The best chat clients for 2020

Instant messaging apps and text for mobile devices allow users to stay connected and reach each other in a matter of seconds. But what if Mac or Windows users want to get the same experience on their PCs?

There are a plethora of chat clients available for download on your PC. We’re here to help you decide on the best one for you, whether you need team collaboration, want to connect with fellow gamers or value the ability to make voice and video calls.

The best

Slack

Slack Desktop - Windows

For teams, Slack is king — at least for now — and for good reason: The software is slick, feature-rich, and mostly ubiquitous. These days, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a business using Slack. It’s everywhere, not because it’s the default team chat application for many businesses and organizations, but because it’s simply the best on the planet.

Why? The interface is clean, stylish, and straightforward. You have channels on the left and direct messages directly below. You also have Slackbot, which essentially amounts to Siri and Alexa’s chat-based cousin. You can have Slackbot set reminders, and you can even customize it to respond to certain commands.

With dozens of integrations — including support for a host of other productivity suites — Slack works well with just about every service available, and businesses can further customize it to fit their needs.

Plus, it’s free. There are also no ads or limits on how many users you can have. There are paid plans, however, and they provide a more robust experience and added storage space, but most people can get by with the free version.

Need another reason why Slack is the best team chat app on the market today? It runs on Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and Linux in various flavors — even directly in your web browser — without any major variations between platforms.

Slack

The rest

Discord

Discord direct message screen (press shot)

If Slack is the best choice for the workplace, then Discord is the best solution for gamers. Discord provides a feature set that should be familiar to Slack users or anyone who’s been a member of a guild in World of Warcraft.

Discord is less formal than other chat apps, which is refreshing since the current market is very business-oriented. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. Featuring robust chat support and a built-in Streamer mode, this is a finely crafted application that puts apps like Skype to shame. Unlike other popular chat apps, you only need to create one username from which you can join multiple different servers at a time. No need to create a separate work login and personal login — it’s the same one used across the entire platform.

Once you create or join a server, you can set up individual channels for specific topics, and even join each one like a no-fuss conference call. It’s reliable, attractive, and well-designed. Best of all, it just works.

With Discord, you can also turn off your mic if you’re not in the mood to talk, or just jump right into a real “chat room”-style conversation with just the touch of a button. It’s simple, easy, and reliable.

Discord provides apps on every major platform, including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and even Linux.

Discord

WhatsApp

If you’re looking for a straight-up one-on-one chat app without all the servers and chat rooms, WhatsApp is a great solution. The client is tied directly to your phone, meaning you’ll need an active phone number to create an account. It serves as a replacement for your phone’s current text messaging client, but it doesn’t send messages through your wireless carrier’s SMS system. Instead, WhatsApp delivers messages using end-to-end encryption over your cellular or Wi-Fi internet connection.

Like SMS messengers, you can start a chat with a single individual or a group. But what’s interesting is that you can broadcast your current status to all contacts. For instance, if you’re hiking in the mountains and stumble across a stunning vista, you can take a quick snapshot and instantly broadcast it to everyone on your list for the next 24 hours.

But WhatsApp isn’t all about texting. The platform provides a free telephony service no matter where you’re located. You can communicate the old-fashioned way through voice-based calls or conduct a video chat when you see a familiar face. Like the texting aspect, all voice and video calls travel across the internet rather than through your mobile carrier.

Overall, WhatsApp is a great, slick communication platform for those worried about their mobile carrier stashing text messages, photos, and videos. There’s plenty to love, and the platform even provides desktop apps that synchronize with the installed mobile app so you’re not constantly picking up your phone. End-to-end encryption also means your communications stay out of the wrong hands, making it a great chat tool for parents and their children.

WhatsApp

Skype

If you’re on Windows 10, chances are Skype is already installed on your PC. This chat client originally made its debut as standalone desktop software for Windows in 2003, but Microsoft acquired the platform and transformed it into a Windows-centric communication tool used by businesses and individuals alike. It’s now served up in desktop and app flavors across seven major platforms.

While WhatsApp puts the smartphone first and the desktop second as a paired “receiver,” Skype provides full-fledged Skype apps across all platforms that synchronize your conversations via Microsoft’s cloud. Consider Skype as Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iMessage service — only Skype isn’t locked to just Microsoft’s operating system.

Similar to WhatsApp, you can text individuals or participate in group conversations. Skype doesn’t require a phone number but instead links to your Microsoft Account. That said, your messages travel through cellular (data) and Wi-Fi internet connections instead of your wireless carrier’s SMS service. And like WhatsApp, you can throw pictures, videos, your location, and other files and media into your conversations.

In addition to messaging, Skype provides voice and video calling, too. You can do this in two ways: Call someone for free who also has Skype installed, or call/text a specific land or mobile phone number using Skype Credit starting at $3 per month. If no one answers on the other end, you can leave an audio or video message.

Of the more mainstream clients, Skype may be a better choice if you don’t mind Microsoft’s attachment. The Windows 10 app has made significant progress since its launch while the “classic” desktop versions are somewhat old-school compared to the mobile apps. But if you’re looking for a chat tool that covers multiple platforms in desktop and app variants — and even works on your Xbox — Skype is definitely your best bet.

Skype

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