Best Messaging Apps
Best Messaging Apps

The five must have personal messaging apps

Just for those asking what I mean by personal, I refer to apps that are not designed specifically for commercial purposes. There are a number of organizational messaging apps that are also a must have, but only if you work in a company that has such an app. (Slack is one of them). This review will concentrate on the personal messaging apps used by everyone that has access to a smartphone for personal as well as business uses.

Messenger

Facebook Messenger is a must-have messaging service if you have a Facebook account. There is no other way about this. The messenger service was separated a few years ago from Facebook and comes as a separate app. At first, it as disconcerting, but now, it’s actually refreshing since it separates the online timeline flow and comments from actual chatting, and lets you use messenger without even signing in into Facebook.

Why is this good?

Well, to start off with Messenger is n SMS, texting, video, voice and encrypted messaging service that is actually a totally different app with a totally different purpose.

If you have a wifi connection and want to talk or video chat with someone in your list of Facebook contacts, and in this case, they must have a messenger as an app too, this app converts your smartphone into a mobile communications hub.

Messenger Features

The main screen is simple, and you have a number of sections and features that snazz up this app. For instance, it takes all the contact data from Facebook, such as birthdays and other anniversaries and notifies you.

You can enhance text messages with stickers, GIF’s images and other third-party services. If you want a secret conversation you engage the encrypted end-to-end service; these messages are now fully encrypted from Facebook and law enforcement.

Contacts

You can see who is active in your list of contacts, although this service has settings that can disable this feature, in most cases, you will find it active. When you tap the contacts icon, your conversation comes up, and you see a few icons that let you decide how you want to contact that person.

Contacting

The concept behind messenger is fast to contact contacts service. No messing about, just dive in, set your personal options for sounds, notifications, privacy, etc. You can create groups too, and this app will give you fast communication connectivity at a tap of the finger.

Remember, it is a Facebook app., but not part of Facebook; this means your conversations are not listed on any timeline, they are all private in Messenger. On the other hand, you can connect with Facebook and share information, photos and other stuff.

A recent change in design has simplified the navigation, and now you get three icons at the top and bottom of the screen. The three icons at the top of the screen are a choice between a voice, video or text message. The icons at the bottom of the screen are contacts, groups, and options.

Bottom Line: Messenger has gone through some privacy issues, and is improving its services as well as face-lifting from a cumbersome app into a proper chat app. This is a must-have app for all Facebook users.

Skype

Skype was bought out by Microsoft around a century ago and now boasts over 250 million users are making it one of the most popular and most used free VoIP services online.

Skype is a free app with a paid option for international calls where there is no wifi available. What is so good about Skype is its simple versatility. This app was originally created in 2003 and was just one of many VoIP contenders. However, what made this one so popular was its simplicity and the fact that you can make any kind of call, video, voice and chat for free over a wifi network and is not linked to any social media platform.

The Skype paid services are for people that need to make an international or local call and don’t have wifi access. The calls are literally “dirt-cheap” and as such worthwhile having an account with some cash ($10 is enough) to secure potential use in cases of emergency.

Skype works on just about every platform, so it is not just smartphone based, you can get it on your PC, iPad, laptop and more. It also has a business version that was designed specifically for scheduling teleconference calls for commerce.

Using Skype

After downloading Skype you need to register, if you have a Skype account then just use your Skype details, if not, first register a Microsoft account and then use that as your Skype account. Once you are logged in your contacts will upload, and you have an option to allow or disallow this. Assuming you are not an industrial spy, you connect your contacts and Skype will show which ones are registered to their service. Registering is linked by phone number, email address or Skype id.

The contacts screen is located by tapping the contact icon button on the left-hand bar. Adding a contact is easy, you can either add one by searching for a name, an e-mail address, phone no. and the Skype ID. This also applies when you want to send your information to someone else. You just send them one of these details to find you in Skype.

In instances where there are people with the same name, you will require at least two details to focus in on them, so always ask for a phone number and e-mail address with their Skype ID.

Call Options

Skype gives you four categorical features; these are calling, messaging, sharing and Extensions options.

