You don’t always have to squint at a 6-inch screen and tap out your communications on a little touch keyboard. Most messaging apps now let you use your laptop or desktop computer as well as your phone. Here are all the options you’ve got across SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp and more.
If only every messaging-app-to-computer connection was as simple as the one between Messages on iOS/iPadOS and Messages on macOS. Everything gets set up automatically and works (almost) seamlessly, which is great if Apple hardware and iMessage is all you ever want to use.
To use iMessage (Apple’s own instant messaging service) on your Mac, just sign in with your Apple ID when you launch the Messages app (to do it later, choose Messages, Preferences, then iMessage from inside the app). You’ll also need iMessage enabled on your iPhone (check Messages in Settings).
This won’t work with SMS/MMS for your non-iMessage friends by default. To get this working, go to Messages in Settings on iOS, tap Text Message Forwarding, and make sure your Mac is enabled. Next, from the main Settings screen, tap your name and iCloud, then toggle Messages on.
In Messages on the Mac, choose Messages, Preferences, and iMessage, then make sure your number is selected and that the Enable Messages in iCloud box is ticked.
With all that done, your SMS/MMS messages should sync too, but it can be a little temperamental in our experience. If you run into problems try restarting your Mac and/or your iPhone, or turning iMessage off and on again — anything that can reset the connection and get Apple’s servers to run the sync again.
Microsoft’s Your Phone Companion
There’s nothing quite so slick built into Windows, but Microsoft is continually improving its Your Phone app: search for it from the taskbar if you haven’t tried it out yet. It only works with Android phones, as you might expect considering iOS doesn’t give any other app text message access, and you also need the Your Phone Companion app for Android installed.
It’s just a question of signing in with your Microsoft ID and linking your phone number, and your text messages then show up by magic. You can compose new messages and respond to existing ones right from your laptop or desktop and leave your phone in your pocket — in fact it’s almost as good as iMessage.
Android users can also make use of Android Messages on the web, which obviously works across Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, and everywhere else you can access a browser. The first time you load up the site, you’ll be shown a QR code: From Messages on your Android phone, tap the three dots (top right), then Messages for web to scan it.
While the options built into Windows and macOS can certainly do a job for you, you might prefer enlisting the help of a third-party service instead. Third-party apps tend to have more robust support across platforms and you’ve got a number of them to pick from.
Pushbullet is a long-time Field Guide favourite and once you’ve registered an account on the web, installed the Android app, signed in with the same account, and worked through the brief setup process, you’ll be able to send and receive text messages through the Pushbullet web interface on Windows and macOS (there’s also a dedicated desktop app for Windows you can use).
You can also reply to messages in a handful of apps, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, via the Pushbullet Chrome extension — it should just work automatically once you sign in. In this case you can only reply to messages using the notification that pops up though, so it’s not a full sync of all your conversations.
Also of note and similar to Pushbullet is EasyJoin Pro. It works with SMS, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger, and you’ll need the Android app installed as well. Sign into EasyJoin with the same account on your phone and your computer (web, Windows, and macOS apps are available), and you’ll be guided through the simple process of getting message syncing set up.
The only drawback is that the mobile app costs $14, but you get a ton of other functionality for your money — clipboard and notification syncing, easy file and folder transfer, and more. If you need a seriously powerful solution for keeping an Android phone and a computer connected, it’s worth the investment.
MightyText is another long-running SMS syncing tool, which works in a similar way to the applications we’ve already mentioned. Get the app for Android, and it’ll sync with a desktop app for Windows or macOS, or with MightyText on the web — your Google account provides the connection.
MightyText is a little more comprehensive than Pushbullet, but not quite as polished. As well as sending and receiving text messages, you can also delete them very easily, and sync photos and videos from your phone as well. Sign up for MightyText Pro (about $15 a month or $120 a year), and you can schedule SMS messages to be sent at a certain time, and access a few other advanced features.
Desktop and web apps
We’ve already mentioned Android Messages on the web, but plenty of other messaging apps can be loaded up in any web browser as well — more than you might have realised. You can enjoy the convenience of typing out your communications using a full-sized keyboard and then just close down the browser tab when you’re done.
Facebook Messenger is one of the best-known ones, and the dedicated Messenger website works a lot better than the main Facebook site — fewer distractions, a better design, more useful features. You can easily search through conversations, set specific colours for each chat, and even configure custom emojis to replace the default thumbs-up.
Just sign in with your Facebook account and you’re up and running. Click on a conversation to carry on with it, use the search box to find older conversations, or start a new chat with the compose button up at the top on the left. You can have your browser alert you to new messages too, if you want.
Whatsapp is on the web too — you’ll be shown a QR code, which you can scan with WhatsApp on your phone by tapping the three dots in the top left then WhatsApp Web (Android), or by tapping the Settings cog icon then WhatsApp Web (iPhone). The web app lets you enable or disable desktop notifications, and you can still throw in GIFs and stickers and emojis, and transfer files, just like you can in the mobile apps.
If you need more than the web interface, there are also desktop apps for Windows and macOS. The experience isn’t hugely different from the one you get in your browser, though you might prefer running something in a separate app, and it’s a little quicker. The connection process is exactly the same as it is for the web app.
There are more too: Signal is available as a desktop app or as an extension for your browser. Telegram can be loaded up in a desktop app or in your browser. You simply sign in with your account or using your mobile phone number and all your messages are synced across, ready to be viewed and replied to on your computer.
Many of the most popular apps can be covered to some extent from your laptop or desktop computer, though not all of them — we’re still waiting for messaging to be added to Instagram on the web, for example, while Snapchat remains very much mobile-only (which seems to be a deliberate decision).