WhatsApp is a free, multiplatform messaging app that lets you make video and voice calls, send text messages, and more — all with just a Wi-Fi connection.
With over 2 billion active users, WhatsApp is especially popular among friends and family who live in different countries and want to stay in touch.
WhatsApp’s global popularity is due in large part to its accessibility, cross-platform functionality, and simple, straightforward features.
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WhatsApp might be a little-known messaging app in the US, but in many parts of the globe, it’s an essential part of everyday life. The Facebook-owned app is easily one of the most popular messaging services in the world.
To understand WhatsApp’s popularity, you need to understand it was one of the first mobile apps to offer free, internet-based messaging. Instead of sending texts using cellular-data networks, where fees may apply, WhatsApp primarily relies on a Wi-Fi connection to send and receive messages and calls for free.
Fast forward to now: WhatsApp is preferred by over 2 billion users for its ability to streamline communications, no matter their device or location.
Not only is WhatsApp simple to use, it also offers far more features and customizations than traditional SMS messaging — all for free. If you’re already familiar with the app, you may be interested in our favorite WhatsApp tips and tricks.
But if you’re a newbie, you’ll want to check out our guide below. From how to sign up to WhatsApp’s best features, here’s everything you need to know to get started.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
How does WhatsApp work?
The main draw of WhatsApp is it allows you to send and receive calls and messages using only an internet connection, which means it’s virtually free to use and ideal for international calling. There are no fees to sign up, and no data plan allowances to worry about.
While WhatsApp is similar to other messaging services like iMessage or Messages by Google, it still offers a few key advantages, the most significant being cross-platform functionality (between Android and iOS, for example).
At a glance, WhatsApp may seem like nothing more than a text messaging app, but it can do much more. Here’s a brief rundown of WhatsApp’s core features:
Voice and video calls: In addition to voice calls, WhatsApp also offers video calls, including a group function, which allows up to eight participants on one call.
Voice messaging: You can record and send voice messages to individual chats or group chats.
Secure messaging: WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, a secure communication standard where only the people who are messaging can read the messages.
Photos and video sharing: You can send videos, photos, and GIFs without worrying that your images will be pixelated or not downloadable, which can sometimes happen across SMS messages between different mobile platforms and wireless carriers.
Document sharing: WhatsApp lets you send all kinds of documents, such as PDFs, spreadsheets, and slideshows without the hassle of email or separate document-sharing apps.
Desktop access: WhatsApp offers a desktop version for Mac and for PC.
WhatsApp Business: WhatsApp’s dedicated business account is designed so entrepreneurs can showcase their products and connect with their customers on a platform that’s convenient and familiar.
How to use WhatsApp
To get started using WhatsApp, you’ll need to download the app (for iOS or Android) and create an account.
After downloading the app, you’ll notice you need your phone number to create your account. Unlike some other platforms, WhatsApp doesn’t use special usernames. Instead, WhatsApp identifies people by their number. This means anyone who uses WhatsApp is automatically added to your contact list, which makes set up a breeze.
Once you’re up and running, you’ll want to get familiar with what you can do with WhatsApp, from making international calls to sending voice messages.
Sending messages and joining groups
Once you set up your WhatsApp account, you can begin sending messages through the platform either to individual contacts, or to groups.
Starting a chat is easy: In the app, select the “Chats” icon from the menu at the bottom of the screen, then select the “New Chat” icon in the top right corner. From there, you’ll just need to select a contact.
If you’re keen on getting a group chat started, you can host up to 256 participants. Learn how to start a WhatsApp group chat, whether you have an iOS or Android device. Conversely, you may want to know how to join a specific WhatsApp group chat.
Making voice and video calls
In addition to text messaging, you can also make voice or video calls on WhatsApp.
There are several ways to make calls on WhatsApp, though you can only place a call from the mobile app version of WhatsApp, not the desktop version. You can place individual calls or group calls, in both audio or video, for free on WhatsApp.
Making free international calls
As mentioned, free worldwide calling to family and friends is WhatsApp’s most popular feature. As we outlined in our guide to using WhatsApp internationally, if you have access to Wi-Fi, you’ll never have to worry about international restrictions or fees.
