Messaging apps are a dime-a-dozen these days, but when it comes to the big leagues, three options stand out above the rest. WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal have all seen varying levels of success over the years. Following the news of WhatsApp's impending policy changes, a lot of users are wondering if they should jump ship to something else.
WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal are all seen as some of the best Android messaging apps currently available, but depending on where your needs lie, one is likely a better fit over the rest. Today, we're going to help you sift through everything and make the best decision possible.
Whether you're an existing WhatsApp user looking for a new home or are just getting started in the world of third-party messaging services, here's everything you need to know about Telegram vs. Signal vs. WhatsApp.
Telegram is available for all major platforms, including Android, iOS, PC, Mac, and even Linux. There are also Web and Chrome apps, meaning you can use Telegram just fine on a Chromebook, too.
One of the best things about Telegram is that there isn't a limit on how many devices you can be logged into at once. Even if you have multiple phones and computers, you can log into your Telegram account on all of them and have it work without a hitch.
When it comes to availability, Signal is the weakest of the bunch. You can download the Signal app on Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and PC. Notably, there are no apps for Web or Chrome.
You can be logged into your Signal account on multiple devices, though there is a limit of 5 device connections per account. Furthermore, you can only be logged in to Signal on one phone at a time.
WhatsApp is pretty similar to Signal on the availability front, though it does have a notable edge. The app is available for Android, iOS, PC, Mac, and there's a Web client that will appease Chrome OS users.
Similar to Signal, WhatsApp has strict limits on device connections. Just 4 active devices are allowed per account, and when it comes to phones, WhatsApp can only be used one at a time.
Best Availability: Telegram
If you use a lot of different gadgets and want to access your messages on all of them, Telegram is the clear winner. And even if you don't, it's just nice not having to worry about device limits the way you do with Signal and WhatsApp.
All three apps offer encryption in one form or another, though the implementation is a bit different for each one. In the case of Telegram, all of your regular messages (aka Cloud Chats) are encrypted using the client-server/server-client standard. This allows easy access to your conversations across all of your devices, though it's not the same level of end-to-end encryption you get by default from other services.
End-to-end encryption is supported in Telegram, though you'll need to be using the Secret Chats feature in order to use it. Secret Chats are not automatically backed up to Telegram's servers by default, and to enable the feature, you need to turn Secret Chats on individually for every single contact. And, unfortunately, Secret Chats are not available for group chats.
Telegram has reassured that it's "disclosed 0 bytes of user data to third parties, including governments" for Cloud Chats stored in its servers, though if you're especially concerned about messaging privacy, you'll want to stick with Secret Chats.
All of your conversations in Signal are handled via end-to-end encryption, meaning Signal "can't read your messages or listen to your calls, and no one else can either." If you send or receive a message in Signal, no matter who it's from, it's end-to-end encrypted in this fashion.
This is the primary reason why Signal has much stricter device availability than Telegram does. Still, if privacy is of the utmost importance to you, you may be OK giving up that convenience as a result. Furthermore, group chats in Signal are end-to-end encrypted without a problem.
WhatsApp is almost identical to Signal in this regard, seeing as how all WhatsApp conversations are end-to-end encrypted by default. This means that only you and the person you're messaging can see the contents of your conversation and that "nobody in between, not even WhatsApp" can see what you're saying. Similar to Signal, end-to-end encryption carries over to group chats.
This default encryption is why you can only be logged in to WhatsApp on one phone at a time. It adds less convenience to the overall experience, but if you want peace-of-mind that all of your conversations are as secure as can be, WhatsApp gives you that high-level encryption without you having to think twice about it.
Best Encryption: Signal and WhatsApp
This one is a tie. Signal and WhatsApp both offer end-to-end encryption by default, making them considerably more secure than Telegram. While you can technically get end-to-end encryption in Telegram, the implementation isn't nearly as seamless or functional.
Privacy and security
We may share your personal data with: (1) our parent company, Telegram Group Inc, located in the British Virgin Islands; and (2) Telegram FZ-LLC, a group member located in Dubai, to help provide, improve and support our Services. We will implement appropriate safeguards to protect the security and integrity of that personal data. This will take the form of standard contract clauses approved by the European Commission in an agreement between us and our relevant group companies.
Telegram also has the right to share your data with law enforcement authorities if it "receives a court order that confirms you're a terror suspect." For what it's worth, Telegram says this has yet to happen and will be fully transparent if it ever does.
For example, our Third-Party Providers send a verification code to your phone number when you register for our Services. These providers are bound by their Privacy Policies to safeguard that information. If you use other Third-Party Services like YouTube, Spotify, Giphy, etc. in connection with our Services, their Terms and Privacy Policies govern your use of those services.
Signal also outlines other instances in which your data may need to be shared. These include:
- To meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process, or enforceable governmental request.
