Group chats are invaluable to any team, band, workplace, or clique. But if you want to avoid the hellfire of SMS group texts, then you and your friends need to agree on a single app. Here are a few of our favorites, along with some notes on why they might be right for you.
What to Look for in a Group Messaging App
All group messaging apps have their quirks. Some have the look and feel of texting, while others are built explicitly for workplaces or gamers. So, before we start looking at apps, let’s take a second to go over some of the features that may be important to you.
- Live Chatting: Every app in this article is built for “live chatting.” In other words, they feel more like chat rooms than text messages. They have read receipts and typing bubbles (even in groups), and messages are sent and received without much lag.
- Voice Video Chat: Most group chat apps, including Instagram and Facebook, support group voice and video chat.
- File Sharing: You can share photos with any group chat app. Only a few services, however, like Whatsapp, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, allow you to send documents and files.
- Channels: It’s hard to separate conversations in a group chat. So, some chat apps, like Slack, Discord, and Microsoft Teams, have a “channels” feature that allows you to easily organize and jump between conversations.
- Statuses: Some of these apps, like Slack and Discord, allow you to set a public status. This way, friends know that you’re “online,” “away,” in a meeting, or getting your hair cut. Statuses are useful for workplaces and internet-centric friend groups, but they’re rarely useful for sports teams, schoolmates, bands, or fraternities.
- Multi-Platform Use: Most of these apps are cross-platform, which means that you can access them through any tablet or PC. (There are a few exceptions—Instagram messenger is difficult to use from a computer or tablet, and iMessage is stuck in Apple’s ecosystem).
- App Integration: Services like Google Calendar are helpful when you’re working with a group. But only a few group chat apps, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, actually integrate with third-party services.
Now that you’re caught up on some group chat features, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Behold, the best group chat apps.
Keep It Simple: Facebook Messenger and Instagram
Why overcomplicate things? Most people have a Facebook or Instagram account, and both services are perfect for group chats. They have live-chatting features and built-in voice and video calls, and some group chat customization features (like nicknames or colored text bubbles).
And, let’s not forget that Facebook Messenger is fully integrated with Facebook Groups. This means that, through Facebook, you and your friends can share files, coordinate events (with push notifications), and easily invite anyone to your group.
Instagram’s chatting features don’t work well on computers or tablets, but this may change in the near future.
Like Texting, but Better: WhatsApp
If you want a robust group chat app that feels like texting, then WhatsApp is your best bet. The Facebook-owned service feels like SMS, but with snappy live-chatting features, video and audio calls, statuses, and the ability to send documents and files to friends. And, while the service is linked to your phone number, you can use WhatsApp on any device, including your computer.
WhatsApp comes with a year-long free trial. After a year, the service costs just $1 a month.
Flexible and Multi-Platform: Discord
Discord is targeted toward gamers, but the service is designed in a way that’s perfect for students, sports teams, or hobbyists who share an interest. As the leader of a group, you can create a free discord server with all sorts of channels. These channels act as separate (but connected) chatrooms, so you can easily divide conversations by topic or hold secret conversations with other group leaders.
Feature-wise, Discord has just about everything that you could ask for. It’s got statuses, voice chat, customizable emojis, and even file sharing. It works on any platform, and it’s totally free. The only obvious drawback is that it doesn’t have voice chat. And unlike Slack, Discord can’t pair with many third-party services (like Google Calendar).
Best for Businesses: Slack
Slack is like a freemium version of Discord. The business-oriented instant messenger is made up of servers and channels, and it’s packed with familiar features like statuses, file sharing, and custom emoji.
But unlike Discord, Slack works beautifully with third-party services. Its Google integration is fantastic—you can easily share or edit Google documents or calendar events right from the Slack chat. The service also works with apps like Zendesk, Trello, and GitHub, and it has built-in video and voice calls. It also supports Threads, which keep conversations (and your notifications) tied to specific messages.
The free version of Slack works for most small groups, but larger groups may want to pay for a premium plan, which allows for upgraded storage, unlimited messages, and unlimited channels.
Great for Office 365 Users: Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is a freemium group messaging client that’s aimed toward Office 365 users. If you work for a business that uses Microsoft Office products, then Teams is a great option. It shares many features with Slack, including threads, video calls, and file sharing. And, because Teams is integrated with Office, you can edit documents with your teammates right through the Teams application.
But again, Teams is mostly a service for Office 365 users. It doesn’t integrate with third-party apps, so you won’t get much use out of Google Calendar or Trello. It’s a great option for groups who use Microsoft software, but it may be too limited for others.
When Everybody Has an iPhone: iMessage and Facetime
Apple iMessage is fantastic. Its live chat features and integration with Facetime feel super slick, and its connection to services like Apple Music and Apple Pay is a luxury. If everyone in your group has an iPhone, then you’re already using an amazing group chatting app.
Of course, not everyone has an iPhone. One Android user can spoil the iMessage experience with their green text bubbles. If your group is host to an Android user, then WhatsApp is the closest you’ll get to that iMessage chatting experience.