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Technology.

27 September 2021

Best chat apps for Android and iOS

Chat apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Signal, have largely replaced SMS and traditional text messaging. Read our reviews of the best apps for staying in touch, and protecting your privacy.
Andrew Laughlin

If you’re like us, the last time you received an SMS text message it was probably a delivery reminder, or a scam. We’re all chatting with family, friends and even businesses now using a different type of messaging app. 

Led by the immensely popular WhatsApp, chat apps have done to texting what email did to the humble letter. These apps enable you to talk to one person, or potentially hundreds, quickly and easily. 

You can send text messages and make video calls, as well as share photos, your location and even that ‘crying-with-laughter face’ emoji (if you really must). Ahead, see which apps are worth chatting about. 

You don't need to be a Which? member to see the below results, but if you're in the market for a new smartphone, tablet or other tech product, browse all our reviews based on rigorous lab testing.

How do these messaging apps work? 

Depending on the type of smartphone or tablet you own, you download the chat app you want from either Android or Apple iOS app stores, and then create an account. 

With some of the services, such as WhatsApp, you need an active phone number to use them. With others you can register with an email or a specific account with the provider (eg, Facebook or Microsoft for Skype). 

While some services (like Skype) allow you to call non app users, chat apps largely don’t work like a normal phone or email service. 

On the whole, the other person you’re messaging or talking to will need to also have the app installed and an account. That means you might need to convince family and friends to use the same service as you. Unlike SMS text messages, which use your mobile signal, chat apps also need a data or wi-fi internet connection to work. 


Like to see a friendly face? Read our guide to the best video calling apps


The best chat apps

WhatsApp, 88% both iOS and Android

WhatsApp is the top-rated chat app on Android and iOS in our tests. It's also the most popular service, with over five billion downloads worldwide and 2.5 billion active users. It’s easy to set up and use, with simple icons for chats (up to 256 people) calls (up to 8), and you can share media and make video calls. You can see if your messages have been delivered and read via ticks, and easily mute groups that become irritating. WhatsApp is also available on all major web browsers, but you’ll need to install the desktop app to make video calls here. WhatsApp isn't without controversy, though, particularly over the use of your data. More on that below. 

Skype, 86% iOS and 84% Android

Alongside being good for PC video calling, the Microsoft-owned Skype did well in our chat apps test. You can send instant messages to other Skype users, and make calls to anyone. Skype gave us no major security or privacy concerns, although bear in mind that end-to-end encryption isn’t enabled by default. You have set this manually by instigating a ‘private conversation' with someone in the app settings.

Signal, 84% on Android and 80% on iOS

Signal has become the chat app of choice if you don’t want to use Facebook services. It offers end-to-end encryption, so all your messages are kept private, and just like WhatsApp you can do group video calls with up to 8 people. With only a phone number required to sign up, Signal is a well designed and accessible option if you want to chat securely with friends and contacts. 

Line, 80% both iOS and Android

You might not have heard of Line, but it is a hugely popular chat app in Japan. Line fared well in our testing as an easy to use app to send messages and make voice or video calls for free, all with end-to-end encryption by default. You’ll need a phone number to sign up, but the big challenge is whether you can convince friends and contacts to give Line a go over better-known alternatives. 

Facebook Messenger, 79% Android and 72% iOS

While WhatsApp is technically separate from Facebook, Messenger is firmly part of the Facebook ecosystem. If you regularly use Facebook, it is a convenient way to easily chat with contacts on the social network, particularly using an Android device. We noted that call quality isn’t as good on iOS. The stripped-down Messenger Lite for Android phone users scored an OK 65%. With both services, you have to activate end-to-end encryption manually for every chat.

Telegram, 77% both Android and iOS

Telegram is another chat app favoured by security conscious users. You’ll find the app easy to follow and use. However, the lack of group calling is a shame. We found no security concerns with the app, but end-to-end encryption isn’t activated by default. You have to enable it by instigating a ‘secret chat’ with another person. 

