25 Benefits of Telegram over WhatsApp in 2021.
Reasons to value functionality and a user-privacy philosophy over popularity
WhatsApp, 2009. I distinctly remember a nerdy excitement in being able to send messages from my iPhone to an Android or Blackberry over 3G without a 20c SMS charge. I convinced friends into WhatsApp far before it was the default messaging app of choice.
Since 2013, with a resurgence in 2021 with the announcement of WhatsApp’s latest user-terms which basically force users’ data sharing with the wider Facebook group of companies, Telegram has stolen the show with (almost) everything except user base. Knowing how difficult it is to convince family, friends and colleagues to transition platforms, here is my short-list of benefits of Telegram over WhatsApp and why it’s worthwhile making the switch.
We’re a bit spoilt for choice for smart messaging platforms. From a handful of contenders a decade ago, we’re now messaging on an average of 5 different messaging applications per smartphone — scattered in functionality and usability, reliability and privacy protocols. Facebook Messenger is the most popular on worldwide adoption purely because of the volume of Facebook users, followed by Whatsapp — both Facebook-owned. Instagram, Viber (yes, some people still use Viber…), WeChat, Signal, iMessage and good old SMS are all offering basically the same chat and messaging functionality (with the exception of WeChat in China which can do basically everything). I’ve used and still toy with them all. To date, nothing comes close to the monthly innovation and updates, usability, light-on-resource requirements and functionality of Telegram. I’ve been an advocate of a few platforms in my life as vehemently as Telegram, and after more than 6 years of watching WhatsApp loyals go through an initial pain of moving over to Telegram by peers and colleagues who were kind enough to give the blue-icon a go, the transition has been met by appreciation and, in many cases, a development of a similar disdain toward the clunkiness of WhatsApp. Imagine going from email back to fax. That’s how I feel about WhatsApp against Telegram.
I’ve been asked why anyone would make the switch from something as ubiquitous as WhatsApp as their principal messaging app of choice to Telegram too many times to remember, so I’ve put together the below list, originally an email drafted to a colleague whilst living in Israel in 2017. Since then, Telegram has made strides along the way in terms of functionality with more of the “fun” bells and whistles (not really my thing, but people love stickers and gifs) leaving WhatsApp in the dust even further. This post is already looking like an 12-minute read, so let’s begin:
1. Simultaneous sign-in: With Telegram, you’ll be able to log in to multiple devices with your same credentials (iPad, Laptop, Work PC, phone) for simultaneous sign in. You can’t do that with WhatsApp. There’s no longer any need to rely on the connectivity of your phone to access your messages using a laptop or PC with WhatsApp Web. Battery flat? No 4G on your handset? No worries — login to your Telegram on your other device(s).
2. Cloud-based, not locally stored: As chats and media are stored online, the amount of cache space on your local device is minimized so you can leave your precious (and expensive) phone capacity for more important things like photos, games and video. While WhatsApp stores all chats and shared media on your device hard drive, your memories and chat history is at risk of loss (if not backed up in iCloud or Google Drive). Hence friends in developing countries with limited phone drive space can use Telegram and not consume their phone space whereas WhatsApp use over the long term becomes inhibitive.
3. Ability to delete messages already sent without trace: Delete a message you have already sent a recipient, after the fact, without the recipient being made aware that a message was deleted. WhatsApp copied this a year ago, but still leaves a “deleted message” indication to alert others in your chat that a message indeed once existed. Why? Who knows.
WhatsApp makes a point of letting others know that you’ve deleted a message, which can make for some awkward “why did you delete that” and “what did it say” conversations.
4. Dedicated PC/Mac application, independent of connectivity of your phone: An extension to point (1), WhatsApp Web only operates as a browser extension and requires that your phone has an active WhatsApp connectivity to the internet, meaning that WhatsApp is rendered useless when your phone runs out of battery, has no reception or signal, and hence is merely an extension of your mobile phones’ screen. Telegram has a dedicated web app and PC/Mac app which is operational regardless of whether your phone is stolen, flat, broken or out of range. Telegram then liberates the user from the connectivity from their phone. Imagine your Gmail only being stored on your phone, and not being able to be accessed via a web-browser without your phone’s internet connectivity. That’s basically what WhatsApp is offering you in the guise of security and privacy etc (Let’s safely assume that Facebook owned-WhatsApp or inbuilt Messenger isn’t going to be the app of choice if you’re concerned about security).
