Two days ago I wrote about how I paid £20 for six months of Pay As You Go mobile internet, and how I thought there are little reason in needing voice and text bundles. These days most of my communications are text based, with voice calls made mainly through Skype or a land line phone (we do need them for our broadband).
So what do I use as a SMS replacement. Normally I use direct messages via twitter, but not everyone is on twitter, particularly my friends in Asia. For those who aren't, I use WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a cheap instant messaging client not too dissimilar to RIM's BlackBerry Messenger service - only this allows for cross platform conversations. Because WhatsApp uses your data connection, it is also cheaper - particularly if you send a lot of international texts. The only issue is your friends will have to use WhatsApp as well, but this applies to all instant messaging client.
Feature wise, WhatsApp is limited to text messaging with no option for voice calling. WhatsApp's main advantage over competing instant messaging clients is it automatically scans your phone book and presents a list of contacts (including profile pictures) who are also using WhatsApp into the Favourite category. Obviously this doesn't mean you can merrily contact anyone on that list. They have to have you listed on their phone book as well before they can see you.
Starting a new chat is easy. Simply click on a contact's name and start typing in the input box. Chats are presented with a threaded view, and is far quicker than the default Nokia's Conversation application (what isn't?). You can also send images, videos, audio notes and your current location. Unfortunately I have not found a way to cancel an upload short of closing the application.
Anyway, within the chat area, you will also be able to see whether the contact is currently online, and here lies the biggest issue with WhatsApp: unlike text messages, a text can't be pushed towards the contact if he or she isn't online. Early versions of WhatsApp for Symbian has proven to be a battery hog, but I've had no batteries issues with the latest version.
Quirks aside, WhatsApp is a cheap way of getting people off an expensive text messaging plan. It is currently available for a one year free service for those on Symbian and Android, after that it only costs US$1.99 a year to subscribe to the service.
Whatsapp is available for iOS, Symbian, Android and Blackberry platforms.