Telegram vs. Signal: Instant messengers compared

Telegram vs. Signal: Instant messengers compared

Telegram or Signal - which of these two instant messenger apps is the better one, and therefore the superior alternative to WhatsApp? Let's find out in this direct comparison between Telegram and Signal!

Let's talk about instant messengers once again. It doesn't matter if you use your smartphone excessively or in a moderate amount: Such a chat tool or even several of them would most probably be installed on your handset. Despite all the available reasons to ditch WhatsApp, this instant messenger from Facebook is still the most widely used worldwide, with over two billion active users to date.

If you're looking for an alternative, you'll most probably end up with either Telegram or Signal as your next best choice. Both apps work very similarly to the de facto number one IM app and basically carry a similar look as well. So let's compare Signal and Telegram for now: Which app is more secure, which looks better, offers more features, and is more flexible? We'll find all that out in this duel of the best WhatsApp alternatives. Let's go!

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Telegram vs. Signal: Design & Customization

When you install a new instant messenger, the very first thing that normally catches your eye would be the look. The good news for those who are new to either Signal or Telegram is this: if you were previously comfortable with WhatsApp, then you'll quickly feel at home with both Signal and Telegram in terms of visuals. The chat windows are all pretty much similar.

Sginal Chat
Stickers and GIFs are also available on Signal / © NextPit

So in both cases, you will have overview lists with your contacts where you can access the respective chat threads from there, which you would not be a stranger to. In the meantime, no chat platform can live without stickers in addition to the obligatory emojis, and both Signal and Telegram offer you sticker sets. Yes, you can also use animated GIFs to spice up your chats with more visual pizzazz.

So far, Signal seems to be the more rudimentary one between the two. The number of sticker sets available remain manageable, while on Telegram you are overwhelmed by a flood of stickers and can even create and submit your own sticker sets (why doesn't NextPit have its own sticker set yet?).

So if stickers are important to you, Telegram has the edge in this duel. The same goes for the number of available customization options of your chat windows. You can customize the backgrounds and chat bubbles on both Telegram and Signal to suit your preferences.

Digging through Signal's settings, we find that we can customize the colors of both the backgrounds and the chat bubbles. You can even opt for gradients and select photos as backgrounds.

You also have the choice of four different font sizes (Small, Normal, Large, and Extra Large) and can customize the language as well. You can also choose between the light or dark design.

Signal Colors
Signal offers quite a few customization options / © NextPit

For most of us, these options should be more than enough, right? If we were to take a look at Telegram, you'll notice that they go one step further and offer even more options. Of course, you can choose the language, but you can also adjust the font size, choose from five themes (classic, day, dark, night, and arctic), make the chat bubbles square or round, activate animations and customize the chat overview.

Needless to say, the backgrounds are fully customizable. You can change the colors continuously, but you can also specify four different hexadecimal color codes for each gradient. In addition, you can select patterns, for which the transparency level can also be adjusted. As you can see, you can spend days customizing Telegram if you want to.

telegram app review ui customization
Telegram is a personalization of the El Dorado / © NextPit

I have already mentioned the stickers, but Telegram also provides you with so-called "masks". These are filters that you can use to make your photos look even more beautiful.

All in all, Telegram is far more playful and leaves not only Signal, but also WhatsApp miles behind. If we were to award one point in each section, this round would clearly go to Telegram, although Signal is by no means bad.

Telegram review: Is this really the best WhatsApp alternative?

Telegram vs. Signal: Platform support

Let's turn aside from the visuals for now and get to more basic matters: How much do the instant messengers cost, where can I get them, where can I use them, and if possible, on how many devices simultaneously?

The good news upfront: both messengers are available for free and can be downloaded from the respective Android and iOS app stores.

Apart from this, you can also use Signal as a desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux. Telegram also allows you to do this, but also offers you the option to use it in the browser. Both messengers require a phone number, just like WhatsApp.

telegram app review desktop and web versions
Telegram can also be used in a browser! / © NextPit

While you can use Signal on up to five paired devices, the number of devices is unlimited with Telegram. For what it's worth, why are you even using an instant messenger on more than five different devices in the first place?

