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The Best Android Messaging Apps in a Crowded Field


Q. Now that Google has finally updated the Google Voice app, should I use that instead of Hangouts? Or is there another messaging app I should consider?


A. Google’s announcement Monday that it was readying the first major update to its Google Voice apps in “several years” confused many people who had long since switched to Google’s Hangouts apps for calls and texts with a Google Voice number as well as voicemail with their regular cell number.
Google’s post offered only vague guidance about whether a Hangouts user should switch: “There’s no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to bring new improvements.”


Google PR, however noted some basic differences between these two ways to use Google Voice — the calling service it launched in 2009 that lets users get an additional phone number in the area code of their choice and use that for free domestic and cheap international calls.
The new Google Voice apps — available now for iOS, still rolling out on Android — let you search your messages and voicemail transcripts and provides more customization, including an option to forward your Google Voice text messages to another number. The Android app will also let you call from your Google Voice number using the regular Android dialer.


Hangouts, however, also does video calling, both one-to-one and group calling. Google says it will focus this app for business use and suggests home users looking for video calls switch to yet another app, Duo. That iOS and Android program, however, doesn’t allow group video chats.
If you don’t need the voicemail features of the Google Voice and Hangouts apps — both let you play back messages in any order and provide automated, sometimes unintentionally hilarious transcriptions of them — you can use yet another Google messaging app.


Allo, a free download for iOS and Android, can exchange text messages with regular phones but also supports such formatting extras as stickers and varying text sizes in Allo-to-Allo chats. It connects you to Google Assistant, the automated helper that runs inside Google’s Home smart-home hub and its Pixel phones.
In addition, Allo lets you protect a conversation with end-to-end encryption that scrambles your messages against eavesdropping. It doesn’t officially support use with a Google Voice number, but Allo users have said that works too. Two other messaging apps use your mobile number as your username but provide much more security.


WhatsApp, the app Facebook bought for $16 billion in 2014, does text messaging and voice calls over your Internet connection, all encrypted end-to-end by default. This free app sees wide use outside the U.S., where many phone plans don’t include unlimited text messaging. But you can’t use it to chat with people who aren’t on WhatsApp.
Open Whisper Systems’ free Signal also provides end-to-end encryption for messages and calls and allows you to send self-destructing messages that will erase themselves in as little as five seconds or as long as one week after being read. In addition, this app can replace your regular text-messaging app.


Although neither WhatsApp nor Signal support Google Voice directly, a quick workaround can set up both with a Google number. Instead of having each confirm your ownership of those digits by sending a text message, use the backup option of an automated call. You’ll hear a custom code read out, which you then plug into the app.


The Best Android Messaging Apps in a Crowded Field Reviewed by Aderoju Olaitan on 12:53 pm Rating: 5
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