Software

Five free apps to expand your messaging options

If you're just using the built-in messaging features on your smartphone, you could be missing out. These free apps offer an assortment of extra options for a better messaging experience.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/londoneye

In spite of all the things smartphones can do, messaging remains one of the most popular activities. And although smartphones include built-in email and texting functionality, lots of apps provide richer messaging capabilities. Here are five free apps that are worth a look.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.

1: Hike Messenger

Hike Messenger (Figure A) combines the best features of text messaging, email, and social networking into a single app. Hike allows you to post status updates and chat with your friends, but it also puts a major emphasis on privacy. Hike lets you choose who can see your status updates and you can password-protect your conversations. That way, if your phone is lost or stolen, your conversations stay private.

Figure A

Figure A

One of the coolest things about Hike is that it allows you to send just about any type of file to your contacts. You can even send non-media files, such as ZIP files and PowerPoint files.

Hike Messenger is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

2: GroupMe

GroupMe (Figure B) is a group text app. At first, a group text app might seem pointless, because most mobile operating systems allow text messages to be sent to multiple recipients. But GroupMe is especially well designed.

Figure B

Figure B

The app includes several built-in groups, such as Family, Best Friends, and Co-Workers. You can easily populate these groups and you can create your own groups. Two things really make GroupMe effective. First, it's based on text messages — so recipients can receive a message even if they don't have GroupMe installed. Second, GroupMe allows you to share your groups if you want, so that everyone in a group can have a copy.

GroupMe is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

3: Jongla

Jongla (Figure C) is an instant message app that allows you to send various types of media to your contacts. When you first join Jongla, it asks whether you want to sync all your contacts with it so that you can be notified when friends join.

Figure C

Figure C

After the initial setup process, Jongla lets you chat with your contacts. You can send pictures, YouTube videos, and stickers, along with basic text. (The stickers are basically cartoons that respond to the touch.) The app also has its own text-to-speech function that allows you to dictate messages.

Jongla is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

4: eBuddy XMS

eBuddy XMS (Figure D) provides unlimited messaging through your phone's internet connection, thereby circumventing charges for SMS text messages. Like text messaging, XMS allows you to send photos and messages to your contacts. You can send messages to a single contact or to groups of contacts. In addition, XMS supports location sharing (via a map with your GPS location marked) and video sharing.

Figure D

Figure D

eBuddy XMS is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

5: TalkBox

TalkBox (Figure E) is designed to simplify messaging. The basic idea behind this app is this: You talk and the recipient receives a recording of your voice. Although numerous solutions allow you to verbally compose messages, most use voice recognition to turn your words into text. These engines are notoriously inaccurate, which often makes voice texting a frustrating experience. With TalkBox, however, your voice —not a text representation of what you said — is transmitted. You can even have verbal "conversations" with up to nine people at a time.

Figure E

Figure E

TalkBox is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.

Your picks?

Do you have a favorite messaging app? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

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