Five Best Text Messaging Alternatives

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Five Best Text Messaging Alternatives


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.

Picture by China Photos/Getty Images

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.

iMessage/Facetime


WhatsApp


iOSAndroidBlackBerryWindows Phone 7Symbian

Viber


iOSAndroidBlackBerryWindows Phone 7SymbianBada

Facebook


iOSAndroidWindows Phone 7BlackBerry

Skype


iOSiPadAndroidWindows Phone 7Symbian

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.

Comments

  • The best messaging is still e-mail. Free, truly cross-platform, feature rich, instant enough… And unlike all mentioned platforms it is universal – you do not have to ask yourself “Does this person have WhatsApp? or Skype? or iMessage?” Everyone has e-mail.

  • You can SMS the US for free through a couple alternatives: email to SMS gateway or google voice.
    Google voice requires you to setup an account in the US with a US number linked and download the app from their App Store. But I got mine sorted with a friend and it works pretty well. Just remember to unlink your gv number from their real one

  • I used to think of Google Talk as a good text messaging alternative, but over time I’ve changed my mind for several reasons.
    1. Google Talk doesn’t give you a full history of conversation. This is the ‘off the record’ which is, in some cases, really useful. Unfortunately, I think it hampers the usefulness of Google Talk as an SMS replacement.
    2. Google Talk messages can appear in too many places, so they are too easy to lose. If I send a Google Talk message to someone, and they have G+ open then the Google Talk message can appear on G+ (which is great) but never show up on their phone (which is really where I want it to show up). Likewise, if the user is logged into Gmail, the message can appear in the Gmail interface but not in Google Talk on the phone. This just makes it too easy for messages to disappear into the ether.

    If it were not for these two things, I think Google Talk would be a spectacular text messaging alternative. In practice, I actually think the best alternative to SMS is e-mail. With modern phones, it is often just as fast to receive as SMS, can have attachments of higher quality than MMS, and is standardised so you don’t wind up with 102 apps.

    • Google Talk does give you a full history unless you specifically decide to go off the record. Also, if you have Gmail open, messages will show up in both Gmail and your phone, not one or the other.

  • My friends and I still use e-mail on a daily basis to communicate as all of us have full time jobs in offices. I’m talking over 40 messages a day easy.

    As already mentioned, e-mail can be accessed on anything and it’s near instant, plus you can reply anytime you like, it’s easy to search, and 100% free of proprietary code that just chews up more bandwidth.

    The only disadvantage is that it’s totally insecure, it’s likely to be cached by your workplace, and it will be captured by any data retention laws. Not so much of a problem if all of you use gmail however.

    The other thing this article fails to mention is that text messaging is free and unliimited on many plans. If you have a smartphone with data included in your plan, it’s likely you have unlimited text as well.

  • I’m suprised WeChat isn’t on here! I started using it in China when i lived there and it is truely superior to Imessage or Whatsapp! Sending voice messages through Edge internet is fast and pictures and videos can be compressed for sending as well as sending location. It is so good, definitely my favorite alternative!

  • Meh, I’m a heavy user of Google apps and have an Android phone yet never have used GTalk except when someone could not get skype working… there is something about GTalk that makes me never want to use it, I always resort to email

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