So you’ve got a new smartphone or tablet for Christmas and you need to load up on the best way to stay in touch with friends and family, but all the names of instant messenger apps float in one ear and out the other like so many droning Christmas carols? Well, we’ve got a roundup of the ten best instant messengers the Android platform has to offer, along with screen shots and feature lists so you can best choose which one suits your tastes and needs.
The big guns:
I’d be shot if this wasn’t the first IM app on the list, and for good reason, WhatsApp has perhaps more active users than any other, with the exception perhaps of Messenger (Facebook’s chat app) and WeChat (from China). While WhatsApp doesn’t have the same feature-rich content as many of the other apps on this list, it can’t be beat for sheer numbers of contacts using it. Chances are, if you know someone with an Android, they’ve got WhatsApp. WhatsApp uses your existing contacts’ phone numbers, so you don’t need to add contacts manually. You can send written and recorded voice messages, stickers, emojis and media, as well as broadcast and group messages.
Facebook’s official instant messaging app has recently been made over to deliver a faster, cleaner service and interface. It’s much like WhatsApp (as are most of the apps on this list), but Messenger obviously connects to all of your Facebook contacts. As of recently, however, you can also message non-Facebook friends by using their phone number. Messenger allows you to access all of your Facebook messages without using the main app or website. It’s also got stickers and emojis, groups, voice recordings, location data, free calls, photo sharing and more.
The granddaddy of video messaging, Skype has been around for forever and is still kicking on strong. Skype is primarily a video messaging service, but the IM component is just as popular. In fact we use it at AndroidPIT as our daily office messaging tool. Skype requires Skype ID’s though, so you’ll only be able to add friends if you know their Skype contact name. But once you do, and basically everyone is on Skype too, you can have video chats anytime you want for free. You can also add Skype credit and make cheap international calls to landlines and mobile phones. The chat section offers group chat, media sharing, emojis and more. Plus you can have one account on several devices (WhatsApp doesn’t allow this).
Viber has also recently been updated and is now optimized for tablets. Viber also lets you run the same account on multiple devices. The new Viber is pushing the Sticker Market, where you can get tons of free and paid sticker packs. But the core business of Viber is instant messages. You can, of course, also send recorded voice messages like WhatsApp (but not video calls like Skype) and you now have the option to call any phone number anywhere with Viber Out – much like adding Skype credit to call people not on the service. Check out my tips and tricks for Viber article for more info.
Line is getting huge, and for good reason. With the recently added video calling functionality, it is now as fully featured as Skype, but has a younger sexier feel to it than the tried and true Skype. It’s jam packed full of stickers and other fun stuff, and is immensely popular throughout large parts of Asia. But it’s also feature filled with group chats, multi-platform capabilities (phone, tablet, PC), timeline, recorded voice messages, media sharing and much, much more, including official account messages from celebrities you like. Line is kind of like Twitter, Facebook and Skype all rolled into one.
Other worthy contenders:
With Google setting up Hangouts as the standard (but interchangeable) messaging app in Android 4.4 KitKat, it is going to get a lot more users as KitKat spreads far and wide. Hangouts is a combined SMS and IM app, that separates the two types of messages, but can be used to automatically place calls from your phone via Hangouts rather than traditional carriers. Because it handles both SMS and IM, it cuts down on the number of apps you need to be working with, although some more streamlined features, like combined chats with contacts regardless of message type, would help its usability improve. The same features are on offer otherwise: media sharing, location sharing, video calling, and more.
It takes two to Tango, and there’s plenty more than that using the service. Tango does much the same as the rest: instant messaging, media sharing, stickers, in-call games, video calling, group chat and more. Tango will automatically find your friends based on your contact list, but they must be using the service to show up (or you can invite them). Tango can be used to place calls, find like-minded friends or people in the vicinity using the service, which adds a bit more social networking to the mix than some other providers. The mid-call mini-games also help Tango stand out from the rest.
KakaoTalk is right there in the middle, offering up all the same features as many more on this list, but not catching on in quite the same way as WhatsApp (even if it performs better). KakaoTalk features group chat, free chats and calls, media sharing, recorded voice messages, location sharing, stickers, themes and emojis. You can even connect with brands you like or friends on BBM, use the service on multiple devices and multitask while talking to someone (by writing chats to someone else). KakaoTalk really is feature packed and deserves more attention than it currently gets.
WeLove, WeShare, WeChat. WeChat is huge in China and is only getting bigger internationally as well. A new update just came out today, and brings games to the instant messaging service. You’ve got video calling, voice messaging, texting, stickers, games, group chats, media sharing, walkie talkie mode, always-on, and the same social networking with those nearby as Tango. As more and more people start using WeChat, expect to hear more about it soon.
BBM was and is one of the most highly regarded messaging services for secure communications. After a substantial waiting period, BBM finally made it to the Android platform recently and has been picked up very quickly. BBM will come pre-loaded on many LG phones next year, so it’s future looks bright. It is based on the BlackBerry platform though, so it’s not as Androidy as the rest of the apps on this list, but BBM offers some very cool features: it’s an always-on service so you don’t need to open anything, super secure sharing of messages and media content (docs, images, files, voice messages etc), delivery reporting, groups, emoticons, broadcast messages and more. But the focus is on security.
What is your favorite IM service? What do you use the most: stickers? Voice messages? Text? Voice calls?