The text message is far from dead, but smartphone apps that let you chat with others (whether via text, video or voice) without charging you for every single message are increasingly popular. We’ve rounded up five of the most popular choices.
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There are two important points to make regarding free messaging apps. The first is that in order to use them, both you and the person you’re communicating with need to have the app installed. For that reason alone, they’re unlikely to ever completely replace conventional SMS/text messaging, which works on any mobile with a SIM card in it. One recent study suggests almost half of us use them, but virtually everyone doing so sends ordinary text messages as well.
The second point is that ‘free’ is a somewhat deceptive term. Most of these apps are free to install (WhatsApp being the exception) and you don’t pay for each individual message, but you do pay for the data used. Text messages won’t use up large volumes of data, but video chat definitely will. If you’re using a Wi-Fi connection at home or in the office, that won’t matter, but it’s potentially a problem if your smartphone plan doesn’t offer a large amount of data. (It also may provide a good reason to avoid these apps when you’re overseas, since roaming charges can make the process ridiculously expensive.) If you make voice calls to a non-connected user via their phone number, you’ll also pay fixed rates, which may or may not be cheaper than using your actual phone for the same caller. Check carefully.
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iOSAndroidBlackBerryWindows Phone 7SymbianBada
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This is a competitive space, and there are lots of other good alternatives. Honourable mentions go to BlackBerry Messenger, which pioneered the notion of free text chat across the same platform and remains a great alternative for BlackBerry owners; Google+, which offers well-designed video chat through its Hangouts; and fring, the only other chat platform to register in most market surveys.
Want to sing the praises of another free messaging option? Tell us about it in the comments.