While Telegram syncs everything via the cloud, Signal lacks cloud connectivity. Here, it's probably a matter of preference as to which is better: If you prefer greater security, it's better if everything is stored locally on the device. But of course, the cloud approach is more convenient when you think about it. We'll talk more about security later, where it will will play a more important role in our ratings.

In this segment, Telegram is perhaps a little bit more versatile, but in general, both messengers are pretty much on par.

Telegram vs. Signal: Features

Are features actually a priority when choosing between instant messengers? I ask this question because for me, other considerations do play a role when it comes to using such a tool: Is it secure and are my contacts on that platform? Sure, I also couldn't live without my much-loved voicemails.

But given that you receive basic features such as individual chats, group chats, voice and video messaging, sending of photos, videos and other files on any serious instant messenger platform anyway, I shall dive into the feature set first.

Voice messaging

For this comparison between Signal and Telegram, however, I still do treasure my voice messages and can therefore state with relief: Lucky me! Both of them offer voice messaging. With Signal, I have repeatedly noticed that voice messages are interrupted after some time. This doesn't always happen to me, but it has happened several times.

Signal offers me the possibility to listen to these voice messages at either double or half speed. It is the former that I especially I like to use. If I want to reply to a very long voicemail, but I have not picked up everything that was said prior, this feature allows me to listen to it again while saving time.

However, why anyone would want to listen to a voice message at half speed is beyond my comprehension (unless you want your friends' messages to sound like they were recorded in a drunken stupor). On Telegram, if you were to tap on the voicemail icon, you can switch it to video messaging. I haven't found an equivalent function on Signal. If it exists, I'm probably just too stupid to find it, so please enlighten me in the comments.

Chat window

The core function of an instant messenger is of course, the chat window. Logically, I would not want to dive into the fact that you can chat in both apps. Rather, I would like to point out the basic differences in the chat windows. Above, we already discussed how Telegram offers us more options in terms of stickers.

What convinced me about Signal is the fact that it is similar to Facebook and Facebook Messenger, where you can add emoji reactions to any message. Just hold down on a message for a little while longer and select the emoji you want. This is a feature I really enjoy using.

Signal Reactions
You can show your reaction to funny memes with reaction emojis / © NextPit

Of course, you can also send files of all types in both instant messengers. But it's worth mentioning that Signal allows you to send files up to 100 MB in size, while Telegram allows you to send massive files of up to 2 GB! By the way, when you send media files via Signal, they are not automatically added to your cloud gallery. Decide for yourself whether this is annoying for you or if it is an advantage.

Telegram also offers so-called "secret chats". There - and only there - can you enjoy the end-to-end encryption that Signal offers for every chat.

Both instant messengers allow you to pin chats so that you can always keep an eye on them in the event of new messages. Signal also provides you with the option to send a note to yourself. I actually find this to be rather handy as I can quickly send myself a sentence or two as an aid to remembering things, unless I have other tools for that.

Furthermore, both instant messengers offer the possibility to send disappearing messages. Telegram also gives you the chance to send "silent" messages that don't annoy your recipient in the form of notifications, and you can also schedule messages.

Groups

The availability of groups is also a given for modern instant messengers, so it wouldn't really need to be mentioned as a separate topic. So let us simply focus on the essential differences here as well. The biggest difference in the truest sense of the word concerns group sizes: With Telegram, you can pack up to 200,000 people into a single group (are you actually in our NextPit Telegram group?).

With Signal, the limit is a paltry 1,000 members in comparison. For the average Joe on the street with a normal number of friends, this is absolutely sufficient. However, if you want to implement ideas to take over the world and rely on a conspiracy theory, you might need more room to grow in terms of membership numbers. The advantage for Signal, however, is that the groups are also completely encrypted, unlike groups in Telegram groups.

Telegram offers many more functions, which would go beyond the scope of this article. You can use bots, create polls, discover people who are nearby, and much more. Voice and video calls are also available, but so are they on Signal. In general, we can say that both tools have all the basics, each has a few tricks that not even WhatsApp has, but in the end Telegram boasts of more features than Signal.

Telegram vs. Signal: Encryption and privacy

how to hide phone number telegram hero
You can hide your phone number on Telegram / © NextPit

The final and certainly very important point is security. Telegram likes to position itself as a secure alternative to WhatsApp. But we have known for some time now that this is not the case. After all, one can trace this to the fact that the privacy policy is not available in German.

