What is Telegram? Is it yet another instant messaging app pillaging on the success trend of Instant Messaging (IM) culture? Even though at first glance it seems like just another average IM with its flavor, it does have some tricks up the sleeves that differentiate it from its competitors.
On the surface, the basics of the app check out with the industry-standard features being present such as single-tick and double-tick systems for sent and delivered messages respectively, along with support for group chats and video/voice calls. Where it differs though is the fact that the app does not require a person’s phone number to start a conversation (something Whatsapp requires, for example). From a security and privacy standpoint, this is not a feature to be taken lightly and is surely one of its strong selling points to people prioritizing security.
Account creation and get started on the app is remarkably simple as it only requires an OTP verification. I even created a second account using my other sim on the same phone and had no trouble constantly switching back and forth between the two accounts during testing. Apart from the usual Android and iOS support, there are apps for it on Windows, Linux, and macOS as well to ensure connectivity through any platform. An interesting quirk to note is that Telegram will automatically delete the account after six months of inactivity (interval can be changed in the settings), which is not a bad thing to have considering the number of accounts just abandoned instead of deleted which leaves a trail of information tracing back to us.
Right after opening the app for the first time, the quality was apparent with the snappiness of the animations of the app. The color scheme adds a level of polish and ‘premium’ which keeps the balance between fun and serious in a good way, yet it allows full customization of the app ranging from backgrounds and themes to animations and GIFs to use.
To send a message, the recipient’s phone number is not required, just their username which must enter in the search bar and their name should pop up. If they are already in your contact list, then they’ll appear at the bottom of the screen in a separate list. Along with text, a variety of things can be sent including documents, other formats of attachments, photos, and videos. Out of all the IMs out there currently, Telegram certainly has one of the best photo editing capabilities for on-the-fly editing before sending an image. Interestingly, a self-destruct timer can be set on the photos after a certain viewing time (like Snapchat).
Groups – Features
In this day and age, groups are common in every form of workplace/social domains ranging from office/organizational groups to a casual relaxed group made by your friends. This means that groups are now an important feature in any IM and Telegram doesn’t disappoint.
People Nearby is a feature that accesses the user’s location and finds users and groups from the local area. This can be fun and daunting at the same time as the level of exposure leads to uncertainty as to what to expect from your neighbor’s social media life (from experience it is wildly different from their ‘everyday life’ demeanor).
Groups in Telegram come with a lot of options to fine-tune the controllability and access options to keep it from simply being an area where 30+ people are spamming their messages at the same time. Groups can be divided into public or private which changes the method and reach of the groups when trying to find them and the group’s leader can assign roles such as admins (and many other roles), each with their own set of local and global permissions over the group.
The step-up from Groups on Telegram is Channels. Channels are a source of a one-way stream of information, like a tweet on Twitter. While this does mean its appeal is usually to a wider audience, I was a little bit disappointed after realizing there is no video call integration for Channels or Groups (Discord has this, for example). It does however integrate some other interesting tools such as having no limit on the number of people in voice calls. The lack of video calls during a group session does mean that this is not going to be a replacement for Zoom.
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It is interesting to note that although every message is encrypted when sent in/through Telegram, they are not encrypted the same way, depending on the medium/channel it was sent through. For example, any message sent through a normal Chat, Group, or Channel is stored on Telegram’s cloud servers which do mean that the ultimate keyholders to access those messages is the company itself. On the other hand, there is the option for Secret Chats, which as the name implies, the messages are end-to-end encrypted (e2ee) meaning only the recipient and the sender can see or view the messages and nobody else (not even Telegram can decrypt it). Even though this sounds amazing, for perspective, Whatsapp has ALL messages end-to-end encrypted so for me, it felt like a slight downgrade on the security front when using this app.
Interesting to note that I can choose to delete the entire chat from the Recipient’s perspective as well.
That does not make the app bad however, it has room for a lot of improvements. Regarding the e2ee policy, it does lack behind Whatsapp in that regard but is ahead of its competition when it comes to the amount of personal information required to use the app. For perspective, Telegram only requires a phone number for verification purposes and not as an ID tool that other people can search upon. This is a good thing and should become an industry standard (privacy issues are slowly taking priority over an app’s functionality these days).
Security and Privacy options available on Telegram
Telegram is a great IM to use and feels polished for how new most of its features are, however, there are better options in the market when it comes to single attributes such as customizability (Facebook Messenger), stickers, and GIFs (Instagram DMs and Facebook Messenger) and Privacy and Security (WhatsApp’s e2ee). With that being said, this app is worth giving a try as it is constantly updated and is getting better with each update bringing it closer and closer to the IM behemoths that we hear about every day.