A moment of introspection, please: What do you do more often – call people using your phone, or text them? I would bet it’s the latter. For many people, texting is more convenient than calling. It’s discrete, so you can do it on the bus (unless you happen to be the driver); it’s asynchronous, so the other person doesn’t have to be immediately available; it’s efficient, because it’s easy to skip the chitchat and get to the point. And one of the very best ways to text is using a true classic, WhatsApp for Android (also available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia, and Windows Phone.
So, let’s look at what makes the Android WhatsApp app so good.
WhatsApp’s Single Greatest Feature
This here is my own WhatsApp contact list, full of real people whose names have been blurred out to protect the innocent. Did I painstakingly add all those people there? Nope; in fact, I didn’t even have to link WhatsApp with any of my “social” accounts (something I strongly dislike). I just had to install it on my phone. As soon as I did, WhatsApp automatically created a user for me, linked to my phone account. It then searched its online database for users whose numbers are stored in my contacts – meaning, it took my phone’s address book, and found all the WhatsApp users in it.
Some people would call this an invasion of privacy; to me, it’s the single greatest feature WhatsApp has. It means effortless contact lists: You just install the app, and all of your friends and colleagues who also use WhatsApp are already there. And WhatsApp isn’t spammy, so it doesn’t urge you send invites to friends who don’t use WhatsApp. You just see who’s there, and you can easily talk to them.
Texts: Not Just For Text Anymore
Emoticons are an important part of the texting experience, and with WhatsApp, you don’t have to stick to the old-fashioned variety. The app ships with a large collection of tiny, cute drawings. Since there are so many of them, they’re divided into five categories, plus a “recently used” category (which is what you see above).
If you look hard enough, you can find an emoticon for just about anything, from high-heeled shoes to a syringe dripping with blood (yes, really). There are literally hundreds of them, and I’ve had some conversations that consisted of nothing but emoticons – they’re that expressive.
Attaching External Data
Emoticons are fun and all, but sometimes you might want to send along some actual data you created: A photo perhaps, or a quick snippet of audio, or your location. WhatsApp for Android makes this sort of operation trivial, requiring just a couple of taps. The most common use, for me, is definitely sending images:
That’s Ivan, my highly photogenic cat, as shown in WhatsApp’s internal image viewer. Being able to just snap something you’re looking at and send it along is invaluable: I know someone who used it across continents to buy a gift for a loved one. You can show the other person the exact shoe you’re looking at and ask for their opinion – it’s perfect.
One other feature I personally don’t use is group chats: WhatsApp lets you create semi-permanent “forums” (my word, not theirs), which are groups of people who can all message each other. Every message you send to the group reaches everyone, and it’s easy to see who wrote what. I call these “semi-permanent” because they don’t expire when the chat is over. You can have a forum open for days, or weeks.
I know people who use this at work in lieu of tiresome meetings, and groups of friends who use it to just hang out (kind of like an IRC channel, but better).
A Little Known Fact: It’s Not Free
Take a careful look through the screenshots above, and tell me what’s missing. I’ll tell you – ads. That’s right – WhatsApp has no advertisements of any kind. That’s not an accident, but a conscious decision by its developers. Based on their years of experience working at Yahoo, WhatsApp’s founders decided they don’t want to sell ads.
This means that users need to pay for using the app – what a novel concept! iPhone users have to pay a buck for the app, but their Android brethren get to download it for free. But no matter what’s your operating system of choice, after one year of using WhatsApp you may be prompted to start paying up.
I say you “may be” prompted because I’ve been using the Android WhatsApp app for at least two years now, and haven’t been prompted once yet. I haven’t changed my phone number during this time, so they know I’m still me. I haven’t heard of many other people who’ve been asked to pay, but this may eventually happen. Still, if it’s a reasonable sum (up to $5 or so), I’ll definitely pay for the sort of value I get from WhatsApp.
In Summary: A Solid, Simple, SMS Solution
As a mobile texting solution, WhatsApp is just about perfect. No ads, no spam, no contact lists to manually manage, effortless attachments, and a boatload of emoticons. What more could you want?
Well, I for one would love a desktop client. I don’t think that’s in the pipeline, though. Other than this one omission, I’d say WhatsApp is the perfect texting solution, which is why it found a comfy spot on our Best Android Apps page.
What do you say? Is there a better cross-platform texting solution? Let us know in the comments!