WhatsApp is a cross-platform instant messaging service that exploded in popularity, with more than a billion users exchanging messages, photos and calls every day. Ease of use and contacts setup, cross platform functionality and media-rich messaging are some of the app's major selling points, and the app continues to get better with a new Web app and a transition to a totally free model for its end users. Check out our rundown of how to set up and use WhatsApp, as well as a few tips and tricks to make it easier to use.
Screenshots show the Android version of WhatsApp but include instructions for multiple OSs where appropriate.
Setting up WhatsApp is simple. After downloading the app from your relevant app store, open the app. You'll be prompted to input your country code and phone number so that WhatsApp can send you a confirmation SMS and create your user account. Then, you'll be prompted to enter a username and picture. WhatsApp automatically checks which of your contacts are using the service based on their phone numbers. From the main screen, you can tap on the messaging icon to start a new conversation, look through a summary of your calls and chats, or check out your contacts.
From the main screen, users can easily access chat messaging to send out voice and text messages. The Chat tab shows you a list of your previous conversations, and the word bubble icon on the upper left lets you start conversations with people in your contacts list. WhatsApp features most of the functions of popular mobile messaging apps, with text messages and emoji, a camera button for sending off quick selfies and snapshots. A file attachments menu (paperclip icon) can share things like photos, videos, audio and even your location. There's also a provision for voice messaging in the form of a microphone icon that you hold down to record quick voice messages.
Users can send group messages from the chat button by choosing the "New group" option when selecting contacts to message. From there, you can create a group of up to 100 users who can then message each other and share media in a chatroom-like environment. The creator of the group also becomes group admin, with the ability to add new participants, boot existing ones and appoint new admins. You can leave a group conversation (and access a number of group options) by long pressing a group from the Chat tab. There's also a Broadcast feature that works like BCCing.
A neat feature of WhatsApp is the ability to make free phone calls to other users through their data connection, bypassing call time and long distance call charges. Simply tap the phone button in the Calls tab and select a contact. As long as you and your contact are on a data connection, everything is golden (though data and roaming charges may apply). You can't use this to access emergency services.
WhatsApp lets you attach voice messages, images, videos as well as contacts and location details, giving you MMS-like feautures. It can also rip through your data cap, if you send or receive large files. You can configure how WhatsApp behaves toward media files. Go to Settings > Chat Settings > Media Auto-download. From there you can define what WhatsApp will do based on your currently available connection (Wi-Fi, mobile data or roaming). By default, WhatsApp downloads all attached media (images, audio and video) when you're over Wi-Fi, while only downloading images when on mobile, and never downloading images when on roaming data networks. Voice messages are always automatically downloaded.
If you're in need of a detailed chat history and transcripts of your conversations, then fret not, WhatsApp has you covered with a variety of backup and transcript features. From Options (three dot icon) > Chats and Calls, set up automatic backups of your chat history. Even attached media can be sent automatically to your Google Drive or iCloud account. You can also archive chat transcripts or email them, along with attached files.
We wrap up with one of WhatsApp's newer features, WhatsApp Web, which allows you to access your account from your desktop or laptop. From the options menu, select WhatsApp Web, and you'll be prompted to go to https://web.whatsapp.com/ and scan a QR code with your phone. This syncs the Web app with your WhatsApp account, allowing you to access your conversations, groups, and other features from within your browser. You can also use this button to view all the computers that your account is logged into, as well as manually log them out.