Calling

  1. Video: This is the Skype main feature where you get to video call with your contacts and can share all the wonders of where you are located. For travelers, this is a great option for face to face calls, and for business, it’s a great way to make presentations online. (more about this later)
  2. Audio: You can call any Skype number for free, or call a standard mobile or landline for some Skype credit.
  3. Conference: If you want to have a group video to an audio call, Skype conference gives you the chance to make up to 25 connections per conference call.
  4. Voicemail: This option is also available, and you get to hear messages when you are unavailable.

Messaging

  1. Instant messaging (IM): As with all great connectivity apps, Skype gives you the ability to send messages without calling. So you can also IM whenever you feel like it, even when busy and cannot talk.
  2. Video messaging: In this option, you can record a video message. This is great when there are extreme time differences, and you want to share more than a photo or audio message.
  3. SMS texting: This is not a free service since it is a text message to a mobile device. You will need Skype credit for this one.

Sharing

  1. Screen sharing: A standard capture your screen and send it (its file sharing but for screenshots.)
  2. File transfer: This service allows you to send any type of attachment via the file transfer options, and your contact can keep these files for up to 30 days online. If they want these files to be available all the time, its best to download them upon receiving them.
  3. Contact sharing: Drag a contact in your message, and it will immediately be shared with whomever you are chatting or talking to. This is the online way of sharing contacts you have with another contact.

Extensions

  1. Translator: If you have a Windows 7 and above OS, then you have access to the online audio and text translator. The audio version will translate 8 languages while the text will translate 50. When this option is activated you can converse with anyone in their language; Skype will do it all for you.
  2. Skype for Slack: Slack is a commercial (business) app found in organizations that want an internal communications platform. This third-party extension allows you to use Skype on a Slack network for free.
  3. Skype for Content Creators: This is a video and audio recording studio option for podcasters and other professionally required online broadcasting levels of quality. Selecting Content Creators mode will activate the Skype clean audio and video recording options and feed it directly to an NDI-based software like Vmix, Xsplit, and Wirecast. When you have completed the presentation, you can import it into your program editor and then upload it. This tool streamlines the whole video casting process.

Conclusions

If you don’t have Skype, you are either living under a rock on the moon or don’t have access to a communication device of any kind other than a megaphone. Skype is a must on all devices, even if you don’t think you need it, believe me, you do and will want it at one stage or another.

Google Hangouts

With all the hype around Skype and the fact that it belongs to Microsoft, it was obvious that Google would not remain apathetic for long. What do Hangouts give you that Skype doesn’t, well not much more, but since it’s Google you get access to all the Google features that Skype cannot access?

Lest look at Google Hangouts from the inside out.

You can message and call anyone anytime, even when they are offline. You can create group chats for up to 150 participants and send all the emoji’s, animated Gifs and other status options. You can use the Google map app for location sharing too.

Google also access all the Google sheets and other work-related apps, so you can share and work online, in a video call or message using your google sheets and docs as you go. This is the biggest advantage of Google Hangouts, it connects the e-mails, docs, and data in one place, and while you are in a real-time conversation.

Google comes with a G-Suite version, which is the business option, that connects your business to hangouts, this means you can schedule groups calls and access all the Google apps that are required to enhance the conference or presentation.

Starting Off

Obviously, you will need to download the app, and either sign in using your Google e-mail account or register a new one.

The main difference between hangouts and its competition is the method in which it focuses on conversations as a new thread but keeps the older threads in place. This minor difference cleans up the screen from cluttered older conversations and focuses the current one on what is being discussed.

Hangouts also categorize chats into rooms; this means that when you want to start a new chat, you open the chat room and click New Conversation button at the bottom of the screen, this opens up the new room. On the other hand, if you want to complete an old conversation, then find the old one and continue with that one.

To sum up rooms: these are places where you can hold many conversations, organized into old continuing streams, or new conversations. You can create as many rooms as you desire, and add many participants to any room.

Searching Conversations

The searching option can be something to get used to; it arranges the chats based on the most recent activity. This means that if you started a chat a minute ago, and someone entered a message in an old conversation a minute ago too, you will see both options in the room you entered.

If you want to find something older than a recent post, then go to the Hangouts Chat service, tap the search icon in the top of the screen and this will present you with the most recent room. Select all the rooms and add the search string, Hangouts will present you with all the search results. Once you find the conversation you need, you can continue the conversation on its last posting.

