Best Free Alternatives to Windows 10 Mobile Stock Apps

Windows 10 mobile is at its infancy and like any budding child it needs some proper nurturing if it’s to grow up strong and healthy. Its inborn organs, while showing potential for development, need some complementary feeding to make its first baby steps from that overly protective bosom.

That feeding regimen consists of third party apps or "upgraded organs" if you prefer to go along with that outrageous analogy. There are not particularly many, at least quality free ones, but some determined burrowing through the store can unearth you some gems every now and then.

The following is a collection of some apps that I've found in the past few months while using Windows 10 Mobile and they have become very useful in replacing the stock apps or at least taking over where they fall from grace. Of course this is a subjective opinion, but don't shy away from giving them a try.

Alternative Windows Phone Apps

Woman using a Lumia Phone
Woman showcasing a Lumia Phone

Music Player App

1. Music Mode

I'm not particularly fond of Groove Music. I reckon you aren’t either. Be its hamburger menu that's miles away from my thumb or its lack of taste for some ear candy, Groove ain’t all that groovy. Fortunately, we have the likes of Music Mode.

The one thing you’ll realize off the bat about Music mode is that it doesn't like wasting your time with countless menus. You launch the app and pretty much everything you'll need is neatly arranged on one page. Everything from music categories to handy settings like searching for new music are neatly arranged on a scrollable page.

Music is automatically categorized into seven well thought groups, namely: Artists, Genres, Albums, Songs, Decades, Countries, and Folders. That's right, you even get a folder player if you're the type that doesn't like messing around with tags. The interface is also clean and customizable, using a translucent background of the currently playing track's album cover (see screenshots below).
Other notable features include:
  • Auto Continuation Mode ("Auto Pilot") - choose how to continue playing your music when the queue comes to an end
  • Context menu with some quick actions on long press
  • Keep display active when playing music
  • Swipe left to access previous opened page
  • Option to automatically update music folder on app start up
  • Automatic music library optimization - gives you an option to lookup your music against an online database and download any missing information such as album covers.
  • Free version is feature limited

Music mode also has a pro version which in addition to these features includes audio effects for track changes (fade effects), more audio format support (FLAC, ALAC, Ogg, Opus & Ape) and integration. These premium features can however be previewed in the free version for the first 30 days of use. There's also a desktop app with even more robust features but am yet to test that since am not on Windows 10 PC.

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

Music Mode Now Playing Page
Now Playing Page
Music Mode Start Page
Start Page

2. foobar2000

This would have been my first choice were it not for some few bugs here and there, but that's understandable since it's still in the preview stage at the time of this writing. It has a user friendly interface (something along the lines of Music Mode), supports many audio formats, has robust settings options plus it includes some features that you may be familiar with if you had the chance to use the it's desktop big brother (DSP Manager, Replay Gain and UPnP Media Servers).

More than that, it’s completely free. It’s showing really great potential, so it may be worthwhile to keep track with its development.
Get it from the Store | Author’s Site 

Foobar2000 Start Page
Start Page
Foobar2000 Now Playing Page
Now Playing Page

Video Player

1. Ax-Lite Video Player

This app is a result of a hard-working individual amateur developer - at least that what he/she calls himself/herself. However, there's nothing amateurish about this project. It started out as a player for the developer's Wins 8 tablet before being ported to Windows 10 UWP and some of the tablet aesthetics can be seen on the app.

But don't let that cast doubts on its usability. Some of its notable features, which I suppose Films & TV can only build castles on, include:

  • Screen gestures:
tap to pause/play
seek forward/backward by sliding left/right on the screen
increase/decrease volume by sliding up/down
double tap to toggle full screen
pinch to scale video size, drag to move position
  • Very customizable user interface - toggle buttons, gesture positions, pop up menu actions etc.
  • Video display settings - aspect ratio, stretch, flip, audio only
  • Software/ Hardware Video decoding
  • Subtitle Support - can define subtitle size, position and delay. Subtitle is loaded automatically if it’s stored in the same folder as the video and with a similar name
  • Media Library – define folders where videos are stored
  • Video Effects - Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Hue
  • Audio Effects - echo, reverb, limiter, equalizer
  • Load files from either media library or select file/folder using file picker
  • Online streamer - define URL for it to play
  • Status icon overlays - battery percentage, time
  • Take video snapshot
  • Extras: Convert images to video, Capture Continuous Snapshots of a video

  • No portrait view
  • The interface can be a little overwhelming at first
  • Noticeable lag when playing some videos
  • Back button exits the app

I haven’t exhausted its features but I hope that gives you an impression of what the app is capable of. Go ahead and give it a try.

