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. 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 for finding new ways to stay in touch with friends and family.
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 most recently, fully encrypted messaging between WhatsApp users. The app does require phone functionality, so it won't work on all devices. While WhatsApp used to have a subscription fee, it's now gone completely free, though this has led to some concerns about privacy and data sharing with third parties.
Viber (Android, iOS) is easy to set up and still offers a variety of options. 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). In addition, Viber's also introduced encrypted messaging features to the app, with a color-coded icon indicating chat security and encryption. You will need a SIM card and phone functionality to set up Viber.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Google has rolled out another messaging app that adds AI assistant functions to your everyday chat and SMS app. Google Allo (Android, iOS) has your typical mobile messaging features such as chat, photo messaging, stickers, emoji, and a doodle/annotation tool for photos, but the standout addition is its use of Google Assistant, the AI-powered assistant that can suggest quick message replies or find information relevant to your chat conversations, such as nearby restaurants, the weather report, and more. Additionally, there's an Incognito chat mode that features end-to-end encryption, private notifications and self-destructing messages.
Facebook's own foray into the mobile messaging field is Facebook Messenger (Android, iOS), a dedicated messaging app that builds on Facebook's existing chat network and adds more mobile messaging features. 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. Facebook also offers a slimmed down Messenger Lite intended for older Android devices that offers a slimmed down core messaging experience for older phones with less memory and processing power. And Facebook's planning on adding chat extensions that promise to let you bring your favorite apps into Messenger.
Currently an iOS exclusive, Facebook's newly launched Messenger Kids is aimed at building a kid-friendly and safe version of Messenger for children under 13. Facebook is promising an app that's both fun to use and loaded with security controls so that parents can be sure that kids aren't engaged in risky online behavior. On the kid user side of things, the app comes with configurable color themes and a host of video and picture chat and instant messaging features like age-appropriate stickers, frames, and other fun extras to use while in one-on-one or group text and video calls. On the parental side of things, parents and guardians control the approved contacts list that their children can interact with. The Kids version of Messenger is free of ads and in-app purchases, too.
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.
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.