A world of texts, social media, and instant messaging has made the humble walkie-talkie irrelevant. But if you think that, you’re wrong. The ethos behind walkie-talkies has seen a renaissance in recent years, and quickly firing off a voice message for a friend now seems like a novelty when compared with typing out a lengthy missive. As such, walkie-talkie-emulating apps popping up in both app stores.
This may seem odd, but the reasoning behind it is sound — literally. Firing off a quick voice message is often faster than typing on a screen, and in many cases, it’s more convenient too. In the colder months, it means less time using numb fingers to type, and more time keeping your digits warm. Apple Watches on WatchOS 5 come with a Walkie-Talkie mode, but what about your phone? Turns out there are Android and iOS apps to scratch that retro itch. If you’re looking to send a quick voice message to a friend or loved one, then there are apps that emulate the traditional walkie-talkie experience.
But while these apps work in a similar way to each other, it’s important to note that none allow your phone to function like “true” walkie-talkies. Real walkie-talkies use radio waves to transmit messages and don’t rely on an LTE connection to send messages. Unfortunately, without more specialized equipment, most of these apps will use your data connection to send messages. That also means they won’t be able to message real walkie-talkies, as phones simply lack the hardware to do so — with a few, heavily-specialized exceptions like the Doogee S90. Still, there’s no better way to fire off a quick message to a friend’s phone than by using one of these apps. Here are the best walkie-talkie apps for iOS and Android.
Zello is one of the most well-known walkie-talkie apps on the market, and it’s most people’s go-to for a walkie-talkie experience. Part of the reason why it’s so popular is because of it’s usability. It’s easy to import contacts, and tapping on one displays the option to talk displayed front-and-center. You can talk directly with individual people, or you can create a group channel for your friends or work groups. If you’re feeling particularly social, you can even join a specialized channel to chat about specific topics, from cats to local areas. Voice messages will be played out immediately if the app is open, or played later through a voicemail-like system, so you can pick up your messages when convenient. You can also send text messages, images, or alerts. One useful feature is the ability to set a volume level for each individual user — which is especially handy in group channel talks with those particularly noisy people. There are some issues. It won’t work if you use a mobile VPN, and has trouble with some open Wi-Fi networks — but it’s otherwise the best option available.
Walkie-talkie apps are great, but more traditional messaging apps also have their place. If moving to a pure walkie-talkie app seems odd to you, maybe check out Voxer. It’s built more like a traditional instant messaging app, and includes threaded view text chat, support for sending images, and is one of the only walkie-talkie apps to have end-to-end encryption. Unfortunately, there’s no option to broadcast to channels like Zello, but you can still create group chats if you need to contact a bunch of people at once. It’s not bug-free though, and users complain about a bunch of fairly annoying bugs. Still, they tend to be relatively minor, like double notifications. Basic access is free, but you’ll need to upgrade to a Pro account for the best features, including a hands-free mode, voice-to-text transcription, the ability to recall sent messages, and more. Pro access costs $3 a month, or $30 for a year.
Another simple app, VoicePing is designed primarily for business users, but can be used by anyone with an Android or iOS device. It’s built to resemble a more traditional messaging app, but there’s more here than the chat app interface. Voice messages can be played from any contact at any time — even with the screen off and phone locked, and you can choose to chat 1-to-1, or pick up to 200 contacts in a group chat. It also works with headsets with PTT buttons, making it extremely useful for certain business users.
One of the purer versions of a walkie-talkie app, Breakr commits itself to talking and very little else. It’s as easy to use as you’d expect; hold the button down, talk, and release the button to send your message. But there are devils in these details. Can’t talk? Type your message and it’ll be read out to your recipient with Breakr’s text-to-speech service. There’s a voice changer if you’d prefer to chat anonymously (or just say something in a silly robot voice), and the 24-hour chat history means you shouldn’t miss a message. The downsides? There’s no real text chat option, and it’s iOS-only, so you’re limited to only chatting to iOS-loving friends.
A much simpler app than some of the other entries on this list, Two Way is the walkie-talkie app of choice for the extrovert. There’s no option to pick-and-choose individual contacts, and you can’t send text messages or images. Instead, you can pick a specific geographical area (local or national) and broadcast to that area. As such, you’re opening your broadcasts for absolutely anyone else to hear and respond to. So don’t be surprised when you start getting replies from people you don’t know. If you love starting conversations with strangers, then this is an excellent way to do so — and thanks to the way the app is set up, you do so without any risk of giving away intimate details of yourself. Thankfully, if you want a more private conversation you can head into the Key Pad feature and choose a channel to chat in instead. The huge selection of channel numbers should mean you won’t have to share with anyone else. There are reports the app doesn’t work properly on Android 9.0 Pie and Android 10, but if you turn off Battery Optimization you shouldn’t have an issue.
Walkie-talkie — Communication
The option for the minimalist, Walkie-talkie — Communication is a walkie-talkie app that is just a walkie-talkie. That’s it. There’s no contacts list, no text messaging, and certainly no image sending. Instead, you and a friend download the app, set the channel to the same number, then turn on the walkie-talkie to send immediate voice messages. You can change the color of the background, and there’s a website version (that we couldn’t get to work). Honestly, there’s not much to it other than that. But it works, and its simplicity is kinda quirky. Unfortunately for Android users, it’s iOS-only, which restricts your crowd somewhat. Still, it keeps the conversation within the walled garden, which we think Apple would be happy about.
Here’s one that’s a little different from the rest. While other apps are shackled by their need for a data connection, Walkietooth uses a variety of other connections instead, using a device-to-device connection with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, or a direct connection through a shared Wi-Fi network. You can share a voice connection, or bump the stream up to video. This might seem like an odd addition to a walkie-talkie app, but it means an old device could be used as a baby monitor if you’re not hugely into walkie-talkies. While Bluetooth and other options won’t be as good in a house or urban area, it could be a good choice for motorcyclists out on the road if there’s no mobile data but little to block a Bluetooth connection. Definitely a niche choice, but one that’s worth considering if you fit into the target audience. Unfortunately for iPhone-lovers, it’s Android-only.
Available on iOS and Android, HeyTell is a good cross-platform option for contacting a wide variety of friends. Unlike most other options, HeyTell has Facebook connectivity, and can use your profile to link you to friends already on the platform. This makes it extremely easy to get up and running on the service, but there’s also no shortage of security thanks to HeyTell’s three-tiered privacy system. There’s a voice changer if you’d rather be more anonymous, and the app claims to use less data than an email. It’s got plenty of features, but there are quite a few caveats to make sure they work — these are all detailed on the app pages, so make sure to check there if you’re having issues.
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