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App of the Week: Signal Private Messenger (Jan 8-14, 2021) – Really Private?

Signal Private Messenger iOS App Review

Is Signal Messenger better? Should I switch? Is it secure and private… so on and so forth. With WhatsApp’s recent privacy policy changes, it is natural for such questions to pop up in your mind. Hence, it made perfect sense to pick this one for Appy Week with AK, aka Arshmeet Kaur.

So, I tested Signal – Private Messenger vigorously for a whole week. I pushed my friends, colleagues, and family to join me on the messenger to test every feature of the app thoroughly.

In doing so, I found answers to all the questions mentioned above and more. Swipe through to learn all you need to know about Signal and how it performed on the AK Meter.

Signal Private Messenger iOS app: Does it deserve the hype?

Widely regarded as the most secure and private messaging app, Signal is built from the ground up with a sole focus on privacy. It boasts a fitting tagline, ‘Say Hello to Privacy,’ and employs end-to-end encryption to send and receive messages securely.

Signal most secure and private messaging app

Initially introduced in 2014, Signal grabbed the masses’ attention in January 2021, as people started to compare it with WhatsApp & ponder which one is better.

Remarkably, despite boasting a strict protocol, Signal manages to offer a host of features common to other messaging apps. Check out the feature list at a glance.

 

 

Messages 
TextY
Audio messagesY
Disappearing messagesY (5s – 1week)
Group messagesY (limit – 1000)
@ MentionsY
Broadcast messagesN
In-line replyY
Message reaction emojisY
Pin MessagesY (up to 4)
EmojisY
GIFsY
StickersY
Delete for everyoneY
Read receipts (on/off)Y
Typing Indicators (on/off)Y
Turn off link previewsY
Search chatY
Calling 
AudioY
VideoY
GroupY (limited to 5 people)
Relay CallsY
Media Sharing 
PhotosY
VideosY
View-once mediaY
File & linkY
Social 
Story sharingN
Status SharingN
View-once mediaY
Security 
Security PINY
Registration LockY
Screen Lock featureY (Face ID & Touch ID)
Stop previewsY
Safety NumbersY
Cloud backupN
Permission to send messageY
Permission to add in GroupY
Platform support
iOSY
AndroidY
macOSY
WindowsY
LinuxY

Is Signal really the most private messaging app?

Well, I can’t hack Signal’s server and check what’s happening there to tell you for sure. But wait, I don’t need that; the messaging app is a 100% open-source code app available on GitHub.

And unlike the closed source code alternatives, you can see what the code is doing to your data. The setting also means that developers and skilled personnel can independently audit, report bugs, and other app discrepancies.

Signal Protocol – Everything from the text and audio messages to video calls are encrypted using the Signal Protocol. One of the most secure protocols, it incorporates Double Ratchet algorithm, Extended Triple Diffie-Hellman (X3DH) key agreement protocol, pre-keys, and AES-256, Curve25519, HMAC-SHA256 as cryptographic primitives.

The low-down of all this jargon is that Signal is cryptographically sound. And interestingly, messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype claim to adopt the same protocol in their own products.

No MetaData: But what about other data? As per Signal, its servers only store your registered phone number, joining date and time, and last log-in date.

And other information like profile name, photo, messages & media are end-to-end encrypted. It doesn’t keep any record of who a user interacted with or the groups they are part of.

Signal App end-to-end encrypted

Most importantly, Signal does not incorporate ads, affiliate marketers, or creepy tracking tactics. So, all your communications are encrypted and decrypted only by the intended recipient(s). The only way someone can snoop on chats is if they have physical access to your devices. But then Signal Pin comes in handy at such places!

Would my father love it as much as WhatsApp?

The biggest advantage of WhatsApp is its vast user base and easy to use interface. So, when I asked my family to move to Signal, this was an obvious question. Would senior citizens, laymen, or technology-challenged enjoy this app?

