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🌱 What Makes Telegram Great

Chat apps: Part 2

People, myself included, will endlessly discuss the features and details of their favourite apps for email, calendar, task management and note-taking. But “no one” talks about chat apps — even though many people probably use this type of app even more. I recently wrote about this here, and that I think it’s a bummer that chat apps mostly rely on one of two things: Military-grade security, and lazy lock-in.

I, of course, get why it is like this: Network effects, and switching costs, are of course much higher with chat apps than other apps. A less reported on part of the EU’s Digital Market’s Act (DMA) is actually trying to do something about this, with the demand for chat interoperability! Matrix is also working on this.

However, as someone who’s used plenty of chat apps, one really stands out, in terms of quality and features — and that’s Telegram. I also regularly use iMessage and Messenger (in addition to a bit of Signal and WhatsApp) — and those feel like such a let-down by comparison. This post is me giving concrete examples of why. 1

Telegram does have a bunch of "social media features", like channels (one-to-many communication), huge groups (up to 200k), etc. - but I've never really used these. So I'm looking at it simply as a chat app, for individuals and smallish groups.

This is not an endorsement of Telegram, nor the people behind it, though.

(By the way, click here to skip the preamble.)

I started to move to Telegram (from Meta’s Messenger) 5 years ago — primarily to battle Meta’s monopoly and hold on my digital life. The secondary reason, was that I don’t want to support the people behind Meta more than necessary. Let’s say we give “The People Behind” a score of -1 in Meta’s case.

I was considering Telegram vs. Signal, and at the time I gave “The People Behind” scores of 0 (Telegram) and 1 (Signal). However, I really wanted to get my friends and family (who care less about this stuff, and just want to use their apps in peace) on-board with the switch. So I went with Telegram, simply because the app was better and easier to use and get into.

Now, in the intervening years, I think I’ve reduced my view of “The people behind” Telegram to -1. 2 But even though they’re only on-par with Meta here, I’d still rather use Telegram than Meta’s services because I want to spread out power in tech. 3

I’m also not saying Telegram’s as secure as things like Signal.

Personally, I only need my chat app to be “pretty secure”. I don’t mind higher security, of course — but, for me, it’s not worth sacrificing a lot of usability to get it. What is important for me, is privacy: I don’t want ads, and I especially don’t want my personal information (and the information of those I’ve dragged onto the platform) to be used for it.

The two reasons I still want to give Telegram a lot of praise:

While Telegram is the chat app I use the most today, I kind of hope the answer will be Signal or Matrix in a couple of years. So the first reason, is that I hope this can serve as inspiration.

The second reason is more personal, and a bit hard to explain. Like, I have zero problems with someone thinking iMessage is fine — just like, or is fine. But if someone were to say the latter three are “just as good” as Things, Fantastical and Overcast, I hope some fellow app nerds would react. I just have this need to say:

Why Telegram’s great

These aren’t qualities and features Telegram is alone in having, necessarily! But I think Telegram is alone in having them all. Furthermore, even though most apps has a slower update cycle than Telegram, they do update. So, maybe some of these have been addressed by the time you read this?

#1) Choice of encryption

I’ll just get the most controversial out-of-the-way first:

The number one criticism of Telegram, is that they don’t end-to-end encrypt (E2EE) text chats by default. Instead, they encrypt on server, so on-par with what you get on iMessage if one of the participants has regular iCloud backups turned on. You can start “Secret Chats”, which are E2EE, though — and calls are always E2EE.

To some, this is a deal-breaker — but, and I get that this is a hot take, to me, it’s a big plus. If you have a specific threat model, I’d absolutely go for something E2EE. But let me compare Telegram and Signal in a couple of instances, to show why I think E2EE comes with a cost that might not always be worth it:

  • On Signal, you can send images up to 8 MB and videos up to 100 MB. On Telegram, you can send files up to 2 GB (4 GB with Premium).
  • When you log into a new device on Signal, you don’t get your chat logs — while Telegram instantly syncs everywhere.
  • Things being on server on Telegram, makes it possible to have it take up way less storage on your device. (Especially nice if you’ve sent some 2 GB files!)

Server encryption is also simpler and more user-friendly, 4 and (in my experience) more stable than E2EE. 5 This makes it easier to get people on the service, and away from something that’s might be way less private and secure.

Again, if you need, or just want, E2EE, go for it. But it’s not like there are no benefits of server encryption.

