We’ve known for sometime that SMS is becoming passe for many smartphone owners worldwide.
Sure, people still use it, but there are a slew of apps that go way beyond it, suggesting effortless multimedia functions, group talks, movie calls, gaming and much more. Beyond being SMS replacements, these apps are essentially ‘SMS+’ — to coin a phrase uttered to me recently by the founder of a messaging company.
But with so many apps out there it can be difficult to know exactly which one is best for you and your friends. To help you make that choice, we’ve waded through the densely populated mass of talk apps to pick out the best.
This page has now been paginated to make reading lighter. You can view it as a single page here, if you choose.
WhatsApp needs little introduction since it is arguably the world’s most popular messaging app, with more than 300 million people using it each month. Simpleness is at the core of the service, to the point that even the least-tech-savvy of folks — such as mums, dads, grandmas and granddads — should be able to send text messages, photos and voice messages.
The service costs $0.99 for a one-year subscription — albeit it is free for the very first year — and it supports a broad range of phones.
Pros: Elementary to use and popular enough that most of your friends may have it installed already.
Cons: While it isn’t expensive, it isn’t free, and it lacks the more sophisticated features which may appeal to some people.
As the name suggests, GroupMe is dedicated to group messaging. Users can share text-based talks, photos, movies and more across the service, which is available on a range of mobile platforms and also for the desktop.
GroupMe — which is actually possessed by Skype , another app on our list, keeps things ordinary. Like WhatsApp , everything is text-based, there are no voice/movie calls, which makes it well-suited to techies and non-techies alike.
Pros: Effortless to use and available across a range of platforms, including the Web.
Cons: There is no calling of any kind, and no content-related features.
Verdict: A solid app for all, GroupMe is much like a real-time Facebook Group designed specifically for mobile.
A messaging service born in Japan of a Korean Internet rock-hard, Line offers a lot more than just the messaging basics. Users can send regular text messages, hold group talks, send photos/movies, make voice/movie calls inbetween fellow Line users and even play games with friends via the app.
Line is available for free, but users can spend money on virtual content like stickers, in-app purchases within games and sign-up to get messages from their dearest brands. Line supports more than 40 apps — including a nifty camera app — and there are plans to introduce music and shopping services soon.
Pros: Offers one of the most comprehensive selection of features, including movie calls.
Cons: With so many features, there is the potential for users to get a little lost within the service.
Verdict: An excellent choice if you’re looking to do a lot more than merely substitute SMS.
This China-made service has been compared to Facebook , since, like Line, because of the way it mixes a range of social network-like features with messaging. WeChat signed up football Lionel Messi as it bids to become popular beyond simply China and Asia.
WeChat includes ll the usual messaging features — multimedia/group talk/push-to-talk voice messages — alongside voice/movie calls and opt-in accounts from brands, and some integrated services. WeChat includes discovery features, which are becoming popular ways to meet fresh people (i.e. date), perhaps in a crowded bar.
Pros: A tonne of features, and the app is beginning to integrate other services too.
Cons: Some stigma and concerns from being a Chinese service, while it is not yet widely used in the West.
Verdict: Another good option if you want more than just bare-bones messaging.
Another free talk app from Asia — this time Korea — Kakao Talk is an interesting, multimedia-focused service, but it doesn’t have a large number of overseas-based users.
Kakao Talk offers the best selection of games on a messaging app, in our opinion, and includes all the usual talk features — group talks/multimedia — and supports voice and movie calling inbetween users. There are also other Kakao apps and clients for the PC and Mac, while Kakao has an Android launcher that is only available in Korea at this moment.
Pros: Excellent selection and games, and useful calling and messaging features.
Cons: Most users are based in Korea, and the app is rather Asia-ified, which may not be to the liking of everyone.
Verdict: An interesting service but, unless you’re in Korea or an avid messaging fan, you’re not likely to need it.
A relatively fresh addition, having launched in early-2013, MessageMe is a slick (free) app that brings many of the features from Asian apps into a service designed to suit US consumer tastes.
MessageMe users can send each other text messages, photos, doodles (drawing made within the app) and movies. They can also share their location, music from their device and stickers — which are both free and paid-for.
Update: The Android and iOS apps have not been updated since late 2013, which leads us to think that the service may be fighting, or preparing for a major revamp.
Pros: Slick design which includes a range of features without bombarding users with options.
Cons: Lacks voice/movie calling options, which some people appreciate in a ‘messaging’ app.
Verdict: Much like GroupMe, this is an interesting app that is providing most popular in the US, however it doesn’t have a massive user base.
Kik is one of the few messaging apps that doesn’t require you to provide your phone number. Instead you simply pick a username, provide an email address and go from there.
