I’m a tech kind guy, but not really a text kind of guy.
So I don’t have a texting plan with my mobile phone carrier. I just pay-as-I-go for texting.
But this past weekend a friend of mine who plans to spend about a month in Italy soon, convinced me to get an try out the “WhatsApp” smartphone messaging app.
Here’s what I discovered.
How WhatsApp Works, What it Costs
The developer of WhatsApp says this is how the messaging app works:
“WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and yes, those phones can all message each other! Because WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no cost to message and stay in touch with your friends.
“In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.”
That means you don’t need a separate texting plan from your mobile phone carrier, nor will you be charged by-the-text. Texting is “free” for anyone who has a smartphone on which WhatsApp works.
“Free” is one of my favorite words. But of course, just like “Free Lunch,” there can be some restrictions on how “free” your use of WhatsApp will be. For example, if you are “roaming,” your carrier’s mobile data charges may apply.
And while the WhatsApp app is free to download, you only get to use it for free for the first year. After that, you’re going to have to pony up a whopping $0.99 (that’s 99 cents) per year to continue to use the service. But that charge which you’ll ultimately pay is the reason that there are no ads in WhatsApp.
Who Needs the App?
Everyone who has an iPhone has the capability to send text messages. And if you are sending a text message to someone else who has an iPhone, its supposed to cost you nothing.
But WhatsApp will only work if the person to whom you are sending a text has the WhatsApp app installed and activated on their phone.
The good news is that when you download the WhatsApp app to your phone, the app should automatically detect those in your phone’s Contact list who already have the app on their smartphones.
From within the WhatsApp app, follow these directions to “invite” those who don’t as yet have it installed and activated on their phones to do so.
Will WhatsApp Work on My Phone?
No problem for me using WhatsApp on my iPhone. To determine if it will work on your make and model of smartphone, check this list of supported mobile devices. (And no, unlike the iOS messaging app that is “native” to the iPad, WhatsApp is not available for Apple’s popular tablet computer.)
Like other messaging apps, you can set WhatsApp to send you “push notifications” when you receive a message sent by someone using the app. You can select “Banners” (which appear at the top of your phone’s screen) or “Alerts” (which show up in mid-screen), and turn on “Sounds.”
If you set WhatsApp to do so, it will show those notifications on your phone’s “Lock Screen.”
I had considerable difficulty getting the notifications set up properly so I wouldn’t miss an incoming WhatsApp message. I recommend selecting “Alerts,” with “Sound” and lock screen notification turned on.
WhatsApp lets you record and immediately send a voice message instead of a text message. The process may be slightly different depending on the make/model of smartphone you have, so check out these instructions for sending voice messages.
This video shows how voice messaging works.
In testing voice messaging with a friend (who also has an iPhone), I found the audio quality very clear and sending and playing voice messages very simple to do.
The WhatsApp app lets you share media (such as photos and videos), contacts and your location.
You can “shoot and share” either new photos or videos, or share ones already on your phone.
All or part of a person’s contact information can be shared with other people.
You can let others know your exact map location or the location of places near you, such as restaurants.
The method for such sharing may vary depending on the type of phone your own, so click her to get directions for your mobile device.
Be a “Broadcaster”
E-mail programs let you send out messages to multiple people by “bcc” (blind carbon copy) so that not everyone receiving the e-mail sees every recipient’s e-mail address. WhatsApp’s “Broadcast Message” feature works the same way.
You can save a list of contacts to a “Broadcast List” to make it easy to send messages to the same group of people at any time in the future.
In order for someone to receive your “Broadcast Message” they must have your phone number in their smartphone’s address book.
While “Broadcast Message” lets you send out a “blast e-mail” to multiple people, WhatsApp’s “Group Chat” allows you to add up 50 people to a “Group,” and set up as many as 50 such groups for chatting.
You’ll be the “Administrator” running the “Group Chat” and, as with other WhatsApp features, Group Chat may work differently on different types of phones.
“Do Not Call” List
One of the confusing aspects of WhatsApp is that when you view a Contact with the app, you’ll see two boxes under the person’s name: “Call” and “Info.”
Clicking on “Info” displays all of that person’s information in your smartphone’s Contact list or Address Book.
Clicking on “Call” will indeed place a phone call to that person. But as the WhatsApp Website says:
“WhatsApp does not provide a calling feature. If you see a Call button within WhatsApp, it is the same as using the Call button on your phone. Thus, mobile provider calling rates apply for phone calls made using the Call button within WhatsApp.”
Backup and Export
Creating a backup copy of WhatsApp messages or exporting chat history is possible on some phones.
As with social media apps, WhatsApp allows you to set up a “Profile” with a photo and your “Status.”
Is WhatsApp Worth It?
WhatsApp is “free,” more or less. I like the fact that it works on a multitude of phones, and that when you install it, the app “knows” who in your Contact list is a WhatsApp user.
Sending and receiving messages is simple. And it effectively operates as a “free” voice mail sending device since you can send voice messages of any length.
The WhatsApp Website provides the answers to about any question that one might ask about how to use the app.
The only question in my mind is what will Facebook, which bought WhatsApp for $19 billion (no, that’s not a typo), do with the app in the long run, although its says that for now nothing will change for users (and hopefully that means, there will continue to be no ads in the app)?
In the next month or so, I’ll be giving WhatsApp a run for Facebook’s money, hopefully spending none of my own to take it on a full “shake down cruise.”