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

Ax-Lite Video Player Start Page
Start Page
Ax-Lite Video Player Menu

File Manager

1. Metro File Manager (free version)

File Explorer is a terrible file manager if we can actually call it that. I won't even entertain talking about it here seeing I ranted enough in the Windows 10 Mobile review. Instead, let’s focus on one of its more adequate replacements - Metro File Manager.
The developer claims it’s the #1 File Manger on the store and while that may seem farfetched, that's until you see its store rating. Regardless, it’s a very competent file manager that's easy to navigate, looks appealing plus offers a slew of unique features. Some of its notable features include:
  • Manage Local (Phone & SD) and Remote/Cloud Storages. 
  • The remote/cloud storages include: Network Share, OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox and Box. The free version is limited to only one of each remote/cloud account.
  • Password protect the app
  • Search Files
  • Two Views - List or Grid
  • Double tap to rename
  • Enable/Disable Thumbnails
  • Sort Criteria - by name (ascending/descending), latest, oldest, largest, smallest, type
  • Personal Folder hidden from system and with hide attribute
  • Archiver - open common archives like folders, extract and create zip archives
  • Media Viewer - preview pictures/play slide show, play music or video from within app (common files only
  • Can act as a Music Folder Player
  • Icons for common file formats
  • Pin folders to start
  • Folder item counter

  • Free version is feature limited
  • The font size may be too small for some

There's also a pro version with some extra capabilities and no ads but the free version will suffice for most local file management tasks.

Get it from the Store

Metro File Manager Folder Display
Folder Display
Metro File Manager Storage Options
Storage Options

2. Files

This is Microsoft's file manager for Windows Phone 8.1 but works flawlessly on Windows 10 mobile. It's far superior to their latest iteration and uses an approach very similar to that of Metro File Manager - square icons, folder item counter, and search button e.t.c.

If you just need a simple no frills file manager that gets the work done, I'd very much recommend this one. I even find myself using it more than Metro. It really ought to be the default file manager for Windows 10 mobile.

Get it from the Store


Update:  Since writing this article, better browsers than the ones reviewed below have made their entry into their store. I haven't had the time to do full reviews for them as I no longer use Windows Phone as my main device. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you check the following browsers:

1. UC Browser

Microsoft Edge is a decent web browser but it's not the most ideal choice when on Mobile Network. That's where likes of UC come in. UC is a very well-known name in the mobile browser space. It ranks up high alongside Opera when it comes to providing lightweight mobile browsers that utilize server side compression.

Their answer to Windows Mobile is very similar to what they've on other platforms, particularly Android, providing the same roster of features with only minor differences in the UI. So if you have used UC Browser before, you'll feel right at home using its Windows 10 mobile counterpart. Notable features include:
  • Speed Mode - server side compression to speed up loading if you're on a slow network. You can of course turn this off if you don't need it.
  • Powerful Download Manager - multi-downloader, background download, download to cloud (UDisk)
  • Free Integrated Cloud Storage (UDisk)
  • Incognito Browsing
  • UA String Switcher
  • Night Mode
  • Password and Form Filler
  • Easy Navigation - swipe forward/backward, swipe down to close tab, tap to scroll (in speed mode)
  • Quick access to Bookmarks/History
  • Sync bookmarks with UC Account
  • Option to set a picture password on startup
  • Voice commands via Cortana
  • Text only mode

[Update] UDisk is scheduled to be suspended on Sep. 15th, 2016 in line with a government decision to regulate cloud storage. Full statement here.

  • Files downloaded in the internal memory have to be exported first before they are accessible by a file manager
  • Not possible to batch export downloaded files – each file has to be exported individually

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

UC Browser Start Page
Start Page

UC Browser Menu

2. Opera Mini

Opera's lightweight browser is available on Windows 10 Mobile and continues to do what it does best - save you data and block ads. Other than that there's little to talk about it. You got your speed dials, normal and private tabs and a standard download manager. Also unlike UC, don't expect seeing the same features available on the new Android version that I reviewed here. It's seems to have been somewhat left behind.

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

Document Viewer (PDF)

1. Foxit MobilePDF

By default, PDFs on Windows Mobile open with Microsoft Edge. You can only view them and nothing else which I suppose is enough for some people. However, if you want some more flexibility you should try Foxit MobilePDF. Foxit is known for its desktop PDF viewer and you can see the same spirit here. Here are some of the features you can expect from it:

  • Annotations
Highlight (several colours to choose from, opacity setting)
Strike out
Hide Annotations
  • Bookmarks Viewer
  • Different Views
Single or Continuous Pages
Day Mode/Night Mode
Text Reflow with configurable font size
  • Search
  • Recent Documents
  • Open PDFs stored in OneDrive
  • Highlights hyperlinks in PDFs (can be turned off)

  • Hamburger menu not easily accessible – can’t swipe to reveal

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

Foxit MobilePDF Start Page
Start Page
Foxit MobilePDF Annotations Menu
Annotations Menu

2. Adobe Acrobat

I'm not particularly fond of Adobe's desktop PDF viewer, but the mobile one is worth giving a try. It has almost identical features with Foxit MobilePDF albeit with a Windows 8 phone interface. The major difference is that it has subscriptions which you can opt in to. They include:
  • Document Cloud - free personal file storage to store and open your documents remotely
  • Adobe Export PDF - convert PDF to Word or Excel
  • Adobe PDF Pack - create and export pdf files

Get it from the Store | Author’s Site

Adobe Acrobat Start Page
Start Page

Have some good suggestions? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Kelvin is a writer and registered nutritionist based in Nairobi. Passionate about writing and helping people solve problems, he's been actively blogging since 2014 on tech, nutrition and "pseudo poetry".

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