Our smartphones enable constant and instant communication with our family, friends, and even work colleagues, but the built-in options out of the box aren’t always the best. Messaging apps have grown to provide rich services offering all kinds of interactions with others, from free text messaging, to voice and video calling, to photo and file sharing with the added benefit of encryption. We’ve tested out a lot of different options, so here are some of the best messaging apps you will find on both Android and iOS.
Boasting millions of active users, Telegram bills itself as the fastest messaging app around. It works across devices on mobile and desktop platforms. You can store chat history in the cloud, share files with no limit on size, and chats are secured with 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, 2048-bit RSA encryption, and Diffie-Hellman secure key exchange. There is support for stickers and GIFs, photo and video editing, and group chats can go all the way up to 100,000 people. It’s also completely free and doesn’t contain adverts. Funded by a donation, Telegram’s makers promise it will stay free, will never sell data, and isn’t aiming to generate revenue.
While BlackBerry fell behind in the smartphone race, one of the strongest things about the old platform was the BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) app. It’s now available on Android and iOS. The basics are solid with real-time updates when messages are delivered, read, and when the recipient in responding. It also offers free voice and video calls, loads of stickers and emoticons, support for games, and nifty features like retract and glimpse for taking back photos or sharing your location for a brief period of time. Messages are encrypted, but sadly BBM does have ads, though you can remove them for a fee.
One of the most used messaging apps in the world, WhatsApp is very easy to set up and it’s free. You can chat, and share things like your location, photos, documents, and contacts. You can also make video and voice calls. The setup requires you to grant access to your contacts, so the app can automatically populate your contact list. One of the things that is so attractive about this app, other than its massive popularity, is the addition of end-to-end encryption for privacy and security, though it is owned by Facebook. It also supports GIFs and Snapchat-like editing features for fun.
Facebook has its own separate messaging app that makes it very convenient to chat with friends and family. It will automatically populate your contacts, but you can also add a contact, or allow someone to add you as a contact, by scanning a unique code. There are plenty of free stickers and you can send GIFs. The video and voice calls are clear and very reliable. On Android, the “Chat Heads” feature allows you to keep a chat icon floating on top of your screen, which is very convenient. You can also share files, your location, and send money in some markets. You can even start a secret conversation which is end-to-end encrypted.
Line is a very popular app, especially in Asia, with more than 600 million users. As well as all the standard features of a messaging app, there is a timeline similar to Facebook, where you can post and your friends can comment on your posts. Calls to landlines, and free Line to Line video or voice calls are available. There’s also a very healthy store of stickers packed with Line characters that are famous in Asia. Group chat allows for chats of up to 200 participants and there’s support for encrypted chats. You can also follow artists and brands on Line. It even allows you to set up albums and share them with friends.
With more than 1 billion users worldwide, this popular app will automatically add your contacts. It allows you to send text messages, stickers, and emoticons, make video and voice calls, and share your favorite photos. Color-coded encrypted messaging is also available, along with group chats, and self-destructing chats. Viber Out is a feature that allows you to make international and domestic calls at low rates. Viber to Viber calls are always free.
Google Hangouts is available on all Android devices and can be set as the default messaging app. It’s also available on iOS, and you can use it on your PC or laptop. This makes it an ideal way to chat with friends and family. Needless to say, the app requires you to have a Google account, and it allows you to share photos, GIFs, make video calls, and also make group calls. This app is very popular, partly because you can use it on your desktop, as well as your mobile devices.
Allo is another chat app from Google. The main attraction is Google’s Assistant feature. Allo makes it possible for iOS users to enjoy Google Assistant. It offers typical features such as photo sharing, emojis, and stickers, but the main feature is Assistant. You can have a conversation with Google’s Assistant, and it functions in a similar way to Siri or Cortana. It also learns common replies and fills them in for you automatically, and it has an incognito mode with end-to-end encryption.
WeChat is the most popular app in China with more than 1 billion users. It offers the usual messaging app features like photo sharing, or video and voice calls. But with WeChat you also get features like location sharing to help you find friends who are nearby, and you can share moments or snapshots of your day. This app also supports payments, games, and a lot more. It’s available for Wear OS and Apple Watch, too.
For people with accounts on every service, IM+ may be the solution. This app allows you to send and receive instant messages from a wide variety of services. If you have accounts with Google, AIM, Twitter, ICQ, Yahoo, Facebook, Live, and more, you can add them all to IM+ and chat with just one app. If you’re still relying on older messaging apps, or have many lingering accounts that aren’t WhatsApp or Line, then you can aggregate them all in IM+ and simplify your life.
Signal, from Open Whisper Systems, is one of the most highly recommended apps when it comes to chat encryption and security. This app has military-grade encryption for all your messaging and voice calls. It supports texts, voice calls, group messages, and sending media attachments. Edward Snowden famously recommended this app, which makes it a top pick for people who are looking for security, first and foremost.
Snapchat may have dipped in popularity of late, but it was a big hit with the young crowd and celebrities alike. It allows you to share photos and videos that self-destruct. You can send a friend a “snap” for a brief period of time before it disappears. Its most famous feature is funny filters for your video snaps, and it also offers photo editing. It’s definitely one of the most fun ways of delivering bite-sized communications.
Want to chat right from your desktop browser? We break down the best chat clients for PC and Mac.