In addition to respecting a lack of storage on your device, they also have features for battery saving:

#2) Great apps everywhere

iMessage is pretty good for sharing photos and videos — but it’s not cross-platform. And, at least previously (I think they just improved it a bit), Messenger just massacres photos. So sharing things with a family that don’t all use Apple stuff is harder than it should be. But with Telegram, it’s easy to send stuff uncompressed, and also the compression is much less harsh.

And not only is it available everywhere — it’s good everywhere. The apps are native (and open source), and they’re quick to support new OS APIs. It also has a pretty good web app.

For instance, they were the first third-party app to support contacts showing up in the iOS Share Sheet.

While I like it on Mac and iPad, it’s literally one of my favourite apps, of any type, on my iPhone. They also update, and add new features, often (check out their blog to get a view of how often).

#3) Pretty good business model

Signal (and some others) kind of wins here, of course. They rely solely on donations, and give everything away for free. But while I hope it works out for them (and I have donated), I think it’s fair to not think every service should have to follow this model. So what’s the alternative?

Snapchat and Meta rely on surveillance capitalism — and is something I try to avoid. The point of iMessage is to get you, and the people around you, to keep buying Apple products — and is also something I don’t love.

Tracking-based ad in Meta's Messenger.

Telegram’s business model:

The main way they earn money, is through Telegram Premium — which primarily does three things:

  1. Increase already large caps (like max file size from 2 GB to 4 GB),
  2. visual flair, like animated emoji and profile picture, profile backgrounds, more app icons etc.,
  3. and extra powerful organisation features. (I’ll touch on these later.)

Telegram does run ads as well, though — but they’re only in the large channels (I’ve never seen one), and they’re not tracking-based. Premium removes these. And you also get some AI features, like real-time translation and transcription of voice messages.

Example of a premium feature I don't mind.

However, there are some things I don’t like:

One is that, while the free version of Telegram is unequivocally better than probably all other chat apps, you do get some “Premium nagging”.

The second is that they hide some privacy features behind the pay wall, like being able to see “Last Seen” and “Read” times of others without sharing yours, and hiding the fact that you’ve viewed other’s stories.

But in general, I do think a freemium model is of the better business models for a chat app: I’m a power-user, so don’t mind paying for it. And I can get my family on it for free, without me then making them get tracked.

#4) Brilliant basic chat experience

This is the most important part of an app like this — and it permeates into every other piece of the app. And Telegram does it so well. There’s just so many both fun and useful features sprinkled around the experience.

Sending options

Long-pressing the send button gives some good examples.

While iMessage insists on there only being six tap-backs, Telegram both has tons of them and the ability to send messages with them attached (and custom animations). Not useful, but absolutely fun! But the other options I always miss while using other services. I’m often awake when others are asleep — and every so often I’ll think “Oh, I should send this text on Monday”, but I need to get it out of my ADHD head. So I find them very useful!


You can format your messages with bold, italics, underline, strikethrough, as code, as block quotes, with spoilers (hold to reveal) and with hyperlinks. Telegram also has great, and customisable, link previews and replying/quoting. These animations show off some of what I’m talking about:

What’s important to say, is that even though Telegram does have some powerful features, they don’t go in the way and make the app hard to use! But it’s there if you want it.

#5) Good voice and video messages

While in a Telegram chat, you can lift your phone up to your ear, and talk into it to record a voice message. You can also pause these and add to them if you like. If you receive one, you can lift it up to your ear to have it play through the earpiece. You can also get a transcript if you want to read it instead.

Video messages are cute little round clips. Both of them, and images, can also be sent to be viewed only once. However, one of the things I’d like to see improved in Telegram, is the following: It should be faster and easier (require fewer taps) to send images that won’t get saved on the sender’s device and are only viewable once. In other words, to mimic Snapchat’s basic mode.

Some notes on these videos: They are promo videos taken from the Telegram blog - and not only do they have pretty gaudy use of AI generated images, they're also unrealistically fast and smooth. However, the UX animations and features are real.

#6) Good video and voice calls

I haven’t really used the more powerful features of this — so can’t truly comment on it. (More info here and here.) But I do like that it’s a nice way to call (with or without video) across both borders and platforms.

#7) Powerful group chats

Subjects in group chats, is one of my favourite features of Telegram. You can hide, or just temporarily mute, the subjects you’re less interested in, have different pinned messages in the different subjects, and more. Admins can also create stories from groups.