- To enforce applicable Terms, including investigation of potential violations.
- To detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security, or technical issues.
- To protect against harm to the rights, property, or safety of Signal, our users, or the public as required or permitted by law.
Beginning May 15, 2021, WhatsApp will share the following with Facebook:
- Profile name
- Profile picture
- IP address
- Phone number and contacts list
- App logs
- Status messages
Furthermore, WhatsApp notes that:
As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information (see here) with, the other Facebook Companies.
We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products.
Should you choose not to accept these new terms on May 15, you'll no longer be able to use WhatsApp.
Best Privacy & Security: Signal
Messaging apps tend to be some of our most-used applications, and as such, you want to make sure whichever service you choose has a functional and pleasing app to interact with. In the case of Telegram, that's exactly what you get.
Your home page shows a list of all your ongoing conversations, and if you tap the search icon in the upper-right corner, you can easily look up chats, files, and contacts. All of your other settings are hidden in the hamburger menu, with this revealing a bunch of different options — ranging from starting a new group, viewing your call history, looking up saved messages, and more.
I think Telegram could benefit from a bottom navigation bar to more-easily present some of these features, but after spending some time navigating through the app and seeing where everything is, it doesn't take too long to get comfortable with it.
Signal has a very similar UI compared to Telegram, which is to say it's very minimal and easy to navigate. Ongoing conversations are presented on your home screen, and if you need to look something up, there's a search function at the top of the screen.
Tapping the three dots next to the search tool reveals the rest of your options, allowing you to start a new group, mark messages as read, invite friends, or dive into your settings. I personally prefer the presentation of Telegram, but at the end of the day, both apps are effectively showing all of the same information.
WhatsApp's interface also has a lot in common with Telegram and Signal, but of the three apps mentioned here, it definitely has the most going on with its home screens.
The default page in WhatsApp shows all of your conversations, and if you need to do a quick search, you have that functionality at the top of the screen. Unlike Telegram and Signal, though, there's more you can do without having to open a hamburger or overflow menu.
To the left of the Chats page is a shortcut for quickly taking a photo or video, and once you've captured something, you can either post it to your Status or send it directly to one of your contacts. You'll also find two other pages to the right of your Chats, including dedicated pages for WhatsApp Status (aka stories) and your call history.
To access the settings, create a new group, and more, you just need to tap the three dots in the upper-right corner to view the overflow menu.
Best App Interface: Tie
Considering that design is such a subjective topic, we're going to call this one a tie. Telegram and Signal are both good picks if you want a messaging app with a super-clean interface, but for folks that would rather have something a bit more functional, WhatsApp may be a better fit.
Telegram offers robust customization features for users to tinker with, making it a fantastic choice if you want to fine-tune your messaging experience to your exact liking. Taking a quick look at the Chat Settings page in the Telegram app, here's just a small taste of what you can change:
- Message text size
- Color theme
- Message corners
- Auto-night mode
- Emoji animations
You'll notice that Signal and WhatsApp look to offer similar customization options on paper, but when it comes to how some of these things are implemented, Telegram goes the extra mile to put more control in your hands.
You can use basic light/dark modes for your theme, but if that's not enough, you can also customize the background and message bubble colors to virtually anything you can think of. You also have incredibly granular control over your messages' text size, with Telegram giving you a slider that ranges between 12 and 30.
By comparison, Signal's customization options are a lot less impressive. You can change the app's theme, but only to a light or dark mode. You're able to adjust message text size, though you're limited to four pre-set options. Similar functionality is there, just in a lesser capacity.
Some users may be perfectly fine with the customization features Signal provides, but compared to Telegram, it is objectively weaker.
You'll find a Chat menu within the WhatsApp settings page to customize your time within the app, but similar to Signal, the customization available to you is limited. Theming is restricted to just light and dark modes. You can change the wallpaper behind your conversations and adjust your font size using three options — small, medium, and large.
Unfortunately, there's really not much else to say beyond that.
Best Customization: Telegram
If you want a messaging app that lets you put your own personal touch on just about everything, you'll feel right at home with Telegram. With customization tools that go far beyond what Signal and WhatsApp provide, it's the clear winner for this category.
There are a lot of different features that go into making a robust messaging app, and taking a look at all three of the services we're talking about, each one packs a pretty heavy punch. Here's a breakdown of all the biggest features and how each app stacks up.
|End-to-end encryption||✔️ (Secret Chats)||✔️||✔️|
|File size limit||2GB||100MB||100MB|
|Group chat size||200,000||1,000||256|
Best Chat Features: Telegram
As you can see, Telegram offers the largest feature-set compared to Signal and WhatsApp. That obviously comes at the cost of the added security you get with its competitors, but we still have to give Telegram credit for cramming so much into its app while still providing a clean and easy-to-understand interface.
