These Apps Get Your Message Across
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 Messenger (Android, iOS: Free)
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.
WhatsApp (Android, iOS: Free)
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. You can learn about most of the apps features from our How to Use WhatsApp guide, but don't forget about this tutorial for How to Update WhatsApp to keep it up to date with new features and safeguards against attacks.
Blackberry Messenger Enterprise (Android, iOS: Free)
It may be time to say goodbye to the consumer version of BlackBerry Messenger, but BlackBerry's messaging platform is not quite dead yet. A secured version of the messaging app, BBM Enterprise (Android, iOS), is also available, with less social frills and a higher focus on security and collaboration features. Users can engage in group or 1-on-1 chats (along with read receipts), and edit, retract, or delete messages, or set them to self-destruct. You can also share files or your location, as well as engage in audio or video calls. BBM Enterprise is free for the first year of use, with a subscription cost of $2.49 for every six months after.
Viber (Android, iOS: Free)
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.
Slack (Android, iOS: Free)
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.
Microsoft Teams (Android, iOS: requires Office 365)
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.
BAND (Android, iOS: Free)
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.
Telegram (Android, iOS: Free)
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.
Signal (Android, iOS: Free)
Open Whisper Systems' Signal (Android, iOS) is another fantastic messaging solution for security-conscious mobile users. Folding in both of Open Whisper Systems' private messaging and calling apps RedPhone and TextSecure, Signal is an all-in-one messaging and voice call solution that uses end-to-end military grade encryption. You can send text, voice, group messages, media and attachments. Ease of use and strong, open source, regularly audited encryption makes it a favorite of the security conscious, with accolades from the likes of Edward Snowden and other privacy advocates.
GroupMe (Android, iOS: Free)
Exactly as the name implies, GroupMe (Android, iOS) is a social messaging app with group conversations in mind. Once you've got a user account set up, you can easily create groups and add contacts by searching for them through phone numbers or email address for easy solo and group chatting. The feature set covers your basics with emojis, stickers, and GIFs, as well as URL content previews within the chat window. There's even support for group chats over SMS, for relatives and contacts who don't have a smartphone. A neat feature we liked is the inclusion of an in-app Gallery that helps you keep track of photos and videos shared in your groups.
WeChat (Android, iOS: Free)
With more than 1 billion users, WeChat (Android, iOS) dominates in the Chinese mobile Web and is making a serious push for global reach. WeChat provides users with free mobile instant messaging, video and voice calls, group chat, and multimedia messaging (images, video, audio, stickers, etc). The app also includes quirky features such as "Friend Radar," "People Nearby" and "Shake" to quickly find new people to chat with nearby. Android Wear and Apple Watch apps are also available.
Line (Android, iOS: Free)
Another Asian mobile powerhouse that's made its mark is Japanese instant messaging app Line (Android, iOS), which now has more than 600 million users worldwide. Line covers your bases with chat, photo, video, and audio messaging, along with lively stickers and location sharing, as well as a social network-like Timeline system. The app's got support for monstrously large group conversations and calls with up to 200 participants, and also has a provision for making paid international calls to mobile and landline numbers. In addition, Line lets users follow their favorite brands, celebrities, and companies with official channels so that you can get the latest buzz about them. A newly added Keep features makes it easy to store particular images, messages and videos so that you can reshare them with friends.
Discord (Android, iOS: Free)
Discord (Android, iOS) has quickly become one of the best go-to apps for gamers looking to communicate and coordinate both in and out of game. Featuring robust voice and text chat features, Discord allows users to create and join group servers and organize discussion around named text and voice channels for easily compartmentalizing discussion threads. Users can engage in voice chat, send text and photo messages, and easily send invite links to servers for their contacts. While the service is free, Discord also features a premium Nitro subscription for $4.99 a month that provides premium features like animated avatars, custom emoji and expanded upload limits for photos and files.
Snapchat (Android, iOS: Free)
Snapchat (Android, iOS) may have soared in popularity as a simple self-destructing photo and video sharing and messaging app, but it's also added so much more to its feature set, making it fantastically popular among younger users. At its core, users can send each other Snaps — photos, short videos, or messages that are only visible for a limited time before disappearing. Over time, it's added more features such as funny filters and photo editing tools, a more advanced story sharing system, bitmojis, adaptive chat and more, all while not losing that nebulous sense of cool that's helped keep it relevant in the fast evolving social media landscape. Android users, in particular, will want to check out the rebuilt version of Snapchat that debuted in April.
Skype (Android, iOS, Windows: Free)
While Microsoft's Skype (Android, iOS, Windows) is most known for its video and voice call functionality, the app also boasts a reasonably robust instant messaging system. It lets you send text, photos and even short video messages to other Skype users, even when they're not online. Additionally, you can use Skype Credits to make calls to mobile phones and landlines. Cross-platform functionality between desktop and mobile, business-friendly features in its professional versions, and its sheer ubiquity have kept the old warhorse relevant even in the face of stiff mobile competition. Microsoft is also looking to increase the power of bots in Skype, as it works to enable artificially intelligent programs to handle tasks like reservations.
