When you first get an Android phone, you are stuck with the default text messaging app and Google Talk app. While these are both good applications, they lack the customisation and additional features many of us seek. For a while I was happy with these stock build applications, but I came to want more from my phone.
One reason for using alternative apps is simply cost. Most smartphone contracts include a data allowance and it would be foolish not to use it. I decided to search for a few alternatives that use to Messaging and Talk that use a data connection and found the Android Market to be full of them.
Please note that I have excluded SMS apps from my list, though many are good, as most add no further functionality, just more options. On with the list...
1. Kik Messenger
Kik is a cross between IM and text messaging. You choose a username to log in, like IM, but after that it is much like a SMS app. You have the option to share images and other media with your friends. The thing I love about Kik is it's UI. It has a great, almost cartoon feel to it and really encourages communication - essential for this type of app.
What does Kik give you:
- A nice UI, much better than other applications
- Fast, instant messages
- Easy to add friends - all you need is a username
MiTalk offers everything that other text messaging apps provide and much more. You can share photos, locations, gifts, sketches and more with your friends. There are so many options, it feels much more like a social network than a simple messaging system. This is the one thing that makes it stand out - along with Facebook Messenger.
What MiTalk gives you:
- Great media attaching capabilities
- Fully-featured, making it seem like a social network
- A greatly refined UI
3. Facebook Messenger
Facebook Messenger is the most complete way to access your Facebook messages on the go. It provides more than the standard Facebook app's Chat features - you can see which friends are using their phones and attach images to your messages. You also have the option to share your location with every message so you can let your friends know exactly where you are.
The things that put this app above the stock apps are that:
- You can talk to anyone on Facebook so you don't have to worry about losing phone numbers
- You can easily share your location
- Pictures can be added to messages from your phone's camera, gallery or a web search
WhatsApp uses your current mobile phone number to add you to the WhatsApp phonebook. This then allows other people on WhatsApp to send you media-rich messages over a data connection which spares you using units on your contract. I don't like the UI of the app, but it gets the job done - and very well.
- Easy sign-up with your own number
- Media messages over a data connection for free
- Automatically ready to work with any friend, on any phone
Viber is much like WhatsApp, apart from one small feature. As well as free text and media messaging, Viber offers free calls over a mobile data connection, or Wi-Fi. This means, as long as your friends use Viber, you can talk to them completely free. I personally don't like the UI of Viber either and found it somewhat unreliable while testing - it took days, in some cases, to receive messages.
Good things about Viber:
- Free calls as well as text and media messages
- Talk to anyone with a Viber-registered number
- Easy sign-up
Skype is the most popular video chat application available and the Android app is better than all other video chat apps available on the Market, in my opinion. But, is it any good a messaging? Simply, yes! With the latest update, Skype's messaging integration was improved. You can now share images, videos and all other files from your phone, and all within the sparkling new UI.
Skype's top three features:
- Fully-featured voice and video calling
- Complete file sharing options
- Very stable and supported by a large team of developers
The unfortunate truth of all of these services is that none of them are any use unless the people you contact use them too. This is what puts Facebook Messenger above the rest, in my opinion. With over 800 million people on Facebook, it isn't hard to find and talk to your friends. So, I urge you to choose one service, stick to it, and tell your friends to join you. This is the only way to get these types of services working - within a group of friends.