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I will level with you. There is no better texting app. If you don’t need one or two specific features, it’s the best texting app that the people you want to send will also use. Depending on where you are in the world, it could be iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber, LINE or SMS.
But for whatever reason, if you have a choice about which messaging app to use — or you can convince people you want to text — these are the top five texting apps to choose from.
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As a kid in the 90s, I’ve been texting since popular and affordable cell phones were one thing (and, to be honest, a year or two before that). I also used texting apps for professional reasons — to communicate with my remote colleagues and to check the apps themselves.
I still believe it’s the best texting app for people to reply to. If it’s SMS or smoke signals, you have my full permission to use it. So when it came time to put this list together, it freed me up to be pretty strict about the inclusion requirements. iMessage, SMS or Android Messages are not part of this list. Not even Google is calling your latest messages. The biggest reason to use these apps is because your friends do.
However, if you’re starting a friend group, desert island colony, or fan club from scratch and you’re picky about the tools you use, you should look for this in messaging apps:
Messaging apps use an internet connection to send and receive messages. This differs from SMS, which uses your carrier’s own protocols to send and receive messages anywhere with a cellular connection (even a weaker one without data). While SMS messages cost money – per message or included in your cellular plan – messages sent through data-only texting apps are free (even if the app itself isn’t).
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To compile this list, I tested over 30 different apps. Many fall short because they don’t meet the above criteria or because they are uncomfortable to use. I spent time testing and texting any app that appeared to be a candidate for inclusion – plus, as I’ve said, this is a category I have a lot of experience with, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the past on each of these apps. .
WhatsApp is the undisputed ruler of free mobile messaging for most of the world. Launched in 2009 as a way to send messages over a data connection rather than SMS, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014. Since then, the service has grown both in its feature set and in its user base. By 2022, it will have nearly two billion daily users, and it’s easy to see why: it’s a surprisingly decent service.
The app is a full-featured messaging client that supports text chats as well as photos, short videos, and voice messages. There is a status feature that allows you to share an Instagram-like story with your contacts. You can send files (up to 2GB in size) to other users on WhatsApp. Chats take the form of one-on-one interactions with other WhatsApp users or group chats with up to 512 participants.
Despite being the most popular messaging service in the world and owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, WhatsApp has enabled end-to-end encryption for all conversations. Everything you send is fully encrypted, including file transfers. Encrypted messages are removed from WhatsApp servers upon delivery.
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WhatsApp has a unique look and feel. Your double signature next to each message indicates that the message was sent (a checkmark) and delivered (two checkmarks). When both ticks turn blue, you know that the recipient has also read your message. You can further customize your experience by changing the chat wallpaper, renaming groups, and setting custom chat alerts in the app’s settings.
WhatsApp users can make free voice and video calls to other WhatsApp users. Group calls can be made with up to 32 people and all communication is protected with the same end-to-end encryption. You can download WhatsApp desktop apps for Windows and Mac or access the service through a browser at web.whatsapp.com, although in all cases your smartphone should still be on.
Viber is another major entry into the messaging space with millions of users worldwide. The app combines text and media messaging with free voice and video calling service.
Chat with individuals or create a group chat with up to 250 participants where you can share voice and video instant messages without making calls. It’s perfect when you’re too busy to talk and too lazy to type. While many other apps include voice messaging (like WhatsApp, above), Viber makes it easy to send a video message for a more personal touch. Additionally, GIFs and stickers are integrated to help improve interactions in your chats.
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End-to-end encryption is standard on all Viber individual and group chats. Channels and communities, however, are not end-to-end encrypted (making it impossible for new members to see chat history). It’s a small security sacrifice in the name of better service. In addition to free voice and video calls to other Viber users, a service called Viber Out lets you call as many cellphones or landlines around the world as you want for $5.99 a month. It’s like Skype, except with better security practices and a better smartphone app.
Viber uses a minimalist design with an optional dark mode available from the App’s Appearance menu. Chats and calls are assigned to separate tabs, with non-essential Viber features (like the sticker marketplace) placed in a separate third tab. If the chat gets too busy, you can swipe left and choose to mute or snooze. If you have an important conversation you want to keep handy, you can pin it.
Viber also offers communities – basically large group chats with strangers that you can join or start. These public chats can have an unlimited number of members, and admins can have robust controls to moderate their chats: manage who is in the group and who can post, or change the look of the community with a new background and description of the group. You can find communities based on things like location, hobbies, and favorite teams. Think of Reddit, but more like a group chat.
Where Viber falls short is the functionality of the entire app. With sticker stores, chats of all kinds, and the occasional advertisement, it’s a less satisfying experience than WhatsApp, especially if you don’t use its unique features like Viber Out.
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Telegram is one of the original messaging apps that emphasizes the importance of security, although it takes a slightly different approach to end-to-end encryption so it can store your conversations on its servers. It allows you to login from multiple devices, which you cannot do with WhatsApp or Viber. While these two services offer a desktop app, they are sending and receiving all your messages over the phone. If it’s off or not around, you can’t log in, but with Telegram, you can.
You can use Telegram to make voice and video calls and send text messages, photos, videos and files to other Telegram users. You can also create group chats with channels with up to 200,000 participants or an unlimited number of subscribers.
If you want end-to-end encryption, you can enable it with Telegram’s Secret Chats feature: Start a new message and select New Secret Chat from the menu. (Alternatively, make a voice call.) For text messages, you can also set self-destruct timers for any secret messages you send so they don’t hang around after they’ve served their purpose. Secret chats are not stored in the cloud like regular chats. But on Telegram your regular chats are encrypted, stored on the server and decrypted when they are downloaded. It gives you the option to choose between more secure messaging and a more convenient and slightly less secure option. You can swap the two as you see fit.
Telegram’s supergroups (with over 200,000 members) and channels, where you can broadcast one-way messages to an unlimited audience, are the most popular in my experience.
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