It is important to note that not all chats are automatically encrypted end-to-end. Only "secret chats" offer this encryption capability. This means that all other chats including groups are not encrypted end-to-end. The normal chats on the cloud only offer client-server/server-client encryption. Whoever has access to these servers also has access to the data stored within! On top of that, the servers are not open source.

Phone numbers and names of contacts from the address book are stored on the cloud. You can set up pseudonyms, but your contacts will always be able to find you. Metadata is stored and kept by Telegram for up to 12 months, although Telegram does states that this data will not be resold to a third party or used for advertising purposes.

Use Telegram anonymously: How to hide your phone number

Signal does not have a completely clean slate to boast of either, because the privacy policy is not available in German as well. In addition, there is growing criticism that Signal has access to your address book, but at least on a local level.

In addition, Signal presents itself as a paragon of security, which encrypts all content end-to-end. You don't have to use your real name with Signal either, and you can even choose a pseudonym or an emoji. Signal is completely open source, so everyone can see every line of code that is used.

Another big plus: Signal is backed by a foundation, so it doesn't have to be profitable. Hence, there is no reason at all for Signal to collect your data and peddle it to the highest bidder.

At this point, it should already be crystal clear to you who is ahead in this category, right? If that's not enough information for you, it's worth mentioning that Edward Snowden, among others, recommends Signal just as clearly as he advised against using Telegram. While Facebook has adopted Signal's encryption technology for WhatsApp, this will see Telegram fall behind WhatsApp in terms of security. But if your motivation for using these instant messengers is to escape from the data juggernaut that is Facebook, you're safe from Mark Zuckerberg's long arm with both Telegram and Signal. Nevertheless: In this segment, there is only one clear winner - Signal.

Telegram vs. Signal: And the winner is...

I have deliberately avoided awarding points in each category as that would have led to the fact that I would have to choose Telegram as the winner.

But I don't want to make it that easy for myself and for you, either. Signal deliberately plays the "security" card and does so with the image of not doing everything as well and extensively as WhatsApp or Telegram.

If security is at the top of your list, then the only winner in this duel is Signal. Apart from having access to your contacts, Signal doesn't show any weaknesses, where it consistently encrypts everything end to end, is open source and is not out to make money.

Features-wise, the pendulum swings in Telegram's favor. Signal has grown in terms of features this year, but at the moment there's no getting around Telegram in my opinion, and neither does WhatsApp hold a candle to it. Apart from all the normal chat features, you can also create huge groups, use bots, and send large files. In that sense, Telegram is more of an all-purpose social media weapon than just a simple instant messenger.

So which is the better instant messenger? You tell me! If you're leaving WhatsApp because you're looking for a secure alternative, then the winner in this duel has to be Signal, but if you're just looking to turn your back on Facebook and want the best of both worlds in terms of looks and functionality, then Telegram is the superior choice.

Goodbye WhatsApp! Hello, Signal Messenger: How to make the switch

Last but not least, the measures used to determine the champion in the instant messenger market is still the number of users on the respective platform. Even then, Telegram is still clearly ahead of Signal, so there might be a greater chance of meeting your contacts there.

WhatsApp alternatives: The best instant messengers today

So you see, it's not that easy to name a clear winner. It's up to you, your habits and preferences, but also your powers of persuasion: can you convince your contacts to switch from one instant messenger to another? Let us know in the comments and feel free to tell us which of these two competitors is ahead of the game for you and why.

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  • storm 2 days ago Link to comment

    I think there is a political-travel aspect to Telegram that dissuades me from its use a bit.

    Telegram use has cropped up as "problematic" in the Arab Spring and a few other Middle Eastern events as well as a couple of terrorism reports. As a world traveler, I suspect using Telegram is more likely to flag my traffic and create a potential problem I can avoid with Signal's lower profile on the world stage.


    • Stefan Möllenhoff
      • Staff
      2 days ago Link to comment

      It's pretty crazy to be worried that using a certain (mainstream!) messenger may turn out to be a problem when travelling. But you've certainly got a point there. Welcome to 2021, I guess...