Voxer (Android, iOS: Free)
Voxer (Android, iOS) takes a more voice-oriented approach than a lot of these other apps, allowing users to send voice messages similar to a walkie-talkie or push-to-talk device. Users can listen to messages live in-app or play back messages like voice mail later on; they can also send and receive text, photos, videos, and location messages. In addition to direct messaging, the app supports groups of up to 500 individuals, and optional encrypted messaging using the Signal protocol. The app is free, but a premium subscription unlocks features such as unlimited message history, message recall, admin controls for group chats, a hands-free walkie-talkie mode, and an option for an extra loud Extreme Notifications mode for noisy environments.
Textra (Android: Free)
The classic SMS or "text" message may be yesterday's news for hipsters, but it's still a vital communication tool for others. Android users looking for an excellent third-party SMS app to replace the one that comes with their phone might want to check out Textra, a stylish, feature-packed SMS and MMS messaging app. Textra comes with a customizable interface and numerous themes, a chat bubble-style message interface, message scheduling, quick replies for voice and text, support for Unicode 10 emoji, and support for popular tools like Pushbullet, Mighty Text, and Android Auto. The app is free and ad-supported, but in-app purchases allow you to remove advertising.
Silence (Android: Free)
If you're looking for an SMS/MMS app that offers a bit more security than your standard messenger app, check out Silence, an open-source Android app that takes the Axolotl encryption protocol pioneered by Open Whisper Systems and the Signal app and applies it to an SMS app. Silence works just like your normal SMS messaging app, sending normal text messages to your contacts through SMS, with the option of sending encrypted SMS messages to other Silence users.
Dust (Android, iOS: Free)
Formerly known as Cyber Dust, Dust (Android, iOS) is another private messaging app that throws in multiple and security and encryption features in an attempt to maintain user privacy. The app uses a combination of AES 128 and RSA 2048 encryption to secure posts and messages, and the app is designed to keep direct messages as much as possible in RAM, rather than your phone's permanent storage. Messages can be set to self-destruct within 24-hours or right after being read. The app is also set not to display user names in a message, and informs the user if a screenshot is taken within the app. Dust is expanding its feature set to include secure search, as well as a privacy watchdog feature intended to notify you of possible identity theft attempts.
Wire (Android, iOS: Free)
European firm Wire Swiss offers its own feature-rich encrypted messenger that's compliant with European data protection laws. Wire (Android, iOS) features end-to-end encryption for text messages, voice and video calls, with support for GIFs, audio and video clips, and sketches, and local and Dropbox file sharing. The app also offers multiplatform cross-device syncing and support for multiple accounts, allowing you to separate personal and work communications. Wire uses its own Proteus encryption protocol inspired by Signal, and its code is open source and subject to external security audits. The mobile and web versions of the app are free, with a premium tier available for businesses.
Wickr Me (Android, iOS: Free)
Wickr Me (Android, iOS) is a free end-to-end encrypted-messaging app that allows users to send private, self-destructing messages (text, photo, video, and voice) to other Wickr contacts. It takes user privacy seriously, using strong encryption and deleting metadata such as geotags and message times, and users can configure how long it takes for messages to self-destruct. A Secure Shredder included in the app even allows you to securely erase attached files, messages and other data to prevent recovery. The app's security is a point of pride for Wickr; there's even a $100,000 bug-bounty program for anyone who gets in touch with the company to point out a security flaw.
Threema (Android, iOS: Free)
Threema (Android, iOS) is a mobile end-to-end encrypted messaging app that uses the NaCl cryptography library to protect your communications. When you fire up the app, it generates a unique Threema ID key, allowing you to use the app completely anonymously, with the option of associating it with an email address or phone number, and scannable QR codes available for user verification. In addition to the usual raft of messaging features such as encrypted text, voice, picture and video messaging, the app also includes file sharing (20MB per file), group messaging and a polling system for getting feedback from friends and contacts.
SilentPhone (Android, iOS: Free)
Silent Circle is a trusted provider of secure-communications software and hardware, such as the Blackphone, and it has also developed its own secure mobile-messaging platform. Silent Phone (Android, iOS) provides encrypted video and voice calls, as well as encrypted, self-destructing messaging and file transfers. Encryption keys are held by subscribers themselves, not by Silent Circle, so while your encrypted messages may pass through Silent Circle's network, the company can't read your data.
Kik (Android, iOS: Free)
Anonymity is both the blessing and bane of Kik (Android, iOS), a mobile messaging app that easily allows you to create a username and profile with minimal info. Kik users can then network with each other by searching for usernames, or through QR-like Kik Codes. From there, users can send messages, photos, GIFs and games, either one-on-one or in groups. The app has come under fire for its combination of popularity with younger users and its extreme anonymity, given occasions where online predators have used the platform to find victims. Kik has responded with more user controls that include the ability to block messages from those outside your network.
IM+ (Android, iOS: Free)
Rather than have a different app for each instant messaging service that you're subscribed to, IM+ (Android, iOS) aims to combine everything you need into a single app. The app allows users to send and receive instant messages from a variety of services, such as Google Talk, AIM, Twitter DMs, ICQ and Yandex IM, with photo and voice messaging supported on some of the protocols. The app includes support for group messaging, chat history and the option to use multiple accounts on each service. On the downside, IM+ doesn't support many of the new and popular messaging systems out there, such as WhatsApp or Viber, which might make it something of a relic for some users.