The 5 Best Message Apps for Android

Great text messaging apps for your mobile phone

A woman sitting cross-legged and messaging a friend on an Android messenger app.

Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Probably the most popular and useful feature of constant mobile connectivity is being able to reach out to your friends and family anytime, anywhere. That fact only makes your choice of communication tools that much more important. Here are the message apps for Android that deserve your attention.

01
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Android Messages: Best Classic Text Messenger with Bonus Features

Three screens from Android Messages
What We Like
  • It comes pre-installed on most Android phones, so there's a good chance you and your Android user friends have it.

  • Has a nice web interface for texting from your computer.

What We Don't Like
  • The connection between the Android app and the web interface can be finicky at times.

  • It's not cross-platform, so your iOS friends are left out.

Android Messages is an easy drop-in replacement for an SMS (i.e. regular old texting) app, and for some Android devices, it ships as the only SMS app. But Google’s plans for Android Messages are so much grander than that, and it all starts with the tweaks under the hood.

Basically, Android wants to send more media-rich messages than SMS was designed to accommodate by delivering messages over the internet rather than SMS cell networks. Just like any SMS app, you can send a regular text message to any mobile device with it, as well as photos over MMS.

However, when connecting with another Android Messages user, you can add other media like stickers and videos. Google has also since rolled Messages for web for Google Chrome; after a quick QR code setup, as long as your phone is on the same Wi-Fi network or a cellular network, you can message from your phone or computer.

02
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Google Hangouts: Best Unified Text, Audio, and Video Chat App

Three screens from Hangouts on Android
What We Like
  • It's cross-platform and built into Gmail by default.

  • IM, video, and audio chatting come bundled together

What We Don't Like
  • Hangouts will also not survive Google's messaging app cull looming in a few years.

While it's not Google's shiniest service, Hangouts is still a versatile cross-platform messenger. Hangouts gives you IM, VoIP, and full video conferencing all in one app. And because Hangouts is built right into Gmail, it lets you talk to practically anyone with a Gmail account; you can instantly ping anyone with Gmail open on Chrome, or with anyone with the Hangouts app installed on iOS or Android. All of this comes with the peace of mind of industry standard encryption. 

03
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Signal: Best Secure and Usable Mobile Communication App

Three screens from Signal for Android
What We Like
  • Signal leads the industry in end-to-end encrypted messaging, and implements it in a simple way.

  • It has some nice features that other "full-featured" messengers don't have, like audio messages and file transfer.

What We Don't Like
  • Its small team and shoestring budget mean some features are still patchy, like audio calling.

  • Since it's not a Google service, your phone doesn't integrate it as well, like denying the ability to answer calls from the lock screen.

Initially catering to the privacy-conscious at its debut, Signal has gained an immense following and a bevy of features over the last few years.

The core of Signal’s experience is SMS-like internet messaging protected automatically with state-of-the-art encryption. Along with texts, though, Signal lets you voice and video call other Signal users with the same effortless encrypted protection. It even lets the more paranoid users enable extra privacy/security features, such as disappearing messages, screenshot blocking, and generic lockscreen notifications saying you have a new message, but without the message text or sender name.

Despite its focus on security and simplicity, Signal offers modern comforts like emojis and stickers, and also novel features like leaving recorded voice messages or even sending files. 

04
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WhatsApp: Best Messenger-Social Network Hybrid App

Three screens from WhatsApp for Android
What We Like
  • WhatsApp blurs the line between messenger and photo-first social media in an elegant and intuitive way.

  • There is a plethora of supported media, so you can express yourself however you want.

What We Don't Like
  • Its social media flavor also carries some of the downsides of social media, like getting roped into long threads by other friends.

  • Privacy features aren't enabled by default.

Anyone even remotely familiar with the Google Play Store knows it's saturated with messengers. What makes WhatsApp stand out from the rest is it bridges the gap between a traditional messaging app and a social network.

WhatsApp starts with a solid messenger and layers on social network-style features like status messages and status photos, all while emphasizing photo capture and sharing. Not only does its built-in camera give you a handful of Instagram-quality filters, but it puts the camera in a tab just one swipe away from the home screen. Far from coming off as gimmicky, WhatsApp manages to blend these influences in a way that feels freeing.

This social networking feel doesn’t come at the expense of privacy, though. In settings, you can choose who is allowed to see your status messages and photos. On top of all that, the app is encrypted with the same ironclad protocols that Signal employs. Overall, WhatsApp serves up messaging with a social media twist, topped off with best-in-class encryption. 

05
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Skype: Best App for Crystal Clear Calls and More

Three screens from Skype for Android
What We Like
  • It has a solid messaging system that runs on every major mobile and desktop OS.

  • You can't beat Skype's crystal-clear quality.

What We Don't Like
  • Skype doesn't do much besides IM and calls.

  • Skype spam.

Skype has been a major player in video conferencing for a while now, making a name for itself with snappy video calls with high-quality audio.

Along with calling, Skype also allows modern instant messaging between any mobile devices with a Skype app installed, and any laptops or desktops running a Skype client. This considerable reach is due to its Microsoft backing, and it has continued to profit from this relationship. Chiefly, Microsoft recently integrated Cortana, its own virtual assistant and pseudo-personality, into Skype, so you can message her directly with questions and requests.

Most notably, you can use Skype as your phone, connecting to other Skype accounts, cell phones, and landline phone numbers over VoIP; you can designate Skype as your device’s default “phone” app, elevating the app to the same level of integration as the built-in Phone app.