The cloud-based instant messaging and voice-over IP service is available for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, and GNU/Linux, and lets you send messages and exchange photos, videos, stickers, audio and files of any type.
Telegram Messenger was created by brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov in 2013. Headquartered in London, the company’s development team is based in Dubai.
According to App Annie Intelligence, Telegram was among the top 10 most downloaded and most used apps worldwide in Q2 2020, and jumped to 8th spot in the same period from 11th earlier. Telegram on Android has more than 500 million installs and a rating of 4.4 stars ratings.
The app has been around for seven years, but we thought of reviewing it in the time of coronavirus when virtual meetups have become the norm.
So, should you or shouldn’t you download Telegram Messenger?
After you download the app, create an account using your phone number, similar to WhatsApp. The app asks you for a call log access for a quick call-based verification. Put in your name and a profile photo – if you wish – on the next page. You will need to allow the app access to your contact list to see people in your network who are using Telegram.
What about the features?
The working of Telegram Messenger is somewhat similar to WhatsApp – the chat interface, chatting, starting a new group, checking ‘last seen’ for the user etc.
But, after exploring the app for a couple of days, we found that Telegram has many more features that promise a superior user experience.
The most recently updated features in the app include profile videos, enhanced photo and video editor, improved ‘people nearby’, mini thumbnails, group stats, animated emojis, multiple accounts on the Telegram desktop, and file-sharing capabilities among others.
Other features include Groups (supporting up to 200,000 members per group), Channels (lets you broadcast messages to an unlimited number of Telegram users), and Instant View (lets you view articles with zero loading time). It also offers Telegram Passport, an encrypted way to store your identity documents on Telegram servers.
Users keen to declutter their inbox can try the new switch in Privacy & Security settings to automatically archive and mute new chats from people not in their contacts. They can access these chats at any time from the Archive folder, and bring them back to the main chat with in a tap.
We found Chat Folders to be one of the best features in Telegram. You can create folders for work, family, friends, and so on. At a time when the phone does not stop buzzing, the folder feature helps declutter your virtual life. We totally dig this feature and are trying not check the friends category notification in the work-from-home timings.
Telegram has a voice calling feature, but has not rolled out a video calling feature yet.
The security advantage
Cloud-based Telegram claims that it prioritises security and speed, marrying WhatApp’s swiftness with Snapchat’s transience.
The app says all activities, including chats, groups and media shared, are encrypted and cannot be viewed without being deciphered first. Messages can also be edited after they are sent, which can often be a boon.
It lets you set self-destruct timers on messages and media that you share through its ‘Secret Chat’ feature (from two seconds to one week). The end-to-end encrypted secret chat cannot be forwarded.
You can choose to receive notifications for screenshots taken – something that we loved. You can also create a password for individual chats that you wish to keep private.
Focus on multimedia
Telegram Messenger lets users upload a video as their profile media instead of the regular “DP”. They can even edit and enhance the profile photo/video, as the app provides a built-in editor.
The messenger app has a music player that lets you play music shared between you and your contacts; you can play music, continue to use the app, and create an expandable track list. Users can tap the button on the left to control looping, shuffling, and reverse the track order.
A mini-thumbnail feature in the chat list gives an idea of what media has been sent in a message and lets you decide if you want to download or not. The highlight of media sharing in Telegram is that you can share files of up to 2 GB on the platform as compared to 100 MB on WhatsApp.
Since 2014, Telegram users have been sharing files up to 1.5 GB each. A recent update lets them can send unlimited numbers of media and files of any kind – up to 2 GB each.
Group stats and more
Hosts of large groups (500 members and more) can view detailed graphs regarding their activity and growth. These stats proffer a list of top members by number of messages and average message length. The parameters considered include growth of the group, members who joined or left in a given time frame, source of new members, languages used, content format used (text, links, photo, videos, etc.), top days and hours, top members and admins, etc.
Telegram also lets you create a channel, a group of 2 lakh users, and choose which users can post and which members can view these posts.
The app plans to roll out access to group stats for admins of all groups with 100 members or more in the near future.
Telegram is packed with so many features that many users find it overwhelming.
These, including the ability to create a channel to broadcast a message, ability to send uncompressed media, granular notification management, themes, live location sharing, secret messages, focus on multimedia, and capability to download heavy files, puts it way ahead of other messaging apps.
At the time of writing, we are still unearthing new features and capabilities. But there’s something the app needs: a video calling feature.
Amid the many pros, one con stands out: the limited user base. WhatsApp currently has 1.6 billion active users compared to Telegram’s more than 400 million monthly active users.
But one thing is for sure: the numerous features make WhatsApp seem plain vanilla when compared to Telegram.