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Stop being jealous of iMessage. How to use Google's fancy texting on Android phones

If you're not using Google Chat's enhanced messaging features, now's the time to learn them all.


Google's Messages app has a lot to offer, and it keeps getting better. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Talk to almost any iPhone owner about their favorite features, and it's almost a guarantee that they'll mention iMessage, which trounces the standard texting app with a suite of useful, enhanced features, including smart group threads, send and read receipts, Wi-Fi messaging, and full-resolution photo sharing. So where does that leave Android?

Thankfully, Google's messaging skills are catching up. Just last week, Google added reactions to chat conversations, letting you like or heart a message, just like you can in an iMessage or Facebook Messenger conversation. 

The boring technical name for the service is RCS Messaging, but more commonly, and easier to remember, Google is referring to the features as Chat. If you're not using it now, you're missing out. Most of the most popular iMessage features are integrated into Google Chat, which itself is baked into Google's Messages app, including the ability to send and receive messages from your computer

In order to use the features, you have to use Google's Messages app, not your phone brand's proprietary texting app. We'll show you how to make Messages your default text app if it isn't already, which text features you get and how to start using Google Chat messages on your Android phone.

Even Samsung is getting in on the act. It recently announced that its Messages app will soon begin using the same RCS technology that's available in Google's Messages app. If you own a Samsung Galaxy phone, your best bet is to use the Google Messages app for now, at least until Samsung completes its rollout. We'll update this post as we learn more. 

Let's take a closer look at what you'll need to do to turn on the new feature, as well as some of the more nuanced aspects of Chat. 

Now playing: Watch this: Android 11: What's new in the public beta

Get started with Google's Chat feature

First, you'll need an Android phone with Google's Messages app installed and set as the default text messaging app. The first time you launch Messages, it will ask if you want to set it as your default app. Just follow the prompts and don't worry, you won't lose your conversation history by switching. 

After setting Messages as your default messaging app, take a couple of minutes and set up Messages for Web, which allows you to send and receive text messages from your computer

Chat will work in the US, UK, France or Mexico. There isn't an official list of countries, but Android Police has received reports from users in Italy, Portugal, and Singapore have also been able to use Chat. Android Central also has a list of countries and respective carriers that offer support. 

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You'll need to use Google's own Messages app in order to take advantage of Chat. 

Juan Garzon/CNET

Turn Google's Chat features on

After installing Google's Messages app and setting it as your default texting app, there are two different ways to enable Chat. You can either wait for a prompt in the Messages app asking if you want to see when your friends are typing, or you can go into the Settings section of Messages and look for the switch to turn Chat on

When you get the prompt, tap Upgrade Now then follow the prompts and enter your phone number if asked. Alternatively, you can also open Messages and tap on the three-dot menu button (top-right corner of the app) and select Settings > Chat Features

This same settings page is also where you can go to turn your read receipts on or off, as well as disable the typing indicator whenever you're typing and control what happens if Chat fails to send a message. 


Make sure you customize Chat's settings. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

If you run into issues with sending messages, you can also view the current status of your phone's connection to the Chat service in the settings section of the app. As long as it says Connected, your phone number is registered with Chat and should use the service whenever you're talking to a contact who also has Chat enabled.

That's an important aspect of Chat. Whoever you're talking to will also need to have the feature enabled on their device to use the new chat features, though of course all usual texting features still apply. 

You'll be able to take advantage sooner by getting your friends to use Google Messages. You can guide them through the setup process (or send them a link to this post). 


The Messages app mostly looks the same.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use the new Chat features in a conversation

After you turn on chat features, the Messages app will continue to work and look the same, and you should keep using it the same way you always have. The app knows when you're talking to someone through text or another contact with chat turned on. 

The easiest way to tell if a conversation is using old-fashioned text messaging or the new chat features is to look at the text box before you start typing. If the box says "Chat message" then the conversation will have typing indicators, read receipts, and the rest of the features that RCS Messaging offers. 

To use the new reactions feature, long-press on a message until a bubble shows up, presenting you with a few different options, including like, love, laughter or anger. 


It's pretty easy to see when you're going to send a text, or use the new Chat features. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

When chat features are in use, you'll see delivered and read receipts underneath each message you've sent, and you can send full-resolution photos and share files with fellow chat users. You don't have to do anything special to send a high-resolution image, just tap on the photo icon in the app and pick photo or video. You'll see a loading circle on the image as it's uploaded and sent, but otherwise the process looks and works the same as sending a text message. 

Because Chat works over mobile data or Wi-Fi, you can put your phone in airplane mode and you'll still be able to send and receive messages with other Chat users. 

Switching phones? Make sure you turn Chat off

Just like Apple's iMessage tries holding onto your phone number if you forget to disable it, so does Chat. Before you remove the SIM card from your phone, make sure to turn off Chat. If you forget to turn off chat features before moving your SIM card to a new phone, chat features could continue to work for up to eight days. Meaning, you may not get messages sent to your number by someone using chat. 


Keep in mind it's not encrypted.

Angela Lang/CNET

Disable Chat by opening Settings > Chat features in the Messages app and slide the switch next to Enable chat features to the Off position. I suggest waiting a few minutes after turning it off to let Google's servers process the request, and ensure your number doesn't get stuck in limbo. 

Note: Your messages aren't encrypted

Google doesn't currently encrypt your conversations with fellow chat users. The conversations are sent securely from your phone to Google's server and then to the recipient's phone, after which the messages are deleted from Google's server, but those messages aren't end-to-end encrypted. 

You can use apps like WhatsApp and Signal, or Apple's iMessage if you prefer end-to-end encryption.

If Google's Chat service still isn't enough to keep you on Android, switching to iPhone is easier than you might think. However, if you're completely happy with Android, we have a roundup of the best apps in 2020, along with a handful of our favorite features coming to Android 11 when it's officially released later this year