It’s not too often you check out an app’s homepage and see an endorsement by Edward Snowden. Yet that’s exactly what you get when you visit Signal’s page, and Snowden’s endorsement makes a lot of sense considering that this is a secure messaging app.
Unlike other secure messaging apps like Viber, Signal is open sourced, peer reviewed and it is funded through donations rather than through ads or purchases. Plus, Signal is a non-profit organization, so it’s not looking to impress shareholders. All of this adds up to super-secure software that’s constantly monitored for flaws and has only one focus – keeping your communications encrypted from the time they leave your device until they arrive at the intended recipient. Along the way no one – not even Signal – can read or listen to them.
Setting up Signal is pretty straightforward. Once downloaded to your phone or tablet, the app will ask for permission to access your contacts and other media on your phone as well as the ability to make phone calls. It will also ask for your phone number so that it can send you a verification code. One of the fun surprises is that once the code is received, it autofills and moves you along in the setup process. Next, you’re asked to set up your profile which consists of nothing more than entering your last name, and finally you’re asked to create a four-digit PIN.
After this quick process you have the option of making Signal your default SMS app. Doing so can take a little while based on the number of text messages currently stored on your phone, because they are all moved to Signal’s encrypted database. Doing so also integrates Signal with your text messages – so if you want to keep those separate from your Signal chats, you’ll want to skip this step.
Anyone familiar with any other messaging app will have no problem using Signal. A pencil icon starts a new message which you can then send to a group or an individual. While composing a message, you can click on an icon to the left of the text field to add a sticker or emoji, or you can tap the camera icon to send a photo or video or the microphone for a voice clip. One particularly novel feature of Signal is that you can also use the “Note To Self” icon to send yourself notes or files you’d like to keep secure.
Before writing your message, Signal will tell you if your message is encrypted or not right in the input window. Messages to other Signal members are encrypted, those to non-Signal members are not.
Once in a message, tapping the three dots in the upper right corner allows you to access settings for that conversation. You can change the color of the speech bubbles, view all of the media you’ve shared with that contact, search in the message chain or set the “disappearing message feature,” which lends a SnapChat-like functionality to the software by allowing you to choose how long a message will last in the thread before vanishing.
Signal also has VoIP (internet-based calling) baked in. Calls to any other Signal users are encrypted, while trying to make a call from within the app to a non-Signal member will simply route the call through your phone’s normal carrier.
In addition to the Android and iOS versions, Signal is also available in desktop versions for PCs and Macs, but to install it, you need to first have the app on a mobile device. Once you do, linking is as simple as launching the software on your machine, and scanning the barcode that appears with your mobile device.
In all, Signal is amazingly robust, very intuitive to use and offers unbeatable end-to-end privacy. And did we mention that it’s free?