Our smartphones enable constant and instant communication with our family, friends, and work colleagues. However, the built-in options out of the box aren’t always the best. New messaging apps have appeared 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. Want to chat right from your desktop browser? We break down the best chat clients for PC and Mac.
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 200,000 people. It’s also completely free and doesn’t contain ads. Funded by a donation, Telegram’s makers promise it will stay free, will never sell data, and isn’t aiming to generate revenue.
The most popular text messaging app used in South Korea is also available in the U.S. Known for its fast and reliable messaging no matter what network you’re connected to, KakaoTalk has become the go-to for many. A standout feature is the integration of e-commerce in the app. KakaoTalk gives users exclusive coupons and deals from popular brands to share with their friends and family. The app has gotten so popular for transactions that it now offers branded credit cards that users can use with their virtual currency. Bonus features include being able to schedule appointments and reminders for lunches, work meetings, or gatherings.
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 handy. You can also share files, your location, and send money in some markets. You can even start a secret conversation that is end-to-end encrypted.
Line is a very popular app, especially in Asia, and it boasts 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 500 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.
Kik is the messaging app of the youth. Unlike many applications that require you to link to a phone number, Kik only requires a username to start texting. Adding your friends and loved ones is as easy as scanning their unique Kik QR code with your phone camera. The interface is fun and user-friendly — you can literally play games inside your chat rooms! With almost 70% of the user population between ages 13 and 24, Kik is a great way for teens and young adults to interact and make new 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. The most recent additions are a dark mode, and a short-story feature called Shorts.
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 much more. It’s available for Wear OS and Apple Watch, too.
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.
The focus of this app, as the name suggests, is group chats, but you can also have one-on-one conversations with direct messages. GroupMe allows you to add up to 500 members to a group chat, though we wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to be buried in notifications. You can add people using their email or phone number and if they’re in the U.S. they can chat via SMS if they don’t have the app yet. You can also share images, GIFs, and videos, and the app has its own set of emoji. The app is owned by Microsoft and it doesn’t have end-to-end encryption, so if privacy is important to you then you might want to choose something else.
This free messaging app has a lot going for it; you can make voice calls or HD video calls, create group chats with up to 500 people, create shareable GIFs with effects and text, and of course send instant messages. SOMA stands for Simple Optimized Messaging App and it has servers all around the world to ensure stable connections wherever you happen to be. There’s end-to-end encryption and all messages are deleted from SOMA servers as soon as they’re delivered, so it’s a good choice for the privacy-conscious.
Discord is a free chat app designed specifically for video gamers, although it has branched out to other people since its launch in 2015. Boasting around 250 million user accounts and 14 million daily active users, it lets you chat privately in groups of up to ten people. It also lets you voice chat with friends while gaming together, as well as start clubs or communities. It’s a great way of creating messaging groups with a specific interest or purpose. However, messages sent through Discord aren’t end-to-end encrypted, so anyone wanting complete privacy may want to look elsewhere.