Texting on your Android phone is about to get a lot better. Last week, Google announced that it's slowly starting to roll out RCS Messaging in the US to users of its Messages app. If you are not using Google's messaging app for text messaging on your phone (not to be confused with Samsung's messaging app), you want to start.
RCS Messaging adds features similar to Apple's iMessage to your Android phone, complete with the ability to send full-resolution photos and small bubbles that let you know when someone is typing. Google is taking the time to launch, but plans to give everyone access to the feature by the end of the year.
Google has tried many different messaging services and is lagging behind Facebook Messenger and Apple's iMessage to gain some real momentum. With RCS Messaging so closely intertwined with text messages, Google may finally have found a winner. RCS messages do not roll properly from the tongue, so within the Messages app, Google refers to the service as chat.
Let's take a closer look at what you need to do to activate the new feature, as well as some of the more nuanced aspects of RCS Messaging.
Get started with Google's chat feature
First, you need an Android phone with the Google messaging 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 instructions and don't worry, you won't lose your conversation history by switching.
It may take some time for you to access RCS messages (Google seems to be happy to roll out 1% of the population at a time), but in the meantime you can take advantage of web messaging, which allows you to send and receive text messages from your computer. So it's still worth changing.
RCS messages will work in the US, UK, France or Mexico – for now, but again, the rollout will take time. Google is currently adding more US users and expects to have RCS enabled for all messaging users in the US by the end of the year.
Turn on Google chat features
After installing the Google Messaging app and setting it as your default text app, there are two ways to enable chat. You can either wait for a question in the messaging app and ask if you want to see when your friends are writing, or you can go to the Settings section of Messages and look for the switch to activate the chat.
When prompted, press Upgrade now and then follow the instructions and enter your phone number if prompted. You can also open messages and press the menu button with three points (upper right corner of the app) and select Settings > Chat Features . If Chat features are not in the settings section, your account does not have access to RCS yet.
The same settings page is also where you can go to turn on or turn off your read receipts, as well as disable the write indicator when writing and checking what happens to Chat cannot send a message.
If you encounter problems sending messages, you can also see the current status of the phone's connection to the Chat service in the Settings app. As long as it says Connected, your phone number is registered with Chat and should use the service when talking to a contact who also has Chat enabled.
That's an important aspect of Chat. The person you are talking to must also have the feature enabled on their device to use the new chat features, although of course all the usual text features still apply.
You can take advantage of your past by getting your friends to use Google messaging. You can guide them through the installation process (or send a link to this post).
If you are impatient and want to try Chat right now, you can try a solution that some Reddit users discovered. It's a little technical, but it should get started.
Use the new chat features in a conversation
Once you enable chat features, the Messages app will continue to work and look the same, and you should continue to use it the same way you always have. The app knows when you talk to someone via text or other contact with chat enabled.
The easiest way to tell if a conversation is using old-fashioned text messages or the new chat features is to look at the text box before you start writing. If the box says "Chat message", the conversation has write indicators, read receipts and the rest of the features that RCS messages offer.
When using chat features, you see delivered and read receipts during each message you send, and you can send full resolution photos and share files with other chat users. You don't have to do anything special to send a high-resolution image, just tap the photo icon in the app and select photo or video. You see a charging circle in the image when it is uploaded and sent, but otherwise the process looks and works the same way as sending a text message.
Because Chat works via mobile data or Wi-Fi, you can put your phone in flight mode and you can still send and receive messages with other Chat users.
Switch phone? Make sure you turn off Chat
Yes, and you should actually do so before removing the SIM card from your phone. If you forget to turn off chat features before moving your SIM card to a new phone, chat features can continue to work for up to 8 days. Which means you may not receive messages sent to your number by someone using chat.
Note: Your messages are not encrypted
Google does not currently encrypt your conversations with other chat users. The conversations are sent securely from your phone to the Google server and then to the recipient's phone, after which the messages are deleted from the Google server, but these messages are not encrypted from end to end.
You can use apps like WhatsApp and Signal, or Apple's iMessage if you prefer one-to-one encryption.
If you have more questions about RCS messages, we have answers. We also have a summary of the best messaging apps for Android users, or if you are considering jumping ship to iPhone ($ 699 at Amazon) you may be surprised how easy it is.