Following the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook for a mind-boggling $19bn, a backlash has led to millions of the popular IM service’s users defecting to other clients, most notably Telegram.
This is mainly due to fears about personal privacy and the possibility of targeted adverts – even though Facebook has denied this and insists that WhatsApp will operate independently.
Either way, Telegram’s popularity has rocketed and it’s not hard to see why. For starters, this cloud-based IM service offers excellent data security through heavy encryption. In addition, its creators Paul and Nikolai Durov, co-founders of the Russian VK social network, have promised that it will remain ad- and subscription-free forever.
So far, it only has official clients for Android and iOS, but there are unofficial ones for other platforms such as Windows and OS X – created using Telegram’s open source code, protocol and API.
Launching the official Android app for the first time, for security reasons you’re asked for a phone number (which could be that of another device or even a landline). This is then sent a five-digit code to enter to proceed. You can then set up your profile, find any contacts already using Telegram and invite others to join (via email or social networks).
Select a contact and you can start chatting instantly – and we mean instantly: there is no lag whatsoever between sending a message and the recipient getting it. Apparently, it’s all down to Telegram’s decentralised server structure, making it the fastest service around.
In standard IM fashion, messages appear in speech bubbles on either side of the screen – with a choice of snazzy backgrounds – and there are options to add a vast array of emoji, icons and symbols. Tap the paper-clip icon to attach a photo, video, location or document.
While most rival services have tight limits on the size of attachments (12MB for video on WhatsApp), Telegram lets you send files of up to 1GB. Photos and map locations appear immediately on screen, while other attachments show their size and the recipient can opt whether to download them. Naturally, videos and other large files can take a while to send.
Telegram’s lack of serious restrictions extends to group chats, which can involve up to 200 users! To start one, you first need to create a new group, add members to it and give it a suitable title. You can always add extra members during a chat, if you want.
Since all of your messages and media are stored in the cloud, it’s possible to access them from any device. However, if privacy and security are your main concerns, there’s the option to start a secret chat.
These use end-to-end encryption, aren’t stored on Telegram’s servers, don’t allow forwarding and even support self-destructing messages – the timer ranging from two seconds to one week. You also get a visualisation of the encryption key: if it matches the other person’s, you can be sure your chat is 100% secure.