That effortless sign-up process has made it popular across a range of devices — including iPods, tablets and other devices that don’t take SIM cards — and particularly popular among youngsters. Kik has a built in web-browser that lets you bring content to conversations, while it has a web-based platform which means a lot of websites behave like native apps when you visit them in the browser.
Pros: Doesn’t require a phone number, is lightly customized, and includes a very slick web browser.
Cons: Has tended to be used by kids in North America so you may find that you don’t know a lot of people on the service.
Verdict: One of our dearest apps thanks to the inbuilt browser.
Tango burst on the scene as a mobile movie talk app, and that practice remains central to the service today — albeit it also includes voice calls, games and a desktop client.
Much like many of the Asian services, two Tango users can play Tango games together via the app, assuming that they both download the game. That’s on top of regular text messaging, group talk, movie, photo sharing, music sharing and more.
Pros: Excellent quality movie calling across a range of platforms.
Cons: Tango is a more complicated service that WhatsApp and others, so it may not suit all users.
Verdict: A good choice for movie calling, Tango has just began getting into games and it already includes titles from top game makers.
Taiwan-based Cubie is focused on drawing — users can make and send doodles to each other from inwards the app — but it also includes a boat-load of other features.
Aside from the basics, the service is very multimedia-centric. All conversations include a dedicated photo gallery for photos from talks with each of your friends, and there is voice calls, voice messages, location-sharing, a YouTube widget, stickers and more.
Pros: A very multimedia-focused app that can produce joy conversations inbetween friends.
Cons: Very Asia-focused, which may not be to the liking of all users. The app doesn’t feature movie calls.
Verdict: A unique messaging app that has proven popular in Asia, particularly among females.
Facebook needs no introduction, its Messenger app is a standalone version of its Facebook Messaging service. Since Facebook is taking messaging out of its main app, you’ll need Messenger if you want to talk to people privately on your phone.
Messenger includes text talk, group talk, photo/movie sharing, and even stickers. The chances are almost all of our friends are on Facebook, and, even if they don’t have the Messenger app, your messages will be sent to them as Facebook Messages.
Pros: Everyone uses Facebook so there’s no question of having to woo friends to download the app.
Cons: Lacking movie calls and gaming, but, moreover, it doesn’t feel like a unique talk app.
Verdict: Facebook Messenger is a solid app but, in a world where we spent enough time on Facebook as it is, many people choose to turn to dedicate messaging apps instead. (For those that don’t, Messenger is ideal.)
Hike is a messaging focused app which permits users to share text messages, photos, movies, brief voice messaging and talk in groups. It also includes a rather nifty ‘SMS out’ feature, and lets you lock conversations with a passcode.
Presently available in Hike’s native India only, SMS-out lets users send talk messages to non-Hike users — useful in group talks. The app also includes stickers and location-sharing, while it is available in a range of European languages.
Pros: Neatly designed with a range of messaging features.
Cons: SMS-out feature is India-only, and there are no calling features in the app.
Verdict: Useful app for those based in India, but its reach in Europe is growing as it becomes a feature-rich secondary option to other services.
Google Hangouts includes instant text messaging and movie and voice calling, and is available for iOS, Android and desktop (via the Web.)
Hangouts are multi-person group movie talks that originally began on Google+. They are fairly unlike other movie talk services, because they permit numerous users on the same call for free. The text-based message service is basic, and essentially substitutes Google Talk.
Pros: Available on numerous platforms. Multi-person movie talk is free.
Cons: No support for SMS (yet) and text talk is basic.
Verdict: A truly useful app for keeping in touch with friends, family and colleagues, which compliments other messaging-focused apps.
Maaii is a Skype-meets-mobile-chat app that lets users place calls to regular telephones, as well love free calls to fellow Maaii users. You can buy credit or earn it by completing tasks within the app.
The company is unsurprisingly run by ex-Skype employees, but it takes a mobile-first treatment to messaging. The app also offers group messages, multimedia sharing, stickers and more.
Pros: Excellent quality and priced international calling bundle on a messaging app.
Cons: Its features makes it more complicated than other apps.
Verdict: An interesting option for making international calls.
Stringently not a finish app, Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime services are included here as one because they contest with the other apps listed and are used by more than 250 million users — who send some Two billion messages per day.
The apps are only for Apple devices: iMessage substitutes SMS and sends messages and multimedia inbetween two users via an Internet connection, which makes it free. FaceTime permits one-on-one movie calling, much like Skype, and it now features voice calls for those with iOS 7.
Pros: Both apps are effortless to use. iMessage in particularly automatically overrides regular SMS when sender and recipient are both iOS users and both online.
Cons: Both services are limited to iOS and Mac users, and they suggest more basic features than dedicated messaging apps.
