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Telegram is a fun social messaging platform with a strong independent streak, but it’s not as airtight as some other secure messaging services.

Telegram has grown from a mere messaging app into something more like a social network for building groups and communities around shared interests. It’s fun, as it features perhaps the best collection of stickers among any messenger.

While Telegram’s independence and interest in privacy are also commendable, some key decisions by the company mean it doesn’t compare well to privacy-focused messaging apps that have fewer features. That’s important, because Telegram bills itself as a secure, private messenger first and foremost. Despite Telegram’s positives, there are better apps for sending encrypted messages.

Getting Started With Telegram

To create an account with Telegram, you’ll need one of its apps and a phone number. The service is free to set up and use. Like Editors’ Choice winner Signal and other over-the-top messengers, Telegram requires a phone number that can receive SMS verification. I had no trouble creating and authorizing an account on my Android 11 phone, and even created a second account using my Google Voice number. I easily switched between both accounts from the Telegram Android app I used in testing. Telegram also offers apps for iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. You can use Telegram through a web portal, too, but you need to create your account with one of its mobile apps.

Notably, your Telegram account automatically deletes itself after six months of inactivity—although you can change this interval. I really like this feature. Too many of us have too many abandoned online personae, each of which is a potential security risk.

The quality of the Telegram app is immediately apparent. Everything is animated, snappy, and fun to use. The app is also highly customizable, offering universal controls for the theme, background, and other features.

To send someone a message, you can search for their username using the search bar at the top of the screen. If the person is already in your contacts, they appear at the bottom of the screen and you can just tap to chat.

Chats are familiar affairs. If you’ve seen an SMS app of the last dozen years, you know how this works. Your messages appear on the right side of the screen in little speech bubbles, and your friends’ bubbled messages appear on the left.

Each message has a time stamp and is marked with a double checkmark when your recipient reads it. I couldn’t find a way to switch this particular feature off. I also couldn’t find a way to respond with an emoji, which is a surprising omission. You can, however, press and hold the send button to send a message without a sound or schedule a message to be delivered later.

Along with text, you can send a variety of attachments, including files and photos, as well as video and audio recordings from within the app. Telegram has some surprisingly deep photo editing capabilities, letting you quickly punch up images before you send them. You can also set an individual self-destruct timer for photos.

If you’re looking for locals, you can use the People Nearby to see a list of users in your general area. You can also find any Groups that are close by. Now, I have been on the internet for a long time, but that did not prepare me for the degree of exposure in some of my (presumed) neighbors’ user pics. Good for them for living their truth, but it was rather startling. Note that this feature is opt-in, you never have to enable it.

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