#8) Stories

This is a feature that obviously is everywhere. But just like with video and voice calls, I do like that it’s also on Telegram. And I’ve been pleased with the implementation for my very basic usage.

One improvement I'd like to see here, is the option to create custom lists, and then select several of them.

#9) Details and finesse

It’s hard to show what I mean about this — but Telegram just looks and feels really nice. And I constantly discover neat little details. Some of the videos have already shown off some animations — but they’re all over the UX, without making things feel slow or complicated.

Useful? No. Neat? Yes. And when they're all over the app, things just feels great.

They will also often do that little bit extra to make a feature more useful: OK, so you can share your location, and you can choose to just send where you are now, somewhere else static, or your live location for a set amount of time. But the “extra bit” is that you can also get notified when the other person gets close to you — and pick how close they should get before you’re notified!

As you can see here, you can set profile pictures on your contacts, and either suggest it as a new one for them, or just set it for yourself.

For yourself, you can also set one profile picture that your contacts see, and another for people not in your contact list.

Lastly, if a person in a group chat has written something long (or several messages in a row), their picture will scroll so you always see who has written something:

OK, I just had to show one more. 👆🏻 Sure, why not make you able to decide if the caption is above or below the image!?

Now, I’m not saying other apps don’t have nice features. But Telegram just has the most of them, and frequently gets new ones. So going from it to other apps, feels like going back in time.

#10) Pretty fine-grained privacy features

I like that you don’t have to share your phone number with other users. People can start talking to you by clicking a link, or by scanning a QR code.

I also like that you can tailor what you share with whom. In addition to being able to set a separate profile picture for people not in your contact list, you can also finesse things like birthday, description, “last seen”, what happens if someone forwards a message from you, etc.

#11) Great organisation — chats, contacts, and messages

You can sort your different chats into folders. A chat can be in multiple folders, and you can set different pinned chats in each. I just use them for things like “Family”, “Favourites”, “Group chats”, etc. — but these folders can also be shared, if you have groups and channels you want to recommend to others.

I also really like how easy it is to find stuff in your chats — both via a very robust search feature, and sorting when you go into a contact. One thing that’s not viewable in the image above, is that you can also see the groups you’re in together.

You also get this experience while scrolling through shared media.

You can also pin messages within chats — and Telegram also has a pretty bonkers system for your own Saved Messages. Within Telegram, you can save whatever by forwarding it to your “Saved chats”.

You can also use the Share Sheet, or just type whatever like you would in a normal chat.

You can then simply view all saved messages, in chronological order. But if you have many of them, you’ll be glad to learn that you can also view them by type (media, link, etc.), or sorted by where you saved it from.

As you can see, I'm not the heaviest user of this feature. But I can see it being very useful if you need cross-platform sharing of links, for instance.

You can also tag saved messages!

#12) Bots

Speaking of features I don’t use to its fullest, Telegram has support for making and speaking to bots.

I haven’t used anything like the ad above — but I have created a couple I like related to a Discourse forum I run:

  • I’ve set up channels where bots will post new topics from the forum.
  • And I have a “conversation” with a bot that gives me notifications when someone replies to things I’ve written.

Microsoft also has a Copilot bot you can talk to, and I know there’s plenty of stuff out there!

#13) Polls

Messenger used to have this, and then they just removed it, for some reason. It never returned - but Telegram has a pretty good implementation.

#14) Fun stuff and customisation

Let me just say that I get that these are things some might hate — and you’ll be glad to know that it can be turned off. But I like that Telegram has several customisation and theming options, and animations and effects — and this is my last section.

Everything backgrounds, colours, emoji, stickers, GIFs, and more, have robust support.

Now, remember why I wrote this post

As mentioned, I get why some might not want to use Telegram — either because it’s not secure enough, or because you would rather not support the people behind it. But I hope this way too long post has shown why I think the app is so good - even though things, of course, aren’t quite as smooth as in the promo videos. And I’d love it if other services steals as much as possible from this list!

  1. My impression is that WhatsApp is pretty close. But as that’s also owned by Meta, I haven’t been interested in investing in it. ↩︎

  2. Won’t go into it here, as it’s not the point of the article. ↩︎

  3. In addition to it being way better, of course. ↩︎

  4. No codes to save! And no chance of losing all your logs, etc. ↩︎

  5. Me and a couple of friends tried Matrix early 2023 - and after daily decryption errors and missed notifications, they rioted… Matrix 2.0 looks like it’ll improve this greatly, though! So I’m paying attention there. ↩︎