Signal just added key upgrades to make its app more friendly

A iPhone user about to install Signal.
(Image credit: Boumen Japet/Shutterstock)

The Signal encrypted-messaging app's latest update adds features that users of WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger may be familiar with: custom wallpapers and animated stickers. 

That's right. Signal, once the tool of political dissidents and elite (that's "1337" to you) information-security pros, has gotten cutesy.

Perhaps this was inevitable. A business has to grow, even when it's a non-profit one like the Signal Foundation. Many of those millions of new users who have ditched WhatsApp for Signal in the past few weeks won't stick around for long if they can't have their animations and emojis.

But speaking as someone who hates emojis and stickers in general, these new bells and whistles are annoying. They look like they're made for first-graders. It's like having Disney cartoon characters in the middle of a bullet-dodging fight scene in The Matrix.

Signal now has animated stickers and animated GIFs. We're trying to decide whether this is a good thing. (Image credit: Signal Foundation/Screenshots by Tom's Guide)

Curmudgeonliness aside, the animated stickers and wallpapers are easy to use. Just tap the little smiley-face icon on the Signal keyboard while you're typing a message and you'll have access to all the emojis, sticker, animated stickers, animated GIFs and bitmojis (whatever those are) you'd want.

These new bells and whistles are like having Disney cartoon characters in the middle of a bullet-dodging scene in The Matrix.

For wallpapers, you've got to go into the Settings menu from the Home screen (the vertical three dots in the upper right), then Appearance > Chat wallpaper > Set wallpaper. 

You've got a choice of 21 preset backgrounds — 12 monotones and nine gradients — and you can also grab an image from your phone's gallery to use as a background instead. You can set different backgrounds for different chats, which does seem helpful.

The About field is simply a new field in the Profile section in which you can "write a few words about yourself." I prefer to keep mine blank, but you can get there via Settings > your username > About. Tap on that, and you'll get a blank field plus, yikes, more emojis.

Signal for iOS is also getting settings to determine what kind of media gets downloaded when you're using cellular data or roaming data, matching a feature that already exists in the Android version. We can't argue with that.

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Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.

  • SoulSnatcher
    It's also killing support for sms/mms which makes it extremely unfriendly... They want your phone number and your contacts list but won't allow you to use them the way you want to use them. If I want to send unsecure messages to non-Signal users as well as send encrypted messages to other Signal users why can't I? It's still better & easier than using multiple messaging apps which you're forced to do unless you can get your entire contacts list including businesses & relatives to use the same secure messaging app let alone a secure messaging app at all. Not everyone sees the need for it or wants to be restricted by only being able to message other app users which I understand & don't want to be restricted by it either. I don't need end to end encryption for messaging granny or my nieces or to message with customer support at home depot nor do I want to require those people to use the same messaging app as I do in order to correspond with me. Having your entire contacts list all use the exact same messaging app is just not feasible & contacting all of them without using multiple messaging apps is just not something I nor anyone else I know wants to do. In fact I lost a job because I was sending messages through Signal & the recipient had Signal on their phone but used a different app as their default app. When you send a Signal message it will automatically go to the Signal app but it won't notify you the message is there unless Signal is your default app so the person did not see any of my messages. So as soon as Signal kills support for sms/mms, you either won't get notification of Signal messages, or you won't get notification of messages from anybody not using Signal, depending on which app is your default. Not easy or friendly at all.