If you’ve ever owned a Blackberry and LOVED Blackberry Messenger (BBM), it’s basically the same exact thing – but instead of being closed to JUST BlackBerry owners (R.I.P. RIM) it works across all mobile platforms (so if you have iPhone you can message someone with an Android phone or vice versa). If you’ve never owned a Blackberry, think of it as a chat/IM service – but one that doesn’t require you to proactively log in or be “online.”
The major difference between WhatsApp and traditional texting is that instead of being billed on a per message basis or requiring you pay for a bundle of text messages, WhatsApp uses your cellular data or WiFi. While this does require you to have a data package on your cell phone plan if you want to be able to use WhatsApp away from a location that has WiFi, most carriers now require you to add a data package to your plan when you purchase a smartphone anyways. In other words, if you get email and internet on your phone you already have this feature. The other good news is that the amount of cellular data that WhatsApp uses is so small, that you can literally send hundreds of messages and never hit your data limit. And if you ARE worried about hitting your data limit, WhatsApp provides a helpful Data Usage counter so you can easily track all of this. I know the terms kilobytes (KB)/megabytes(MB)/gigabytes(GB) sound terrifyingly complicated, but I assure you I am extremely “math challenged” and end up using a conversion calculator like the one found here when my brain wants to explode from trying to comprehend what this nonsense means. Most cell phone companies also allow you to check your data usage via customer service, their website or right from your phone, so you honestly shouldn’t be too worried about this as long as you have a general idea how much data you’re using.
- Easy set-up –all you need is a phone # – no need to create and remember a username/password. After the initial set-up you can use WhatsApp over WiFi.
- Favorites List – once you install WhatsApp, you can have the app scan through your phone’s contact list and it will recognize anyone that has WhatsApp downloaded on their phone. This prevents you from having to “find” your friends that are also using the app, and gives you a nice base of people to chat with right off the bat. You can then add your BFFs to a “Favorites List” to easily view their statuses and initiate a conversation.
- Invite your Friends – to chat with your friends they need the app on their phone as well – but it’s really easy to invite people directly from inside the app.
- Group Chat –pretty self-explanatory – think old-school AOL chat room or GChat group chat. Very helpful for coordinating dinners or other group activities, and sending photos to multiple people at the same time. This is similar to group SMS on your phone, but it has a much cleaner, more organized look. Find it located under “Chats” → “New Group”, and you can add up to 10 people.
- Send Media to Friends – Whatsapp makes it really easy to send media to friends and family. You can send photos, contacts, a little map of your location and even cheesy “audio notes” if you want to add a personal touch to your message. As an aside, one fun way I’ve used the audio note feature is to play a “Name That Song” game. I’ve captured a short audio recording of a song by holding my phone up to a speaker, sent it to a friend and then had them try to guess the name of the song. Nerd alert, I know – but most of my friends live in different states. And you’d be surprised how entertaining this can be on a boring cross-country roadtrip.
- International Texting – sending and receiving texts when you or a friend are in a different country will typically cost anywhere from $0.10 – $0.50 per message (sometimes even more!). If you have an international data package, a pay-as-you-go SIM card or plentiful WiFi access, you no longer have to worry about being hit with these absurd fees and can still text freely with someone no matter where either of you are located.
- Other Fun Features – upload a customized background for your chat screen, add a personalized profile picture and status message and download Emoji (for Android here) for access to hundreds of awesome/ridiculous emoticons.