Telegram is one of the go-to apps for group messaging, and taking a look at everything the app offers, and it's easy to see why. Not only does Telegram allow for the largest group chats (up to 200,000 people), the features you get within the chats are also the most expansive. Here's what you get:
- Username mentions
- Replies to specific messages
- Pinned messages
- Invite links
- Public groups
- Bot support
- Various admin tools
You don't necessarily need all of these features if you just want to have a simple group chat with your friends, but if you're looking to take group messaging to the next level, Telegram has you covered.
Signal is a great platform for group chats, and just like your individual conversations, group chats are backed by the same level of end-to-end encryption. As far as size limits go, you can have up to 1000 people in a single chat.
You also get a few useful features for your group chatting, including:
- Invite via link or QR code
- Username mentions
- Admin controls (remove members, edit group info, etc.)
Group chats are also supported in WhatsApp, but out of all the services on this list, it's the less expansive of the three. You can only have up to 256 people in a single group chat, and while that may be more than enough for some users, it could be an issue if you want group chats with as many people as possible.
As far as group chat features go, the core aspects are there. You can set limits on who can/can't join your group, admins can set certain messages to only be sent to other admins, and username mentions are supported.
Best for Group Messaging: Telegram & Signal
Telegram and Signal both stand out in this category. If you want the most possible features and support for as many people as possible, Telegram is an easy recommendation. If you're OK with a slightly less expansive feature-set in exchange for end-to-end encryption, Signal is the way to go.
Voice and video calls are both supported in Telegram, allowing you to converse beyond text-based chat. Voice calls are end-to-end encrypted using the same technology behind Secret Chats and using peer-to-peer connections, and Telegram says you get "crystal-clear quality" with the best audio codecs.
Telegram also uses AI to improve your video calls over time. Per the Telegram website:
Each time you make a Voice Call on Telegram, a neural network learns from your and your device's feedback (naturally, it doesn't have access to the contents of the conversation, it has only technical information such as network speed, ping times, packet loss percentage, etc.). The machine optimizes dozens of parameters based on this input, improving the quality of future calls on the given device and network.
Another perk is that Telegram supports group voice chats. If you're in a group chat and want to actually hear your friends' voice, you can instantly start a voice chat room within the group chat and talk to anyone that wants to join. Even better, there's no limit to how many people can join these group chats.
Voice and video calling is also supported in Signal, and compared to Telegram, you'll find a lot of the same great features. Here's the rundown:
- End-to-end encryption for one-on-one voice and video calls
- Group calling within group chats
- Customizable settings to change the layout and your speaker/microphone options
However, something to take note of is that group calls are limited to a maximum of 8 people. That should be plenty if you just have a few friends you want to chat with, but if you're looking for larger group conversations where lots of people can join-in, Telegram is the better fit.
The voice/video calling experience for WhatsApp is pretty similar to that of Signal, which is to say there's a lot to like. Voice and video calls are available, and like the other two apps, they're backed by end-to-end encryption. Group calling is also supported, though the implementation is a bit different.
Just like Signal, WhatsApp group calls are limited to 8 people at a time.
Best for Voice & Video Calls: Telegram
Signal and WhatsApp have strong foundations for voice and video calling, but again, Telegram does a little bit more to come out ahead. All three platforms are basically identical for one-to-one calls, but when you factor in group calling, the expanded nature of Telegram's system is the clear winner.
With all of that said, where does that leave us? If all we're doing is picking a winner based on which app won the most categories, it's Telegram. However, the longer answer is more complicated.
Telegram is a fantastic app in more ways than one — it's the messaging service I primarily use for a lot of my conversations. The lack of any device limit and broad app availability makes it one of the most accessible messaging apps out there. It's filled to the brim with customization options and features, and I really like Telegram's interface. For my priorities, it's the best of the bunch.
Depending on where your needs lie, any of these apps could be a good fit for you.
But that's coming from someone who doesn't really care about having end-to-end encryption for all of my conversations. If you're more concerned about your digital privacy and want a messaging app where you don't have to think twice about things being encrypted, WhatsApp or Signal are much better choices. And given the impending policy changes coming to WhatsApp that'll further increase its ties to Facebook, users that have privacy/security at top of mind will be most comfortable with Signal.
As for WhatsApp, the best thing it has going for it is its massive user base. WhatsApp is still the #1 most used messaging app in the entire world, and if your friends/family are still using the app as their preferred platform, that may be where you have to stay for the time being.
All three of these apps do certain things better than the rest — it's up to you to figure out where your priorities lie and whether Telegram, Signal, or WhatsApp accommodates them the way you want. With that in mind and after reading through this guide, hopefully, you have a better idea of where you should go.