Best Android messaging apps - full table

App name
Web version?
Group chat limit
Group call limit
End-to-end encryption
Ease of use
Messaging/calling
Web version
Call quality
Score
WhatsApp
 Yes
256
8
By default
5
3
4
4
88%
Signal
Yes
1000
8
By default
4
3
4
4
84%
Skype
Yes
600
50
Available
5
5
5
4
84%
Line
Yes
500
200
By default
4
3
5
4
80%
Facebook Messenger
Yes
250
8
Available
4
2
4
4
79%
Viber
No
250
20
By default
4
3
5
4
78%
Telegram
Yes
200
n/a
Available
4
2
5
4
77%
Discord
Yes
10
10
No
4
5
4
4
72%
Facebook Messenger Lite
Yes
250
n/a
Available
4
2
5
3
65%
Kik
No
50
n/a
No
3
4
n/a
n/a
49%
Google Chat
Yes
400
n/a
No
3
2
4
n/a
46%

Best iOS messaging apps - full table

App name
Web version?
Group chat limit
Group call limit
End-to-end encryption
Ease of use
Messaging/calling
Web version
Call quality
Score
WhatsApp
Yes
256
8
By default
5
3
4
5
88%
Skype
Yes
600
50
Available
5
5
5
4
86%
Line
Yes
500
200
By default
4
3
4
4
80%
Signal
Yes
1000
8
By default
4
5
4
4
80%
Viber
No
250
20
By default
4
3
5
4
79%
Telegram
Yes
200
n/a
Available
4
2
5
4
77%
Facebook Messenger
Yes
250
8
Available
4
2
5
3
72%
Discord
Yes
10
10
No
4
5
4
4
70%
Kik
No
50
n/a
No
4
4
n/a
n/a
52%
Google Chat
Yes
400
n/a
No
3
2
4
n/a
46%
TABLE NOTES: We test separately on Apple iOS and Google Android, and the score occasionally differs for each provider. End-to-end encryption: 'Default' means active without you needing to do anything, 'Available' means you have to activate it, most likely for each private conversation. 'No' doesn't mean there is no encryption at all, rather than it is just not end-to-end on your conversations. Muting: Covers how easy it is to silence a group chat.  Score breaks down as: 20% Ease of use, 30% Messaging and calling, 20% call quality, 25% versatility, 5% website/desktop version. We don't award Best Buys yet in chat apps, but may consider it in future tests. Security and privacy testing is not evaluated, but rather acts as a qualifier. If we find anything concerning that the manufacturer doesn't fix, we will reflect that in our reviews.

Should you trust WhatsApp?

You’ve probably heard about a recent controversy over a change to WhatsApps terms and conditions. 

Facebook, which bought WhatsApp for $16bn in 2014, now has the ability to track some of the businesses that you chat to on WhatsApp. 

While it can’t read the messages, it can collect data on which businesses you talk to and how often you contact them, and then use this to target you with advertising through its various platforms. 

Due to UK data protection laws, Facebook can’t do this while you chat to anyone within the UK or European Union, but it can do so anywhere else. So, it can record that you’re talking to a US-based clothing company on WhatsApp, for example, and then serve you with ads for similar brands on Facebook. 

If you never chat to a non-Europe based business through WhatsApp, you don’t necessarily need to worry. And you don’t actually need a Facebook account to use WhatsApp, either. 

However, if you’re still not sure, there are plenty of high-scoring alternatives, such as Signal, if you can get your friends and contacts to also switch. 

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Security and encryption on chat apps

Some chat apps, such as WhatsApp, Signal and Line, encrypt your messages end-to-end by default, meaning only you and who you’re chatting to can see and hear what is being said. 

With others you can manually activate full encryption for specific conversations. Some apps don’t offer end-to-end encryption. This doesn’t mean hackers can easily read your messages, but it does mean that the app company can read them if that’s granted in the terms you sign up to.  

If the thought of giving any data away to Facebook worries you, you might want to avoid WhatsApp. Line is a good but relatively unknown alternative. 

