What is WhatsApp? A detailed chat, voice and video call app
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(Pocket-lint) – There’s always a certain learning curve when it comes to mastering apps and WhatsApp is no different. It’s an extremely popular and very easy-to-use app, but it has a few quirks that aren’t obvious at first glance. There are also a few hidden features that aren’t the easiest to activate.
If you already know the basics, check out our guide to secret WhatsApp tips and tricks you might not know.
Here we’ve covered everything you might want to know about WhatsApp to get started.
What is WhatsApp and how does it work?
WhatsApp is an instant messaging app that Facebook acquired in 2014. The app is available for iPhone and Android devices, as well as a desktop app for Windows and macOS. It is also available on the web in any browser.
It works with your phone contacts. Once installed, you will be asked to enter your mobile number – the system basically works from this number, so it is always linked to your phone number.
First and foremost, WhatsApp is a chat application. You typically use it to send text messages, pictures, videos, and even documents. It works on the Internet and therefore uses your data quota if you are not on Wi-Fi.
You can message people individually or create groups – and that’s what people find most useful, although rivals like Apple’s Messages and Facebook’s Messenger are able to do the same. It can also be used for voice calls and video calls.
Currently, WhatsApp has no ads and is free after the removal of the annual subscription that was in place a few years ago.
WhatsApp messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted for added security. All messages, photos, videos, files and calls are fully secure – only the sender and recipient of a message will be able to see its content. Even WhatsApp cannot access the content of the message. You can also protect the app with a PIN (known as two-step verification).
How to use WhatsApp
WhatsApp has a menu bar that sits at the bottom of all app screens. It has the following five tabs: Status, Calls, Camera, Chats, and Settings. Touch any tab to access a new screen and its associated functions and settings.
Status is kind of useless actually and lets you choose a status to show your contacts. It can be “I’m in a meeting all day” or “I’m just chatting, not calling”. This kind of things. You can also use it to share photos, videos, texts and links that disappear after 24 hours too, like Instagram Stories. In reality, few people use this feature.
Calls shows you your list of recent calls, both voice and video – all your past and missed WhatsApp calls.
Chats is the main tab. This is a log of all your active messages. Tap the draft symbol in the top right corner to start a new chat with a single friend, or you can tap “New Group” to start a group chat with up to 512 people at once. Each group has one or more administrators (if you create a group, you are the administrator, but you can designate others).
You may also notice a feature called Broadcast Lists under Chats. Broadcast messaging lets you send a message to multiple people at once, without revealing the recipients. It’s a bit like the blind carbon copy (Bcc) of email, and each recipient can respond to you individually. Recipients must have you in their contacts to see the message.
The ability to create broadcast lists allows you to maintain a saved list of contacts to whom you send broadcast messages. To send a broadcast message to a specific contact, that person must have your phone number saved in their address book.
The fifth and last tab is the settings tab. Under this screen you will find privacy options, ways to change your notification alerts, network usage statistics, a chat archive tool, an option to lock WhatsApp, among many other things like disappearing messages.
How to send messages in WhatsApp
When you’re in a chat window with a friend or a group, you can send anything from photos to audio files. Tap the text field at the bottom of the chat window to bring up a keyboard to type a message, or tap the “+” symbol on the left for more options.
The “+” should bring up options to take a photo/video or send one from your library, as well as share a location or contact. You can also send or take a photo by tapping the camera symbol to the right of the text field in chat.
There is also a microphone symbol on the right side of the text field which you can tap in order to record and send an audio message.
You can also send GIFs or stickers.
How to make a video or voice call in WhatsApp
To make a call, go to the Calls tab and click on the phone icon in the top right. Select the desired contact, then tap the phone or video icon.
During a video call, you always have the option to mute the video to return to a voice call and/or mute your microphone. Similarly, you can turn a voice call into a video call by activating your camera.
Want a group call? Select New group call. Check out our complete guide to WhatsApp group calls.
Use WhatsApp on the web or desktop
WhatsApp is not limited to your mobile phone. There’s a web app that syncs everything from your phone. Visit the WhatsApp webpage or download the desktop app from whatsapp.com/download/.
You’ll need to scan a QR code using the WhatsApp app on your phone to sync it, but then you’ll get all your chats and conversations on your computer screen, making it easy to reply. For more information on the WhatsApp desktop app, you can read our separate article.
It will display chats and alerts on your computer, making it quick and easy for you to respond. Your phone will need to be connected initially for this to work, but after that you won’t need your phone for messages to sync.
What are “tics” and last seen information?
Checkmarks appear next to each message you send. A gray check mark tells you that the message was successfully sent to the recipient, while two gray check marks indicate that the message was successfully delivered to the recipient’s phone. Two blue checkmarks alert you when the recipient has read your message.
When looking at a chat window or even a contact in WhatsApp, you’ll often see a “Last Seen” timestamp under their name. This is a handy little indicator of when the contact last viewed WhatsApp. If you don’t want people to see exactly when you’re using WhatsApp, you can hide your “Last Seen” timestamp. Just go to Settings, then Account and Privacy.
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Make sure to toggle the Last Seen option to “Nobody”, but this will also prevent you from seeing everyone’s last seen time. In this section, you will also see that you can hide your profile picture, status and acknowledgments. You can even manage your blocked contacts list.
Prevent auto-saving of incoming media
By default, WhatsApp automatically saves recipients’ images and videos to the Photos folder on iOS devices or to the Gallery or Photos app on Android.
You can stop this on iOS by going to Settings, then Chat Settings. From there, turn off the “Save to Photo List” option.
Check your WhatsApp call data usage settings
As we mentioned, WhatsApp uses your mobile data if you’re not on Wi-Fi. Here’s how to monitor that usage.
Disable group notifications
Group conversations can be the worst. You might not be able to leave the conversation, but you can turn off notifications so you won’t be woken up every time someone adds their two cents.
If you’re using an iPhone, just open the group chat, tap the topic to get the group info screen, then tap mute. On Android, open the chat, tap the Menu button, then tap Mute.
Back up your chats
When you switch to a new phone, you can take your WhatsApp chat history with you. Just go to the Settings app, then tap Chat Settings and select Chat Backup.
From there, save the chat now or enable autosave. You can restore your chats when you reinstall WhatsApp on a new phone.
This backup is made to Apple iCloud or Google Drive, depending on which system you are using.
Written by Maggie Tillman. Edited by Britta O’Boyle.