got it” (or “Yup, want beefy goodness”) without having to use a single word.

You probably know you can summon a reaction within the Android Messages app by pressing and holding a specific message within a conversation and then selecting from the list of available emoji options — right? But beyond that, Messages packs an even faster way to issue a reaction in the blink of an eye.

And here it is: Simply double-tap your finger onto any individual message within a conversation. That’ll apply the heart reaction to it without the need for any long-press or symbol selection.

It’d be nice if there were a way to customize which reaction is used for that action by default — so that, obviously, we could all change it to the burrito emoji, since that’s what any sane person uses most often — but if and when a heart will do the job, now you’ve got a super-easy way to bring it into any conversation with a fast finger tap.

Android Messages trick #13: Less annoying iPhone interactions

Last but not least in our list of magnificent Messages enhancements is something specific for your conversations with the Apple-adoring animals in your life. And it relates to those very same sorts of reactions we were just going over.

One obnoxious side effect of Apple’s “no one exists outside of iOS” mentality, y’see, is the way the iPhone’s equivalent of those reactions show up on Android. Plain and simple, they show up as — well, plain and simple text messages, instead of coming through as reactions.

Surely you’ve encountered this, right? Those pointless messages you get from iGoobers that say stuff like “Loved ‘Please stop texting me, Crissy’”?

Well, get this: Google’s Android Messages app is actually able to intercept those absurd platform-specific reactions and turn ’em into standard reactions instead of plain-text interruptions. And it’ll take you all of 12 seconds to enable the option:

  • Head back into the Messages app’s settings.
  • Tap “Advanced.”
  • Look for the line labeled “Show iPhone reactions as emoji” and make sure the toggle next to it is in the on position.

All that’s left is to breathe a heavy sigh of relief — and to send Crissy a well-deserved burrito reaction.

Hey: Don’t let the learning stop here. Get six full days of advanced shortcut knowledge with my free Android Shortcut Supercourse. You’ll discover tons of time-saving tricks!

Android, Google, Messaging Apps, Mobile Apps, Smartphones

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