5. Ability to edit messages you’ve already sent: Unlike WhatsApp, a message can be “edited” after its sent, instead of having to follow up with a “clarification” or correction to your typing. Sure, your message will have an “edited” tag, but that’s probably a good thing as you’re likely fixing a typo or clarifying as opposed to trying to retract a message you sent in the first place.
6. Send “self-destruct” photos and media: Set a timer for the recipient to view media before it self-destructs in Secret-Chats, leaving no trace of the message for the ultra-security conscious. Hint: “Secret Chats” basically provide the same level of only-phone stored end-to-end encrypted messaging as Signal, so, in my opinion, there’s little use in adopting Signal over Telegram — given Telegram’s functionality — and Telegram already has Signal’s core security-function built in for the more security hyperconscious.
7. Photo editor: The in-built Telegram photo editor has become a viable contender with Camera+, a paid-for iOS app for editing photos. It’s basically become my default quick-photo editor for iPhone.
8. Send photos in full resolution, not scaled down in quality: Choose to send a photo (or video) in your camera reel as a “File” to maintain full quality.
9. Choose the video resolution before sending video, and send photos in full resolution: WhatsApp automatically reduces the file size of a photo or video when sending to 480p. With Telegram, a sender can use a quality slider to choose what quality video you want to send to a recipient (from 240p up to 1080p). Brilliant if you want to send a long video in low quality just to get it to another person quickly, or if you want to send a video in uncompressed high quality for transfer purposes to another person, or yourself. You can also send images in full resolution by selecting to send the image as a “File” as opposed to an image.
10. Send messages, files, media to yourself as “Saved Messages”: Unlike WhatsApp, you can use Telegram to message yourself and store an unlimited amount of data, chats, photos, video for later reference in the cloud, accessible across all your Telegram enabled devices.
11. Refined search: Search not only across all chats (like WhatsApp), but within a specific chat forum.
12. Bots. [edit: WhatsApp now allows for bot creation — which again, it copied from Telegram].
Bots are next level. You can do some pretty amazing things — but I’ll just intro you to the simplest, faddy ones here.
a. Search and send YouTube content from the chat screen itself (no longer having to go to YouTube, getting the share link, and pasting into a chat). Just use the in-built bot, “@vid” then search anything you would as though you’re on YouTube.
b. Create a “poll” using the /poll bot. Basically create a survey from within your Telegram group or channel and get instantly updated results as your friends vote.
c. Do the same as (12) above but with GIFS. Type “@gif” and search anything as you would a GIF website.
d. Do the same, but search Wikipedia. Type “@wiki” and search as you would in Wikipedia.
e. Same with “@imbd”. Search movie ratings.
13. Set rules, code alerts and automate actions with “if this, then that”: Exploit power of IFTTT (If this, then that) rules with Telegram, which you can’t do at all with WhatsApp. Basically make Telegram send you a message when you receive an important email from someone you can’t miss in your Gmail; get daily weather forecasts in your Telegram chat; let you know when your wife has left work; send you your daily star-reading etc.
14. Notifications: W/ Android, set different indicator lights per person messaging you. Not sure about iOS, but hey… not a major one, right.
15. Lock your chats: WhatsApp lacks this also. Lock your Telegram so someone who knows your phone code still can’t read your Telegram chats without your specific Telegram password. FaceID or fingerprint.
16. Local support in Telegram: Ask questions from Telegram expert users from within the chat platform itself, and receive replies to you directly.
17. Channels: Subscribe to Telegram Channels to receive news alerts, updates etc. similar to Twitter, or create “private” channels for which you can charge for access (premium content etc) to monetise.
18. Constant updates: Unlike WhatsApp which takes an average of 10 months for a major update with new features, Telegram updates and enhances its platform every month or so, giving added functionality ahead of any other chat platform (which takes years for the others to follow)
19. Virtually unlimited group sizes: Not that anyone has this many friends, but groups can be up to 10,000 people in size. WhatsApp permits a total of 256 users (not that I care about massive group sizes).
20. Protection of user-data: Telegram founder Pavel Durov has been extremely vocal about anti-surveillance, pro-privacy, and has frequently in the media regarding his stance on Russia, China and Iran’s surveillance of citizens via chat platforms. Because of his refusal to hand over user data, Russia and Iran (two states which are known to actively conduct illegal surveillance of its populace) have now banned Telegram. While Pavel is looking more and more like Neo from the Matrix, he’s become a vocal and increasingly respected advocate — by the likes of Edward Snowden, for example — for his stance on user privacy.
