Skip to content   Skip to footer navigation 

Which messaging apps should you use?

We look at popular chat services like Facebook Messenger, Signal and Whatsapp to help you pick the right one.

woman in cafe texting on phone
Last updated: 13 May 2021

Messaging apps have become the standard way many of us communicate, but which one should you use? Given all participants need to be on the same service, it’s likely you’ll end up using two or more, just to cover all your contacts. 

If you’re trying to figure out which is the best fit for you, here are some of the main players right now.

vp-buying-guide

Buy smarter with CHOICE membership

  • Find the best brands
  • Avoid poor performers
  • Get help when things go wrong

Facebook Messenger

  • Group chats: Up to 150 people
  • VoIP (voice) calls: Up to eight; Messenger Rooms up to 50 people
  • Video calls: Up to eight; Messenger Rooms up to 50 people
  • Works with: Phones and tablets (Android, iPhone, iPad) use an app, and for computers you can either click the Messenger icon in the top right of your web browser's Facebook page to use chat windows, or visit the Messenger web page directly for a larger view with more options.

If you have a Facebook account, you have a Messenger account. This is the core strength of the platform – it's easy to send a message to a Facebook friend, companies use it to contact customers, group pages can have associated group discussions, and it's useful for selling products on Facebook Marketplace, among other things. 

The trade-offs are privacy and security. Facebook records your Messenger activity to improve targeted advertising

It also lets you exchange videos, pictures and files, send GIFs from its vast library, and easily share content from Facebook into your Messenger chats. The normal limit for group voice and video calls is eight, but a separate feature called "Messenger Rooms" allows up to 50 people, albeit with different features.

The trade-offs are privacy and security. Facebook records your Messenger activity to improve targeted advertising. And your messages aren't end-to-end encrypted, so they aren't secure if anyone manages to intercept or steal them. There's an option to create a Secret Conversation, which is encrypted and which deletes messages after a certain time, but only one-on-one.

WhatsApp

  • Group chats: Up to 256 people
  • VoIP (voice) calls: Up to eight people
  • Video calls: Up to eight people
  • Works with: An app for Android, iPhone/iPad, and for desktop there's a web browser plugin. You can't use the browser version unless you sync it to the account you made with your phone number.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, but you don't need a Facebook account to sign up – just a phone number. And its popularity means it's likely you'll already have contacts using it. But because it relies on a phone number, it's difficult to use on more than one phone at a time unless you're swapping your SIM card.

WhatsApp was originally dedicated to privacy, but Facebook has recently started using it to collate information

You can easily share photos, videos and files as large as 100MB, but there's no built-in GIF gallery. And it's end-to-end encrypted, for security.

But where WhatsApp was originally dedicated to privacy, Facebook has recently started using it to collate information for advertising. So if you're uncomfortable with companies snooping on your activity, you might want to look elsewhere.

Telegram

  • Group chats: Up to 200,000 people
  • VoIP (voice) calls: Up to a few thousand participants
  • Video calls: One-on-one (group calls are planned for late 2021)
  • Works with: An app for Android, iPad/iPhone, a web browser for computers, and a desktop app for macOS (Mac users can also use the web browser version).

Telegram is a popular messaging service with a privacy and security focus. There's no data scraping and everything is encrypted to keep your conversations secret. It's also open source, so the developers' claims are available for anyone to check at any time.

Telegram is a popular messaging service with a privacy and security focus

You can easily access messages from all your devices at once, and there are no limits on the types of files you can transfer, as long as they're under 2GB. It also has a built-in GIF library, and you can send photos and video. 

You can delete or edit messages after they've been sent or send messages that are automatically deleted after a set amount of time.

Signal

  • Group chats: Up to 1000 people
  • VoIP (voice) calls: Up to eight people
  • Video calls: Up to eight people
  • Works with: An app for Android, iPad/iPhone, a web browser for computers, and a desktop app for macOS (Mac users can also use the web browser version).

Signal gets a lot of credibility because it's the messenger app recommended for privacy and security by US government surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk spurred a rush to Signal in January after he tweeted "Use Signal". The tweet's timing coincided with public concern over policy changes to the Facebook-owned WhatsApp. 

Signal is the messenger app recommended for privacy and security by ... whistle-blower Edward Snowden and Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Like Telegram, Signal is an open-source project, meaning its code is available for anyone to audit at any time. There's a GIF library and you can send and receive images, videos or files, but your Signal account will only authorise one phone and up to five desktops at once. If you switch phones, you need to deactivate the old one and authorise the new one.

Viber

  • Group chats: Up to 250 people
  • VoIP (voice) calls: Up to 20 people
  • Video calls: Up to 20 people
  • Works with: Android, iPhone/iPad, Windows, Mac. The Windows and Mac desktop (and some Linux distributions) apps must be linked to a phone app, which itself needs a phone number to set up.

Viber is similar to WhatsApp, but with a few extra features such as a GIF library and built-in QR code scanner. You can also send money through the app, which was once a big drawcard but is less useful now PayID is widespread. 

You can also send money through the app

All chats are end-to-end encrypted to keep your conversations private and secure, even from Viber. And you can send self-destructing messages.

For international calls, Viber Out is an optional service that might save you money for a monthly fee. 

More messaging options

Apple Messages 

The Messages app uses Apple's iMessage service and only works between Apple products – a shame because it otherwise easily contends with the other best messaging services. Not only is it as fully-featured and intuitive as you might expect an Apple platform to be, it's highly secure and doesn't leverage user data for third-party advertising. 

It's highly secure and doesn't leverage user data for third-party advertising

It uses secure end-to-end encryption, so only the sender and receiver can see the contents. However, there is one caution: if you have iCloud Backups or Messages in iCloud enabled on your device, your messages are backed up to iCloud and stored on Apple's servers, but technically Apple has access to a copy of the "key" used to encrypt that backup.

Note that SMS messages sent using the Messages app, which appear in a green text bubble, are not secure, because they're SMS. Secure messages appear in a blue text bubble.

Snapchat

Snapchat is great if you want to communicate with photos and short videos, but don't want them saved for the history books. It is possible for others to save or screenshot your messages, but you'll be notified if they do. 

It is possible for others to save or screenshot your messages, but you'll be notified if they do

You can also send plain old text messages or send and receive money, although most people just use it for visual media back-and-forths.

To keep things entertaining, you can play with an impressive array of filters and effects. But it's not an intuitive interface, so you might find yourself looking up how to use it at first.

Discord

Discord started as a voice communication tool for gamers, but has become much more. While you can send direct messages to your friends, Discord revolves around people creating servers (which anyone can do), in which you make channels for either voice or text. 

Discord started as a voice communication tool for gamers, but has become much more

Text channels are like the chatrooms of yesteryear. And voice channels let you drop in and out of active conversations without needing to directly call other people.

Invitees to a server can be given different levels of permission, which can vary based on the channel. So you might have a text channel for community announcements where only a handful of people can post, but a discussion room in which anyone can throw in their two cents, among other things.

How secure are messaging apps?

Typically, when it comes to messaging apps, there tends to be a trade-off between how easy they are to use and their level of security. Although there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to complete security protection, our testing shows that, for general use, there's good security in place with most secure messaging apps. 

But there are still some areas for concern, which are not easily solved without reducing usability. For example, if you send a user a picture, they can take a screenshot.

There have also been various vulnerabilities, holes, hacks and exploits found in messaging apps in recent years – including those billed as secure apps. So how do these happen? Experts say security codes can have small errors, and ensuring security is robust against unknown, future flaws can be very difficult. 

Users can also contribute to weak security by using simple passwords and not adopting best practice

Security audits can find flaws that we know about right now, but there's potential for components to combine in new ways and create exploits in the future. For example, an app may be shown to be very secure, but a new type of video file is released that interacts with the code in an odd way, which then introduces a security bug.

There are also vulnerabilities that can arise if a recipient's device is compromised, say by malware – the end device will decrypt the message and the malware could then view it. 

Users can also contribute to weak security by using simple passwords and not adopting best practice, such as using two-factor authentication – this is where a password and a security code is required to log in.