What are messaging apps?
Messaging apps are platforms that allow users to connect and communicate with friends and family. They function over both Wi-Fi and data, so as long as you have a signal. Depending on the app, they allow you to: message, call, video call, send files, share your location, and more.
You can often access these messaging platforms also via the web. For the best experience though, the dedicated apps are almost always better.
Why use messaging apps over texts or email?
Messaging apps are instantaneous, so your messages will immediately go through to whoever you’re talking to. Emails and texts are not always instant, and can sometimes take longer to transfer across servers. On a lot of apps you’ll also be able to see if the person received your message, whereas with email and text it’s sometimes a mystery if it even arrived.
Messaging apps are also a lot more flexible - you can do a lot more than just send texts. A lot of apps support group conversations, which again you can’t do through text or email.
Instant messages also tend to encourage people to respond faster, as they’re a quick and easy way of typing on-the-go. Messaging apps are also seen as a more casual form of chat.
Are messaging apps secure?
Some messaging apps, like WhatsApp, encrypt your messages to keep your conversations safe from prying eyes. But, like all technology, apps are hackable if malware manages to infiltrate your device. If your messaging app is compromised, the hacker may be able to see your private information, including the content of messages.
If you’re worried about protecting your information, you could invest in a phone designed for privacy. These have security features built-in to prevent the likelihood of data being stolen.
Are messaging apps considered social media?
Messaging apps are not strictly social media, but they’re often lumped together with social media platforms. They overlap in some ways, but they’re used very differently. People often use social media platforms to broadcast information, whilst they use messaging apps to talk directly.
Some social media platforms that feature messaging-like functionality include:
Best free messaging apps
Check out our recommendations for the best messaging apps you can download and use for free on both iPhone and Android.
Released in 2011, Messenger is the companion communication app for Facebook, which has 2.89 billion users monthly. Messenger allows you to see which of your Facebook friends are online and available to chat. Messenger is stand-alone to the Facebook app, so you can entirely avoid the social media side of things.
✔ You are instantly connected with your Facebook friends
✔ You can create group chats to collaborate with other people, for leisure or business. You can share files and links within the chat too
✔ You can also market a personal business on Facebook and interact directly with your audience
✘ Facebook’s privacy laws have been questioned before
✘ The app runs in the background by default, which can drain your battery life
Released in 2009, WhatsApp has taken the world by storm, with more than 2 billion users worldwide. WhatsApp allows you to send photos, messages, documents, and videos to other people using the app.
✔ You don’t need to set up an account or password because WhatsApp authenticates users with their mobile number
✔ Messages are secured with end-to-end encryption
✔ You can take part in messaging groups up to 256 people, or calls up to eight
✔ You can find friends through their phone number, rather than having to search through people with the same name
✘ WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, so if you want to steer clear of the social media giant, you’ll have to avoid this messaging app too
Snapchat is known for its quick, instantaneous, and self-destructive style of messaging. It’s a popular option to communicate text and images that you don’t want (or need) to keep.
✔ Text, videos, and pictures that are sent to people will self-destruct when you click off the chat or after 10 seconds have passed. This means that the chat doesn’t store your conversation history, and also saves space on your device
✔ Content on the app is short, quick, and easy to digest
✔ Snapchat stories allow you to publish content for 24 hours
✔ You can check out who is watching or interacting with your content - useful for businesses on Snapchat to assess your audience’s engagement
✘ The self-destructive nature may be a con for many, who like to read back on things later. If you’re a business, there’s more pressure to put out content every day, as stories disappear after 24 hours
✘ The interface is very sensitive to hand movements, so if it misinterprets your swiping, you could end up somewhere else on the app
Slack has become well known as a messaging app designed for businesses. It allows you to privately message colleagues, set up group messages, tag people, send links and gifs, as well as video call. You can also set different statuses, such as ‘Active’, ‘Away’, ‘On Holiday’, ‘At Lunch’, or ‘In A Meeting’.
✔ Up to 1,000 people can be on one messaging channel at the same time, allowing huge groups or companies to communicate in one place
✔ Slack reduces email traffic as you can directly contact colleagues and securely share documents over the chat channels
✔ As information is sent over Slack and not by email, you can still access important data even when a colleague leaves or their email is deactivated
✘ Slack could distract you from work if you get absorbed in a conversation
✘ Be mindful of sharing passwords on Slack, as these messages remain buried in the chat, so could pose a security risk if anything were to be hacked. Consider sharing via a password manager instead
Discord is used as a live-streaming platform and for community engagement, but it was initially - and still functions as - a text-and-talk service. It’s free to sign up for an account, and you can join up to 100 servers to chat with like-minded people on topics you care about.
✔ Discord is a great messaging app if you’re an avid gamer
✔ You can also stream movies on the app, and chat with your friends while watching it (just like if you’re all together)
✘ If technology isn’t your strong suit, you might struggle to create a private server, and have to settle for an open channel where others could read your messages
Telegram Messenger is another app that allows users to communicate speedily and securely from all over the world. It’s quite similar to WhatsApp in its style and purpose.
✔ The chat history isn’t saved on your phone, so it won’t use up any internal storage
✔ Conversations are encrypted
✔ Chat groups can be created with up to 200,000 members - great for hosting online events with large groups or companies
✘ You may not always find your friends on Telegram, as WhatsApp is usually favoured
✘ There doesn’t always seem to be an active customer service presence if you were to need assistance
✘ Occasionally, there have been reports of self-destructive messages not completely working
Viber Messenger was launched in 2010 as a voice calling application, but has since added instant messaging abilities.
✔ Open up a chat with a maximum of 250 members
✔ End-to-end encryption keeps your information private from prying eyes
✔ Chats can self-destruct if you set them to, so your message is automatically deleted after it has been read
✘ Self-destructive messages might prevent you from remembering conversations. Not great if you want to refer back to something that was said previously
✘ The app charges if you want to call landlines or non-Viber users. To keep the experience free, you can only text other Viber users
For apps that have a stronger focus on video calls, check out some of the best video apps for iOS and Android.
You may also be interested in some of our other app reviews: