The recent global hours-long outage of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger sent millions of users searching for alternative messaging apps on app stores. However, with literally thousands of options in the market today it is difficult to know which app suits your needs.
For Android users there are but three realistic options: WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal. Why? Maybe it has something to do with the Pareto distribution ‘law’; in any productive domain a few (20%) end up producing 80% of all the value in that field. However, I suspect it has something more to do with the unequal structure of the global tech market.
Whatever the cause, these are going to be the focus of my review today. But this does not mean that options such as Viber are not worth mentioning. It does however demonstrate the level dominance of these three in the market. Most users tend to swing between them.
Here is my comparison of WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal to help you choose.
As messaging apps, you will find quite a bit of overlap between the three applications. Functions like texting, group chats, calls and video chats are pretty standard these days. However, there are tiny differences in how these features are offered in each app. These minute details are what makes each platform unique.
WhatsApp needs little introduction. As the most popular messaging app in the world right now you are probably familiar with its features. It lets you send texts, files, media and even your location to a single individual or a group of up to 256 users.
On video call, the platform will let in as many as eight users.
Like Snapchat WhatsApp also lets users send disappearing messages and end-to-end encryption. These are texts that will expire (and disappear) after a specific amount of time.
Of course, it goes without saying that the app only works when connected to the internet but that is becoming less of an issue as more and more people across the world are getting connected to the world wide web.
If you don’t like the default display, WhatsApp allows you to customize your own experience with dark mode and stickers.
This is probably the best alternative to WhatsApp. In terms of features, it even beats the Facebook-owned platform in many ways.
First, while you can send files, locations and media just like WhatsApp, Telegram lets you share files up to 2GB. This is quite large compared to the 100MB cap on WhatsApp.
Also, when it comes to users Telegram allows for groups as large as 200,000. Combine this with a group voice call and a new screen sharing feature and you will see why it is considered more than a messaging app but a viable alternative for Zoom.
Signal is the newest entry into the messenger apps space and this shows in the features offered. The app does very little beyond the basics. You can send texts, images of up to only 6MB and files up to 100MB. The app allows groups of up to 1000 users at a time, which is more than WhatsApp but still lower than Telegram.
Signal, however, continues to improve its offering to compete with other apps. It has a low-data call mode for cost-conscious users and also allows up to eight people on a call.
It is also very important to note that as an app that comes from a nonprofit, Signal Foundation users won’t ever have to worry about ads any time soon.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Balancing the appetite for user data while ensuring privacy and security for your users is a difficult act, one that many apps (especially WhatsApp) fail to do.
This is perhaps the number one villain as far as privacy and security go. As part of the Facebook group of companies, there is a clear incentive to share its users’ data for marketing purposes across its platforms. This is already stipulated in the new terms of services update that brought quite a raw among the public.
That said, WhatsApp is not so bad. They do their best to protect their users’ data from Third Parties (that are not them). With end-to-end encryption and the aforementioned disappearing messages, users can at least be assured that no one is reading their messages. They will however still have access to your location, device information, usage statistics, purchase history and a lot more.
Telegram actually does a little more to protect your data. Messages are client-server protected, this means that they are unencrypted and then re-encrypted again at the server level before reaching the end-user.
This does not mean that Telegram can’t access your messages but it does make it a lot harder for them. You can however go around this defect using the Secret Chats feature. With this feature, you will have full access to end-to-end encryption. Couple this with a built-in PIN feature or fingerprint requirement and your security within the app is just short of guaranteed.
This is perhaps the most secure app of them all. Users can create their own encrypted profile which can only be recovered using a PIN. The app also uses end-to-end encryption on all its messages and only stores undelivered messages temporarily. As a non-profit product, there are no ads.
The app even uses QR codes to verify one another thus eliminating metadata, a particularly weak security point.
Which App Should You Use?
Honestly, I have no clear answer for this. There are just too many variables to consider including geographical location, which happens to be a very important factor in purchase choices than many might realize.
I however confess to having a soft spot for Telegram. I simply love the app. It is secure, easy to use and offers way more features than the competition.
The decision however rests with you, just ensure to make security your first priority. Your user experience might not be the best but at least your chats will remain private.