Signa app easy to use interface

And surprisingly, the answer is yes! It has almost all the features you may need from a messaging app. And quite like WhatsApp, everything is neatly organized and easy to find. In fact, they almost look similar in the dark mode setting in my device. Even if you are a beginner, using the Signal app is pretty easy.

Signal iOS app landscape mode

An interesting observation is the iOS app’s landscape mode. My dad particularly enjoyed this feature as it came as a treat for his sore eyes and fingers. And while I don’t see him moving to WhatsApp because of his friends, he and I both found some merits in the app.

Pros & cons of the Signal Messaging app

Unfortunately, with great features come some cons! While there are some apparent positives of Signal, including privacy, open-source coding, no third-party snooping, simple & minimal UI, there are some negatives. Let’s see them in brief:

Pros of the Signal App 

Signa app feature

  • Message drafts – A handy feature if you are a multitasker, the app saves your half-written messages in the chat even if you quit the app.
  • Note to self – You can send yourself a message for later reference. However, this is applicable only when you have installed both mobile & desktop version.
  • Blur faces – A feature in the image editor that automatically hides faces to help protect people’s privacy in the photos you share.
  • Verify user – Each conversation has a unique safety number to compare with other participants & mark them as verified.
  • Relay calls  – The feature enables you to call through the Signal server to avoid sharing your IP address with your contact. However, this will reduce call quality at times.
  • View-once media – Signal users can send photos and videos that will be automatically removed from conversations after being viewed.
  • No pin reset – A good security feature unless you are prone to forgetting your codes. There are no options to recover it via mail or OTP, ensuring your chats are safe always.
  • Full transparency  –  As seen above, the app offers the utmost transparent interface, making it easy to convince others that Signal is a worthy WhatsApp alternative.

Think some potent features are missing, don’t worry; Signal is constantly improving its interface. Read the below tweet:

Cons of the Signal App

Ironically, some of the app’s security measures are the ones that bring up some of its potent negatives.

  • No cloud storage – Messages are only stored on your devices. And while that’s good for security, it means that you cannot back up your chats to Google Drive or iCloud.
  • Limitations to data transfer – You can’t restore messages, shift devices, or transfer accounts if –
    • You don’t have your old device
    • Cleared your phone
    • Lost your phone
    • Changed your number

Dog 90S GIF

  • Limited sync – Since there is no backup, you can’t sync old messages across iOS/Android on macOS/Windows. All previous conversations won’t appear on the new device, while the new messages received or sent after you log in are synced. 
  • Smaller user base – While Signal is growing, not all your family, friends, and colleagues are making a move. So, you might have to use two messaging services for some time, at least.

Did it make AK Appy?

Yes! Yes! Yes! The app did make AK super Appy. In my view, privacy is a privilege that you will have to compromise to an extent to get the benefits of certain services. And I love how Signal turns the table around and says, “you can have all the features without undermining your right to privacy.”

Quite like Apple, Signal keeps privacy a priority, and of course, I love it. It also offers a simple, easy-to-use, intuitive interface that was well-appreciated by my dad. So, a big thumbs up to Signal.

Not having a backup of chats is problematic and could create issues at times. But with some hacks like noting down important things or taking screenshots when needed, I can get used to this setting as well.

Star Review GIF

AK Meter (Points out of 5)

  • User interface – 4.5
  • Communication experience – 4
  • Features – 4.5
  • Value for Money – 5
  • Privacy & security – 5
  • Fun quotient – 4

What is Appy Week with AK?

There are a million things in an app that can shape your experience with it, from app design to built-in features. And it is hard to judge the app from just face value. So I have decided to test an app every day for one week; this allows me plenty of time to thoroughly explore the app.

And I could then pass that knowledge and share detailed, honest reviews with you guys. As for the name of the series, testing & exploring something new always makes me happy, so, Appy Week with AK.

I invite you to join me on this journey as there are tons of app reviews to follow! Do share your views and critiques about the app in the comments below.

Check out last weeks app App of the Week: J&J Official 7 Minute Workout (Jan 1-7, 2021)

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