Five tips and tricks to improve your WhatsApp experience

The world’s most popular messaging app nails the basics, but there are some other useful features that you also put to use.

whatsapp android
Credit: Derek Walter

WhatsApp is the closest thing we have to a universal chat client. All you need is someone’s phone number to start gabbing away, just as easily as you can with traditional SMS messages.

This has helped WhatsApp become the dominant messaging app on the planet, with more than one billion users. As popular as it is here, you’ll see the phenomenon is far more pronounced when you travel outside the United States. In many other countries texting plans aren’t free, so smartphone users have bolted to the WhatsApp cloud for simple and universal messaging, since it’s also available on iOS. 

WhatsApp does messaging well, but like any app that becomes critical to your daily workflow, you ought to master the smaller things it does. Customization, backing up your data, and understanding just when your messages have been read are some of the many features that will improve your experience with WhatsApp. Here are five key tips, with a few extra suggestions thrown in for good measure.

Say it with a status

For fellow olds like me, the days of desktop computer chat through AIM, Google Talk, or ICQ required paying attention to someone’s status. It was a way to know if they were at the computer and available to chat or off doing something else.

WhatsApp has resurrected this concept with a modern twist. You can use a photo or short video (Snapchat style) to make a visual statement of how things are going. Just like Snapchat, your message will disappear after 24 hours.

To do this, head over to the Status tab or swipe all the way to the right to where the camera icon is. You can take a selfie, photo with the main camera, create a video, or choose an existing image. To make it even more fun, throw in some text.

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Borrow some moves from Snapchat and add in an image and some text to share how your day is going.

However, you can also just give an old-school status message if this newfangled Snapchat-style thing isn’t for you. Touch the overflow button (three vertical dots) at the top and select Settings. Touch your profile name. By default, your status is set to Available

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Say it with words if you’d rather avoid the Snapchat-style status update.

You can choose one of the existing options, or touch the pencil to write your own. Throw in some emoji to liven things up. Now your contacts will know if they can chat with you or if they should leave you alone for now.

Change the wallpaper

The default background wallpaper in WhatsApp isn’t all that fantastic. You have a couple of options to fix this. You can choose from another batch that WhatsApp has included. 

From the chat screen, go to Settings > Wallpaper. You’ll have four choices for the background.

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You can go for a retro look with the wallpaper choices on WhatsApp.

If you want a more traditional interface like in a texting app, then go for the solid colors. Or you can drop in a photo from your image gallery to display a picture from your last vacation.

Customize the notifications

Just like with most texting apps, you can change the sound that’s attached to particular contacts. This way you know whether to be excited or groan about who’s trying to reach you. 

To do this, go to that particular contact’s page by opening a chat an existing strand. Then touch the overflow menu > view contact > custom notifications.

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Tweak the notification sounds so you know who is trying to get in touch.

You have to enable the custom notification box and then you can choose amongst the different options.  You’re able to change whether or not a notification light appears, if the phone vibrates, and adjust the ringtone for WhatsApp voice calls.

Chat smarter

There are a number of smaller tweaks that allow you to get the information you may be looking for when it comes to your messages. For example, while WhatsApp uses checkmark symbols for if a message has been read or viewed (gray is the former, blue is the latter) you can get more details by digging deeper..

Touch and hold on a specific chat. You’ll see the bubble get highlighted, and then find several options appear at the top. Touch the i to see the timestamp for when the message was delivered and viewed.

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Find out when your contact finally looked at that message.

Additionally, from this menu you can delete individual messages, forward, star, copy, or delete them. It gives you the same “did they or didn’t they read it” information as other chat platforms.

Back up data and more

There are a few controls worth getting to know that might improve the WhatsApp experience if you’re often in a zone with limited Internet connectivity. 

Under settings > data usage you can reduce the amount of data WhatsApp usage by selecting the low data usage box.

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Set the parameters to control your data usage.

For additional savings, turn off photos as an auto-download on mobile. If you’re going to be in a low data zone, it can be a lifesaver.

Perhaps most importantly, you’re bound to eventually switch phones. To avoid having to start from scratch, you can backup your chats to Google Drive. This way when you sign on to a new phone all your conversations will be there waiting for you.

To do this, go to Go to Menu Button > Settings > Chats > Chat backup.

You can change how often WhatsApp backs up, be it on a regular schedule or only when you do so. 

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Ensure your messages don’t disappear with Google Drive backups.

Finally, there are some smart security steps to take. Check out the security section in the settings to turn on security alerts. While everything is end-to-end encrypted, you can enable an alert if a contact’s security code changes. This happens from time to time if they switch phones or change their account information.

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Turn on security notifications for better vigilance.

Typically you’ll be fine, but it’s worth getting pinged about such alerts.

There’s of course a lot more to explore, particularly if you’re new to the world of WhatsApp. You can keep the conversation going on the desktop by using a Windows/Mac app or the web application.  If your friends or family begin to gravitate to WhatsApp (especially if you have a cross-device relationship) then you’ll be ready to serve as a guide.

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