Telegram vs Signal: which alternative to WhatsApp is better

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Martí Micolau
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WhatsApp's new privacy policy has created quite a stir. That's why most people consider Signal and Telegram as an alternative. You can find out what a better alternative to WhatsApp is in this post. Both Telegram and Signal are committed to protecting the privacy and security of users. Their approach is different. We understand the difference between Telegram and Signal based on how they handle user data and protect their privacy.

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Security and privacy

The distinguishing feature of Telegram is security. It claims that all its activities, including chats, groups and multimedia content shared between participants, are encrypted. This means that they will not be visible without first being decrypted.

Telegram provides end-to-end encryption using its own proprietary messaging protocol called MTProto. It is not entirely open-source and lacks control by external cryptographers.

Unlike Signal, Telegram keeps encryption keys with it. This means that, if requested or pressured by the government on a relevant basis, the company could consider distributing the user's encryption keys.

The app allows you to set self-destruct timers on the messages and media you share that can range from two seconds to a week through its built-in “Secret Chat” feature. It also offers end-to-end encryption, leaving no trace on Telegram's servers.

Signal uses Open Whisper System to E2E (end-to-end) encrypt all conversations by default. It is an open source encryption algorithm. Encryption keys are stored on users' phones and computers and not on any server, thus eliminating any potential for spoofing.

Signal's verification method beats every other messaging app. Users can verify each other's profiles by verifying security numbers or by scanning QR codes that contain this unique set of numbers and marking the profile as verified.

As for voice calls, Signal offers an option to "Always forward calls" so that all calls go through the Signal server to avoid revealing your IP address to your contact.

The service is designed to minimize the data stored on Signal users. Signal collects as little metadata as possible and does not store any metadata, logs or information about its users.

WhatsApp claims to be end-to-end encrypted, but the company carefully protects its code. There are no reports of the compromised code so far. However, this may or may not change in the future.

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Messaging and functionality

The basic chat experience with text, emojis, GIFs, stickers and media remains more or less the same between Signal and Telegram. However, there are some small observations in our tests.

Overall, Telegram was smooth, responsive, and better equipped than Signal. Telegram also offers interactive stickers, live emojis, and other customization options like changing themes, wallpapers, etc.

With Telegram, you can create groups with up to 200.000 members and it allows you to share a media file up to 1,5GB in size.

Signal is relatively new to the Instant Messaging (IM) space. The service supports self-destructing messages and offers a Note to Self add-on for gathering thoughts and ideas. In terms of customization, Signal recently added the ability to change theme and background to its service.

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Backup and restore

Telegram beats all rivals with its superior backup solution. It is one of the reasons why many of us prefer Telegram to WhatsApp.

Telegram is a true cloud-based cross-platform solution. You don't need your phone to use Telegram on the desktop. It is available on all platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux and the web. Simply log in using your mobile number and all chats, media and files will be available without any transfer process.

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Signal on iOS uses the QR code to transfer user data from one device to another. On Android, you can manually move the backup file from your old device to the new one and restore the data. If you have lost your old phone, there is no way to restore Signal data to the new device.

WhatsApp uses third party cloud services like Google Drive or iCloud to backup / restore chat data. However, there is no direct way to transfer chat history from Android to iPhone or vice versa.

When it comes to backup and restore, I'd put Telegram right on top, followed by WhatsApp and Signal respectively.

Cross-platform availability

Telegram is available on all platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Web, and even Linux. Signal is also accessible on mobile and desktop platforms. But again, we found Telegram's apps on Windows and Mac are built better than Signal.

Which one is right for you

This is a difficult question to answer. Let me elaborate. Regardless of how many security features and add-ons a company packs in its instant messaging offering, it all comes down to how many contacts in your address book use the service in the first place. 

Telegram recently passed 500 million hits, so there's a good chance your friends and family are already on the platform.

Further Reading:

  • What is Signal and how does it work?
  • Telegram tricks, how to use it like a pro
  • What is Sealed Sender in Signal and should you enable it?
  • WhatsApp won't open on Mac, 7 solutions
  • The best alternatives to Whatsapp

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