Overview: Two amazingly useful services for Apple customers.
Download: Available as built-in services for iOS and Mac devices only
BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is the original mobile messaging app, and it remains a core feature for owners of BlackBerry’s increasingly marginalized smartphones. It was eventually made available for iOS and Android in 2013, and is also available on Windows Phone.
The apps include content-specific channels, voice/movie calling and more, but the app has been so late to go cross-platform.
Pros: Includes a range of features and has BlackBerry’s strong security behind it.
Cons: Most people have already moved on to other messaging apps.
Verdict: Could have been a game-changer a few years ago.
Rounds is a video-calling focused app, that lets Android and iOS users connect with real-time broadcasts.
Rounds isn’t just about movie, it’s truly focused on permitting activities inbetween two people — and that extends to playing games, watching YouTube movies, and sending text messages while on a voice/movie call or within the app. There are also playful affects and other features to add something a bit different to the practice.
Pros: A broad range of activities to complement movie calls, making it a joy alternative for those that regularly connect with friends and family that way.
Cons: Audio messages are not supported and some of the features may seem a little whimsical for many.
Verdict: An interesting alternative to Skype for movie talks.
Is Snapchat a messaging app or a social network? It got Facebook worried enough to release a clone that is now near-forgotten, but either way it’s become a popular way to communicate for some so it makes our list.
Quick introduction for those who (somehow) don’t know of it: Snapchat is a talk app that lets users share photos which expire within Ten seconds or less. It recently unveiled ‘Stories’, a social network-like feature that permits users to share photos of their day without them expiring.
Pros: Likes outstanding reach in the US where it is hugely popular among youngsters.
Cons: The concept of expiring pics doesn’t resonate with some people, and the app is fairly complicated for fresh users.
Verdict: A real hit and miss app, with a limited numbers of users outside North America.
Skype is a household name for many but its service has suffered to a point on mobile because it was designed for desktop computing.
As is the case with its PC and Mac apps, the mobile service lets users make free movie and voice calls, and exchange text messages. Skype is well known for not syncing mobile and desktop apps, but a fresh version of the service improved some of the issues significantly.
Pros: Good quality movie calls and a strong desktop client.
Cons: Mobile apps feel clunky and intense when compared to mobile-first rivals.
Verdict: Skype has become one of the world’s most visible messaging and calling services — that alone makes it an significant mobile app.
Viber is a popular app for making movie calls on your smartphone. Unlike Skype it was built to be on mobile very first, and it only introduced a desktop client recently.
In addition to movie and voice calls, Viber offers text talk that includes the very Asia concept of stickers. The app was bought by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in early 2014, and there are plans to add gaming and shopping features in the future.
Pros: Quality movie calling.
Cons: It’s text-based messages features are comparatively less developed than others.
Verdict: An excellent mobile app for making calls.
India-based messaging app Nimbuzz brings the utter package: movie/voice calling, file sharing, talk messaging, games and support for a range of platforms.
Users can also purchase Nimbuzz Out credits to use for calling landlines and mobile numbers.
Pros: Available on a range of platforms.
Cons: Relatively plain text talk rooms – no stickers.
Verdict: A good app for powerful users of audio calls.
ChatON is a messenger app created by Samsung but it is not just limited to the company phones, and is it is available for most platforms.
One interesting feature is its translation service in 1:1 talk rooms. Cross translation are available for Four languages: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. French, German, Italian, Portugal and French messages can be translated into English and vice versa.
Pros: It’s a messaging app… with some features.
Cons: Few active users and lots of me-too features.
Verdict: Even Samsung users, who have the app pre-installed, tend to use other messaging apps.
Voxer is a push-to-talk messenger app that, as well as regular text messages, permits you to send ‘walkie talkie’ like voice messages to individuals or groups. Messages are streamed live but can also be played back later.
Besides audio messages, Voxer also permits you to send text and photos and share your locations in talks. The app has a paid business version to cater to company communication and includes features such as company-managed user accounts and utter administrative access over communications.
Pros: The strong concentrate on audio messages sets it apart from other messenger apps.
Cons: No movie talk, and the free version of the app includes fewer features.
Verdict: Useful app for those who rely on audio communication, particularly business users.
Still not sure which one is best for you, here’s our head-to-head comparison chart:
This list is for consumer messaging apps, but there are a few notable mentions beyond that:
- Twitter is rumored to be planning a standalone app based on its Direct Messages
- We didn’t touch on purely business-focused services like Hipchat
- Video-only apps like Spin were omitted because they have no text-based messaging features at all
Over to you: Did we miss an app from our list? Which talk messaging app is your beloved, and why?
Headline pic via Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock
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