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 that give you new ways to stay in touch with friends and family. (Image Credit: Shutterstock)
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, while WhatsApp is also in beta testing the ability to identify suspicious links. 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 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. 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. Just make sure to manage your settings to prevent Facebook from sharing your data. That said, Facebook's advertising push to Messenger is now including video ads, which might be just a bit too intrusive for some.
Facebook's Messenger Kids (Android, iOS) is aimed at building a kid-friendly and safe version of Messenger for children under 13. Facebook promises 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. For kids, 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.
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.