For the longest time, my parents, siblings, wife, and I had a group conversation in iMessage, which helped bridge the hundreds of kilometers between us. It was great. We could arrange times for video calls, share 20 pictures of a random event, brag about how one's weather was better than the other's, and other similarly family-like things that are normal to talk about. It was great because it was a simple process to set up, a platform we were already using, and was decently secure for those of us who care about that sort of thing.

But then my sister went and got a Samsung phone.

Ever since my sister left iOS for Android, that family dialog has suffered. Us “kids” still have our group conversation on Snapchat, but Snapchat as a messenger is a mess, and the older generation can’t handle it. There was no longer a single place where one of us could “broadcast” to the family and be reasonably certain that everyone would see it.

Finally, after several months of me trying to get everyone to agree to try a different messaging platform, my dad ordered that we all need to sign up for whichever messaging system I suggested, so we could scheme and plan as he had before. On the spot, I had two possible options in mind, and without the time to do proper research, I picked one of them. It has worked decently, but does have many issues that bother the technically-savvy and laypeople alike.

This spurred the desire to find The Perfect Encrypted Messaging Platform, even if I’m not given the chance to give my input in a discussion like this in the future.

Based on my above-average pickiness when it comes to security, and the fact that there's now Android in the family (and potentially another one, pending the predicted future marriage), I have decided on the following must-haves:

  • Verifiably decent security, with end-to-end encryption as core functionality, because I believe that the ability to have privacy is an essential aspect of honest communication
  • Not run by Facebook, because I refuse to use their platform as much as possible
  • Both iOS and Android support, obviously
  • Free for how we'll be using it

If a platform cannot meet those goals, I'm not going to bother to review it. Assuming it meets all four, I'll grade it on its user experience and featureset, and see how many of the niceties, things that would be nice to have, but aren't dealbreakers, it has:

  • Desktop clients or web-based versions
  • No requirement to use phone a phone number
  • Not run by Google or Microsoft

I made a list of eighteen potential options, including a couple of which I knew wouldn’t pass, but I wanted to include them for the sake of comparison. The top three ended up being Signal, Wire, and Keybase. I personally love Keybase, as its solid featureset and "nerd-friendly" extras like PGP and command-line access make it amazing, but it’s still a new platform and could have the UX finessed somewhat. Wire and Signal are both good contenders when it comes to a standard messaging platform. Signal needs work, I would say, to give it a real chance at succeeding in the long run, but its developers seem to be focusing more on the platform than the UX, as they’re licensing their encryption technology to Facebook.


Below, you'll see an alphabetical list of all the messenger platforms I tested, in case you wanted to see the whole list. If there’s one that you think is a worthy contender, let me know.

Dust
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Meh
UX/feature score: F
Notes: Requires phone number, crashes frequently

Facebook Messenger
Must-haves: Fail

GroupMe
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Skype product

iMessage
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Would get 4/6 and B if it wasn't for Android support 

Keybase Chat
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Yep
UX/feature score: B
Notes: Rich featureset, UX could be finessed

Line
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Encryption can be toggled and/or wasn't baked-in from the beginning

Pryvate
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Meh
UX/feature score: D
Notes: UX likes asking for permissions improperly, requires phone number, iffy UX

Signal
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Yep
UX/feature score: C
Notes: Requires phone number, iffy UX

Silence
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: No iOS support

Silent
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Monthly cost

Telegram
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Closed-source encryption

Threema
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Costs $4, no cross-device sharing, looks great though

Viber
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Encryption can be toggled and/or wasn't baked-in from the beginning

Voxer
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Encryption can be toggled and/or wasn't baked-in from the beginning

WeChat
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Super popular in China, no security

WhatsApp
Must-haves: Fail
Notes: Owned by Facebook now but still ugly

Wickr Me
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Meh
UX/feature score: B+
Notes: Free plan can do all we need, no linking to email address is odd

Wire
Must-haves: Pass
Niceties: Yep
UX/feature score: B
Notes: "Free for personal use", phone number required if signing up on mobile