If you've picked up a new phone recently, chances are you have a couple of instant messaging clients installed on it. I've got eight — too many. In trying to cut down the number of ways I talk to all my different friends and acquaintances and coworkers, though, I've convinced two of my most regularly used group chats — one on Facebook Messenger, and one on iMessage — to move over to Signal. And that's because Signal is the best messaging service out there — here is why.
Everyone should be using Signal already. It's the only effectively secure over-the-top messaging service at the moment — although there are secure elements in Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, Facebook relies on you to enable its Secret Conversations manually and Whatsapp stores message records on its servers.
The biggest advantage that iMessage has for Mac users and that Facebook Messenger has for everyone is that they're both easily usable when you're not at your phone. Apple's iMessage continuity is the gold standard in device-to-device switching, but Signal gets the lion's share of that usefulness thanks to this Chrome extension, which can be securely linked to your smartphone to mirror all the messages you're sending.
Signal integrates with your phone's SMS, too, at least on Android devices — Apple doesn't like to play ball nicely with letting people away from using iMessage for everything. Integrating with SMS means you don't need to use Google's Messenger app or your phone's inbuilt SMS app, keeping all your conversation threads — secure and unsecure — in one place. Signal makes it clear when you're sending messages securely, but also eliminates having to switch over to SMS when you're talking to anyone that isn't on Signal.
Group chats on Signal work well, even though it's built on the basis of offering secure person-to-person communication. Facebook may have the critical mass of users that means everyone has it if you want to chat to them — it's the reason I started using it again. The same is true of everyone who's bought into the Apple ecosystem in the past. But if you're thinking of switching away from either, Signal should be your default choice.
I only have one complaint about Signal. It's not really built for sharing photos or for throwing emojis up on screen — they're basically sent as attachments, and the upload and viewing process isn't nearly as seamless as on basically any other messaging app. Similarly, there's no live preview of any links sent. But if your group chats aren't built around sending each other funny cat GIFs and YouTube videos — if they're mainly for chatting — then Signal works extremely well.
There are other replacements for iMessage and Messenger, sure, especially if one of your key criteria is being able to type away from your desktop PC. But there are reasons not to use them: for example, Google Hangouts has a Chrome extension and also runs a chat window in Gmail, but it's not secure. And everyone should use secure messaging.