Or you could try Signal. Our security and privacy tests flagged some concerns with Signal, but these were addressed satisfactorily after we contacted it. 

While Viber did well in our testing (79% iOS and 78% Android), we found a potential flaw that could risk your privacy. We contacted Viber but it didn’t respond. We can’t elaborate on details of the flaw or recommend it here, so do consider alternatives.

We found a whole host of issues with the Kik app and associated websites during our security testing. We can’t detail the issues because Kik didn’t respond when we contacted it, so the flaws haven’t been verified or fixed. Kik’s test scores aren’t great anyway, so there’s no reason to use it over others.

Chat apps: handy features to look out for

All apps differ in their functionality, but here are some key features that are available on most. 

  • Read notices: Most apps allow you to see if someone has received your message, such as via blue ticks on WhatsApp. You can usually deactivate this in the settings if you want to quietly ignore someone. You can also usually delete messages and exit chats, but neither with much subtlety.  
  • Muting and blocking: Being able to mute a group chat in which two people are endlessly debating something they only care about is absolutely essential. If someone becomes particularly irksome, you might want to block them, meaning they can no longer contact you. 
  • Emojis and Gifs: Sometimes a colourful emoji says much more than words. There are emoji for pretty much every occasion, including some that we should probably not mention here. Gifs/memes can do similar but with more visual flair. Just don’t be the person who endless sends memes to much chagrin from others.  
  • Voice notes: Rather than typing out a long message, such as to explain something complicated, you could be better served recording a voice note and sending that instead. The recipient can then play it through the phone speakers or headphones, and then reply either via message or with their own voice note. 
  • Sharing: Many chat apps let you easily share content with others. You can share photos and videos, but also the contact for a good tradesperson. Or attach a document that you want a group to read. If the service has end-to-end encryption, this is probably even more secure than email as a way to share sensitive documents. 
  • Location: You can also usually share your location using chat apps. This usually uses your GPS location based on the default mapping app on your mobile device. So, you could share where you are in a park, on a beach or just in some hard-to-find restaurant. That way everyone can easily find you. 

How to video call from chat apps

Video calling has become increasingly popular over the last year, and fortunately, you can make calls with all the services we’ve featured here apart from Kik and Google Chat (Google offers a Google Duo calling app, but we haven’t tested that yet). 

You can chat to one person, or up to 200 with Line. Most services, such as WhatsApp, limit you to calls of around 8 people, so they’re mostly useful for small family get-togethers. 

Functionality differs between the apps, but you usually just click on a phone or video camera icon to set up a call, and then you can add other contacts to the conversation. Almost all the services that support calls will let you send a message during an audio call, such as if you want to share your location. 

Many also let you do this during video calls. Line and Skype offer slightly more functionality in that you can call domestic, international or mobile phone numbers using the service, even if they don’t have the app installed. 

Making big group calls on a mobile device, even a tablet, can feel cramped, so you might want to switch to a computer. Here, chat apps can be a bit limited. You’ll often need the desktop app installed on your computer and a webcam so you can send and receive pictures. 

After all that, you might actually find the best video calling services are actually more suited to video calling from a computer. 

4  phone video calling 487553

How we test chat apps

Our tests put all of these apps through their paces on Android and iOS devices, and on any web/desktop service they offer. We run a barrage of tests, including: 

  • Set up and using: We check how easy the services are to set up and use, including making calls and sending messages. 
  • Messaging: How good is the interface? Can you see if someone has received your message, and what other content can you send, such as location, a contact, photos or even documents?
  • Muting: We check if you can easily mute that annoying group and its tedious debate about dinner plans, so that you aren't endlessly bombarded with message notifications. 
  • Calling: How easy is to set up an audio or video call with your friends and contacts? Is the call quality good or are you constantly straining to hear what people are saying?  
  • Security and privacy: We assess the chat apps, and all associated website domains, for how well they protect your data from being plundered by hackers, or any other privacy risks.