Even if you use WhatsApp without a Wi-Fi connection, you’ll simply be dipping into your data usage, rather than accumulating SMS or cellular charges. And with so many mobile plans today offering unlimited data, you might not even need to worry about finding Wi-Fi access.
Sharing photos and other media
WhatsApp is a convenient and free way to send all kinds of media to your friends and family. You can send photos and videos via any individual or group chat, and because WhatsApp uses the internet rather than a cellular-data network, the images will maintain their original resolution quality.
Files you can send on WhatsApp include:
Sending voice messages
In any individual or group chat on WhatsApp, you can send voice messages — a convenient feature if you’re not able to type text, or if you prefer to record your voice to get your point across.
To send a voice message, go to any WhatsApp chat, and hold down the microphone icon to the right of the type text box. You’ll see the timer begin to tick upward as you record. Once you release your finger from the button, your message will immediately send.
Read more about sending voice messages on WhatsApp.
Managing your WhatsApp contacts and messages
Now that you’ve got the basics down, WhatsApp offers a lot of features for managing your contacts and conversations. For example, you may notice one or two check marks appear beside your messages on WhatsApp. The number and color of the check marks indicate whether your message has been sent, delivered or read.
Here’s a short list of some other useful tips:
How to change the chat background: For those who prefer a customized experience, WhatsApp allows you to change the backgrounds of your messages.
How to hide your online status: If you’re concerned about privacy, you can hide your online, or “Last Seen” status.
How to block a contact: If you no longer want to receive messages or calls from a specific contact, there are a few ways you can block them, whether or not you’ve already chatted with them. On the flip side, there’s no way to know for sure if someone blocks you, but there are ways you can make an informed guess.
How to find a contact: What’s a messaging app without friends?
How to add a contact on WhatsApp: Because WhatsApp uses phone numbers, contacts should automatically pull from your contact list. If not, you can manually add in a contact at any time.
How to delete a contact: If you prefer a neat and organized contact list, you can delete any contact on WhatsApp from the “Chats” screen. Keep in mind that number will also be deleted from your phone’s contact list.
How to delete a group chat: If you are the administrator of a group on WhatsApp, you can delete that group, but only after you’ve removed every member of the group chat individually.
How to delete a message: You can delete any message to remove it either just from yourself, or from everyone in the chat. If at any time you would like to recover deleted messages, you can do that, too.
WhatsApp data usage
While WhatsApp’s claim to fame is that it uses an internet connection to send and receive messages, you do have the option to use mobile data if you’re without Wi-Fi.
This is when it pays to keep a close eye on your settings. Luckily, WhatsApp makes it easy to control your data usage.
If you have a limited amount of data and don’t want to be charged data overage fees, you can turn off WhatsApp’s ability to use cellular data, so that it’s only accessible when you have internet access.
To check how much data the app is using, go to the app’s “Settings” menu and select “Data and Storage Usage.” Here, you can change the settings for “Media Auto-Downloads” so that media such as photos, videos, audio, and documents only download when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.
You can also choose to use WhatsApp on a “low data” setting by toggling the “Low Data Usage” switch to “on.” For a more detailed breakdown of your data usage, click “Network Usage” to see how much data you’re using by category, such as messages sent or received, bytes sent or received via chat media, and more.
Privacy and security
One of the reasons WhatsApp is so popular is because, unlike SMS, it uses end-to-end encryption, which means nobody other than the message recipients can view your messages. When you make a call on WhatsApp, third parties are unable to listen in to your conversation.
If you want added security, you can set up two-step verification in WhatsApp’s settings menu. Here you can choose to add a PIN, or personal identification number, to prohibit anyone from maliciously accessing your account.
You can also share your location on WhatsApp, whether you’re trying to meet up with friends or want someone to know exactly where you are. To share your location on WhatsApp, simply tap the “+” icon to the left of the type text box in any chat, and choose “Location.”
The bottom line
WhatsApp helped shape modern communications as we know it, and it continues to roll out updates that will only improve the experience. And as Facebook’s second-biggest property with billions of dedicated users, it doesn’t look like WhatsApp is going anywhere any time soon.
Once you’ve got the basics down, be sure to check out our roundup of the 20 essential WhatsApp tips and tricks.
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