21. Separate Telegram clients: You can download different Telegram clients on Android/Apple so that you can register Telegram on the same device with different numbers. I now use 4 Telegram profiles (with 4 different numbers — 1 Australian and 3 Israeli — on my iPhone). Brilliant for personal, business, shared etc. use and effectively having more than 1 phone number to be contacted on for phone calls (using Telegram) or messages, generally.
22. Multiple (up to 3) Telegram accounts on the same device: Yep. If you want to register 3 different mobile numbers and use Telegram on the same device — Telegram’s iOS and Android apps will let you multi-profile. Swap between your different numbers and keep them distinct for business or personal use, or your secret life you keep on the down-low. I now have my account on my wife’s mobile, so if we just want one mobile between us, we can be contacted on one, single device. With a click of a profile button, she can swap between her Telegram account and mine. Easy.
24. Hide your mobile number — even with your friends — and connect using usernames only: WhatsApp shares your mobile number in groups. With 200+ people in my MBA cohort, I’m hesitant to be added to a group where my phone number is exposed to people I hardly know. Telegram lets you join groups and hide your phone number — so if you want — you can just give people your Telegram username (which you can also change how often you like) to maintain some degree of privacy over your personal information.
25. Start typing now, finish later: Even started writing a reply and been distracted, only to realise you never sent the message? Say goodbye to forgotten drafts. Being cloud-based, you can start a Telegram message on your phone, and continue from your laptop, Telegram Web or secondary / tertiary device. It’ll be there, waiting for you with a clear “draft” notice to prompt you to finish what you’d started. Naturally, this won’t work with Secret-Chats (being only stored on your device).
5 Key Benefits of WhatsApp over Telegram
Admittedly, WhatsApp still has an edge over Telegram on userbase and some features, but it’s a pretty light list compared to Telegram’s benefits. Here’s how they stack up for now:
1. Userbase: WhatsApp has 5 x the user base of Telegram hence most people you know use it. Whatsapp has 1 billion active users, while Telegram has 200 million. Though, Telegram’s subscribers are growing at an accelerated pace given Facebook Groups’ reputation with regard to user privacy and user-data.
2. First to market: It was the first cross-platform messaging solution that brought sophistication to messaging. I remember advocating for WhatsApp among friends in university — “Blackberry can now message iPhone users for free, using data!” back when SMS costs 10–20c or so. Telegram continues to bring new innovations incrementally in very-regular updates: from internal polls within your chat groups (eg. “what day works best for a BBQ?”), security setting customisations, and a raft of other “fun” things (which I call gimmicks, but which many people love) like emojis, stickers and search-from-within gifs. Try it: type “@gif” and any word, and search a gif library.
3. Owned by Facebook (although I’d consider that a negative). Some people think this is an advantage (ie. the convenience factor: they can sign in with their Facebook credentials). Given the recent scandal with data exploitation, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook user-data leaks, it’s difficult to contend that Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have the largest database of user-data the world has ever compiled purely from social, preference and shared data, so — but for the perks of ease of setup and integrations, I don’t consider Facebook ownership as a positive — but many do.
4. Negative PR: Telegram suffered some negative PR in 2016–2018 due to the use of Telegram by groups associated with terrorism. Notwithstanding — Telegram has taken measures to close channels that promote violence and if anything, use by terror cells indicates that Telegram is a secure app or at least one which creates difficulty tracing by surveillance or the intelligence community. That said — look at the positive: these groups understand the privacy / security of Telegram is an advantage (albeit for malicious intent).
5. Channels: Just search for “New York Times” in your Telegram chat pane and join the official NYT Telegram channel for a stream of live news alert updates (then mute the chat so you’re not bombarded by notifications). There — you’ve got a live update of news. Or try “Bloomberg”. Or anything else. As Telegram grows in popularity, so too will its channel streams.
There you have it. My list.
And to top it off, the accessibility and activism of Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, makes Telegram feel like a real community, rather than a BigTech big-brother monitoring our every move. With articles like these and a greater awareness of Durov’s philosophy for Telegram, WhatsApp’s biggest benefit over Telegram — that of sheer userbase — won’t hold out for long.