The traditional SMS text message is now passé, particularly with the explosion of popular, easy-to-use messaging apps. WhatsApp, Telegram, Send, Line and other apps all offer free text messaging over the internet. And that's not even mentioning the options for voice, video and file-sharing to other users. We found more than two dozen different options that give you new ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and business contacts. (Image Credit: Shutterstock)
Facebook's own foray into the mobile messaging field is Facebook Messenger (Android, iOS), a dedicated messaging app that builds on Facebook's chat network and adds more mobile messaging features as well as extensions and add-ons. Users sign in via Facebook and can send other users the usual chat messages, as well as voice messages and voice and video calls to other Messenger users, with extra features like GIF support and photo and location sharing. Late last year, Facebook updated Messenger with a slimmed-down interface that reduces the number of tabs so that it's easier to access the chat app's features; more recently, the app added the ability to delete messages from a conversation if you act within 10 minutes.
Look for more changes to come to Messenger this year. At its annual developer conference in April, Facebook said it's working on an update to Messenger called Lightspeed that will make the app faster while also taking up less storage space on your mobile device. Other features coming to the app will let you watch videos with other people from within Messenger. (Facebook's working on a desktop version of Messenger for the Mac and Windows, too.)
Should you opt to use Messenger, make sure to manage your settings to prevent Facebook from sharing your data.
Remarkably easy setup, automatic syncing with your phone's contacts and a feature-rich, ad-free experience all combine to make WhatsApp (Android, iOS) a wildly popular mobile messaging app. Users can send text, photos, voice and short video messages to their WhatsApp contacts, and the app has continuously added new features to its toolkit, such as emoji, and fully encrypted messaging between WhatsApp users. Recent additions include a group chat feature where only admins can send messages. Note that Facebook has confirmed plans to link WhatsApp with its other messaging products like Facebook Messenger, with those interoperability features starting to pop up this year.
Viber (Android, iOS) is easy to set up and still offers a variety of options, even as version 10 of the chat app hits mobile app stores. Viber uses your phone number as your login, and the app syncs with your phone to help you find Viber-using contacts. You can use this app to send text, stickers and emoticons, photos, voice and video messages for free to other Viber users. The Viber Out feature lets you call non-Viber numbers and landline phones worldwide (for a fee). The latest version introduces a new interface designed to speed up messaging performance; new features include video group calls that support up to five users and a hidden-number capability in which you can message other users on a limited basis without having to first exchange phone numbers.
Productivity and team-oriented messaging app Slack (Android, iOS) has been a hit for corporations and casual users alike with its mix of messaging, scheduling, management tools, and app integration. Slack covers your IM basics with real-time messaging synced across devices and also supports file sharing, direct and group messaging tools. In addition, the app features a system of chat channels, allowing you to quickly set up subgroups for task or topic-oriented discussions. Slack archives your communications, allowing you to search through old messages, channels and shared files, and includes integration with a variety of services such as cloud storage, Asana, Zendesk and more. Premium plans provide more features, such as expanded file storage and better app integration.
Of course, if your company already takes advantage of Microsoft's Office 365, then you could do just as well with Microsoft Teams (Android, iOS), the tech giant's own productivity-oriented messaging app. Teams offers a rich set of features, from your basic group messaging, chat channels and organization tools to video and voice calls and file sharing. You get a fully searchable chat, customizable notifications, enterprise security and compliance features, and integration across the entire Office suite of tools and a variety of other services. Teams requires an Office 365 account.
For a messaging and collaboration app that's less formal and business-like, check out BAND (Android, iOS), a group chat and coordination platform that's designed for more informal groups like friends, family, study groups or your neighborhood sports team. Users can create custom groups and invite their friends, broadcasting general announcements through a community board while also providing more focused private chats. Group members can share files, create photo albums, participate in polls, and coordinate events with a shared calendar, giving you a robust toolkit for everyday messaging and group coordination tasks.
A mobile messaging app for the post-Snowden age, Telegram (Android, iOS) is aimed squarely at the security conscious user. Telegram features fast, encrypted chat messaging, with client-server encryption for standard chats. A Secure Chat mode provides end-to-end encryption so that only you and your intended recipient can read it. You can even set messages to self-destruct. You can share videos, documents and participate in group chats of up to 200 users.