You can also video call anyone in that room, all you need to do is click the meet button (the icon with a chat bubble and video camera) or select a person to message directly.

Documents

You can select documents from your google drive or sheets, and you can share them with the participants. Google makes the document immediately accessible to these participants, so you just select the file and share it.

If you have a long conversation and cannot find a file you are all working on within the conversation, no problem, the Hangouts search will help you filter for Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, PDFs, and other files.

Notifications

Hangouts give you notification options that include sounds for incoming messages. Toggling the bell to operate is extremely important, sometimes you have conversations with multiple participants that literally drive you crazy with banal one-word comments, and this can go on 24/7. So meter your notifications to the important conversations and mute all the rest.

Formatting and Features

Hangouts allow you to format messages including using simple pre and post word codes, such as _beforeandafter_ to underline a word, or *beforeandafter* to bold the word. I won’t list all the options; they are there, you just need to find them out and use them if you so desire.

Adding an emoji is also simple, you can either change the keyboard of your smartphone or type a: and then type in the name of the emoji.

If you want to name a person that is not participating, you type in @ and then add their name; Hangouts will find that person your contacts and add their name to the conversation.

You can add links to videos on YouTube and web pages as well as Google Map links.

There’s so much more, including adding third-party bots. However, if I continue to review this app in detail, I will need to create an e-book, so Nuff said.

Conclusions

If you have a Google account, download Hangouts, it might not be as popular as Skype or Messenger, but it is Google, and it is extremely versatile. It will also open up a whole new world of Google app connectivity on your phone.

WhatsApp

This is one of my favorite messenger apps, only because it is so simple and focused. This is a no-nonsense app that delivers wifi aided messaging in a simple and efficient manner.

This app gives you IM and voice messaging with all the extras such as file sharing and audio and video files too. However, it is not a video messaging service; you cannot make video calls, only audio ones.

WhatsApp is a free service, you need wifi to operate it, and that’s why Facebook bought it out, to bolster its arsenal of messaging services. What makes WhatsApp so attractive is that you don’t need an account in any major company, all you need is a phone number. You download it to your smartphone, use your smartphone number to connect.

Once you have set it up, you can allow it to look through your contacts (smartphone) list, and anyone that has WhatsApp on their phone will show up in the WhatsApp contacts list too. What I found is that WhatsApp provides one of the cleanest and strongest conversation signals of all the messengers. If you cannot use Skype or Hangouts due to a bad signal, then in most cases WhatsApp will save the day.

Since this is a Facebook-owned app, you can either use your Facebook profile or create a WhatsApp profile. You can also set your privacy levels, including not being seen online, not showing whether messages have been viewed. You can also mute notifications and play around with the notification specs for in-app notifications.

You can send a direct “connect to WhatsApp” text message to any contact in your phone that doesn’t have WhatsApp.

Conclusions

A simple and basic wifi phone option with great messaging and file sharing features.

Viber

Viber is a Skype competitor and provides similar features. It is the technology developed by Ratuken, a Japanese company and is freeware. Just like Skype, Viber has free wifi coverage as well as a paid for calling mode for landline and mobile device conversations.

Viber is very easy to use the app; it comes with a lot of nice features, one of which is the built-in emoji library.

Like WhatsApp, Viber doesn’t need a specific account; you sign up using your phone no. It will then link to your contacts (if you let it) and provide you with a list of your contacts that have Viber as well as all the contacts that don’t have Viber with a small “invite” button next to their name. If one of your contacts doesn’t have Viber, you can invite them from the list.

Contacting your Viber contacts is simple. Just tap on their icon and start messaging, or you can press the call button on the bottom of the screen and call them up. You have a video or voice option.

Viber provides a great free calling and texting service, and the added emoji library makes messaging easy and fun. You can create groups, and the biggest advantage is that registration is fast and simple, just like WhatsApp.

On the flip side, you can only contact Viber contacts, and if the wifi line is poor, forget about using this app.

Conclusions

It’s all down to personal taste. However, Viber is a must to have and adds another dimension of ease to messaging.

Bottom Line

Its best to have all five of these apps on your phone, I find that sometimes I use one and then the other for different people and different reasons.

For simple messaging and audio calls use WhatsApp and Viber, for video calls using Skype or Google Hangouts and for your Facebook friends use messenger.