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There are a number of third party messaging apps in the App Store such as WhatsApp Messenger and Kik , which let you message your friends in a similar way. But with free audio and video calls, Viber is the app to choose when you want to avoid long-distance charges, and it has plenty of extras that make it better than most popular third party messaging apps.
The only problem? Not everyone uses it. So that means you're going to have to convince your friends and family to download it too. But if you do, I think you'll be happy with everything it has to offer.
When you launch the app, you'll need to enter your phone number and give access to your contacts list. For verification, you'll also get a text message with a code you'll need to enter before your account is completely synced to your device.
Once you're set up, you can peruse the contact list to see which of your contacts also use Viber and you can invite contacts who don't.
Once you have some people to chat with, you can use Viber like most other messaging apps. You can send text messages, short audio clips, photos and videos from your library, your location, and emoticons.
Sending a message is just like other apps, with balloons for each of the people chatting, and you can set up group texts for up to 100 participants. You can create an audio clip by touching the microphone, then touching and holding a big button in the bottom center to record. It's not quite as elegant as the touch and swipe up method you get with iOS Messages, but it works just fine.
There is a doodle feature, which lets you pick a brush size and color, then draw on the screen to send little doodles to your friends. It's obviously not a crucial feature, but it's a fun addition that lets you add something more to the conversation.
The app also has stickers, which are larger, more detailed graphics than emoticons. You get a pretty large selection, but you can also buy themed sticker packs for $1.99 each through in-app purchase.
What sets Viber apart from most third party messaging apps is the ability to make both audio and video calls and you can do it on a 3G connection or better. The app uses your regular phone number, and you call anyone around the globe for free provided they also have the app. In my testing the call quality was excellent and even sounded better than regular calls on my iPhone.
If you want to call landlines or people who don't have Viber, you have the option to buy what it calls Viber Out. The app lets you add money to your Viber Out credit with a tiered pricing plan. What's nice about this feature is that it tells you how much it will cost to call various countries before you spend anything. This means if you have a friend in London and you're in the United States, you can quickly figure out how much credit you will need for the amount of time you want to talk.
Video calls are also free so long as both parties have Viber, and will work on a 3G connection or better. I found that the video quality suffers somewhat with a poor connection, so Wi-Fi is the more ideal way to make video calls.
Viber lets you listen in on public chats with various themes such as Song of the Day or Disney Theme Parks so you can follow topics that interest you. It has a few celebrities and companies (such as Disney) you can follow to see what people are talking about. The problem here is that you can't participate in the chats yourself -- you can only watch. Viber plans to make it so you can chat too in a future update.
This feature will certainly be interesting to some people, but while I like Viber, I don't really see myself browsing through public chats in the app. In other words, it's nice, but it's probably not for everyone.
Viber has all the features of your default messaging app plus several more ways (like stickers and doodles) to add to the conversion. The ability to make calls anywhere in the world is a great reason to get the app, but understand that you'll need to get your friends to download it, too. Included video calling is also a nice touch, as long as you have good connection.
The Public Chat features seem like they might be useful or interesting once the app allows you to participate, but when all I could do was watch, it just made me feel like I wasn't included in the fun.
Still, as a free third-party messaging app, Viber has all the bases covered and then some. It has a lot of polish and the most features I've seen in an app of this kind, making it easy to recommend.