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I agree with you too. There is no perfect texting app. Unless you only need one or two specific features, the best text messaging app is one that the people you want to text will also use. Depending on where you are in the world, it could be iMessage, WhatsApp, Viber, LINE or even SMS.
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But if, for whatever reason, you’re torn between which messaging app to use — or you can convince the people you want to message to switch — these are five great texting apps to choose from.
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All of our top app roundups are written by people who have spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as intended, and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We never pay for placement of links to any app or any website in our articles – we appreciate the trust our readers place in us to provide authentic reviews of the categories and apps we review. For more information about our process, read the full breakdown of how we choose apps to feature on the blog.
As a child of the 90s, I longed for widespread, affordable cell phones to be a thing (and, to be honest, a year or two ago). I’ve also used text messaging apps for professional reasons—both to communicate with my remote colleagues and to review the apps themselves.
I still think the best texting app is usually the one where people will actually respond to you. If it’s an SMS or a smoke signal, you have my full permission to use it. So when it came to compiling the list, it freed me to be very strict about inclusion requirements. Neither iMessage, SMS nor Android Messages made this list. Nor is Google calling its latest messaging effort. A big reason to use any of these apps is because your friends do.
However, if you’re starting a friend group, desert island colony, or fan club from scratch and get to choose the tools you use, here’s what you should look for in messaging apps:
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Texting apps use an Internet connection to send and receive messages. This differs from SMS, which uses the operator’s own protocols to send and receive messages anywhere with a mobile connection (even weak ones without data). While SMS messages cost money – either on a per-message basis or included in your mobile plan – messages sent through data-only apps will be free (even if the app itself isn’t).
To compile this list, I tested over 30 different apps. Many fell short because they did not meet the above criteria or because they were uncomfortable to use. I spent time testing and texting any app that looked like it might be a candidate for inclusion — plus, as I’ve said before, this is a category I have a lot of experience with, so I’ve already used a lot. Time in each of these apps in the past.
WhatsApp is the undisputed ruler of free mobile messaging in large parts of the world. Launched in 2009 as a way to send messages over a data connection instead of SMS, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014. Since then, the service has grown both its feature set and user base. By 2022, it will have nearly two billion daily users, and it’s easy to see why: it’s a surprisingly decent service.
The app is a full-featured messaging client that supports text chats, as well as images, short videos and voice messages. It’s a status feature that lets you share an Instagram-like story with your contacts. You can send files (up to 2 GB in size) to other users on WhatsApp. Chats take the form of one-on-one interactions with other WhatsApp users or group chats with up to 512 participants.
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Despite being the most popular messaging service in the world and owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, WhatsApp has enabled end-to-end encryption for all conversations. Everything you send, including file transfers, is fully encrypted. Encrypted messages are also removed from WhatsApp’s servers once delivered.
WhatsApp has a unique look and feel. Its signature double tick next to each message indicates that the message has been sent (one tick) and delivered (two ticks). When two ticks turn blue, you know that the recipient has also read your message. You can further customize your experience under the app’s settings by changing the chat background, renaming groups, and setting custom notifications on a per-chat basis.
WhatsApp users can make free voice and video calls to other users of the service. Group calls can be made with up to 32 people, and all communications are protected with the same end-to-end encryption. You can download the WhatsApp desktop apps for Windows and Mac, or access the service through a browser at web.whatsapp.com, although in all cases the smartphone must still be active.
Viber is another great all-round entry into the messaging space with millions of users around the world. The app combines text and media messaging with free voice and video calling services.
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Chat with individuals or create a group chat with up to 250 participants, where you can share instant voice and video messages without calling. It’s perfect for when you’re too busy to talk and too lazy to write. While many other apps include voice messaging (like WhatsApp above), Viber makes it easy to send video messages for a more personal touch. Additionally, GIFs and stickers are embedded into your chats to liven up conversations.
End-to-end encryption is standard in all Viber one-on-one and group chats. However, channels and communities are not end-to-end encrypted (since it would be impossible for new members to view the chat log). It’s a small security sacrifice in the name of better service. In addition to free voice and video calls to other Viber users, a service called Viber Out lets you call any mobile or landline in the world for $5.99 per month. It’s like Skype, except with better security practices and a better smartphone app.
Viber uses an understated, minimal design with an optional dark mode available under the app’s Appearance menu. Chats and calls are delegated to separate tabs, with Viber’s non-essential features (such as the sticker market) placed in a separate third tab. If the chat gets too rowdy, you can swipe left and choose to mute or snooze it. If you have an important conversation you want to share, you can pin it.
Viber also offers communities – essentially large group chats with strangers that you can join or start. These public chats can have an unlimited number of members and administrators can have strong controls to moderate their chats: who is in the group and who can post, or change the look and feel of the community with a new background and group description. You can find communities based on things like location, hobbies, and favorite teams. Think Reddit, but like a group chat.
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Where Viber falls a little short is in the busyness of the entire app. With sticker stores, all the different chat types, and even occasional ads, it’s a less satisfying experience than WhatsApp — especially if you don’t use its unique features like Viber Out.
Telegram was one of the original messaging apps to emphasize the importance of security, though it takes a slightly different approach to end-to-end encryption so it can store your conversations on its servers. It allows you to log in from multiple devices, which you can’t do with WhatsApp or Viber. Although both of these services offer a desktop app, they still send and receive all of your messages through your phone. If it is closed or not, you cannot log in, whereas with Telegram you can.
You can use Telegram to make voice and video calls, and send text messages, photos, videos, and files to other Telegram users. You can create group chats with over 200,000 participants or channels with an unlimited number of members.
If you want end-to-end encryption, you can enable it
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