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How to use WhatsApp: A step-by-step beginner's guide
WhatsApp boasts more than 2 billion users worldwide, but if you don’t live in one of the countries where it’s popular, you may have never used it. Its $16 billion purchase by Facebook in 2014 turned some heads (and raised some privacy concerns), but it still offers many advantages over its competitors. If those two reasons aren’t enough to convince you to learn how to use WhatsApp today, perhaps the fact that it’s completely free of charge will seal the deal.
If you’re new to the party, the world’s most popular chat app can be a bit overwhelming. To help you get started, we put together this beginner’s guide on using WhatsApp, from installing the app to chatting with friends and family in groups.
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a free chat app that launched at the dawn of the smartphone era in 2009. It wasn’t until 2015 that it became the most popular communication app worldwide, but nowadays, it’s virtually ubiquitous in most of Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.
The popularity of WhatsApp is because it’s free, it doesn’t have ads, and of course, it has a huge existing user base. It also features end-to-end encryption, so your messages are private and secure. However, security policy changes in early 2021 mean the app can share some of your data with Facebook. Learn more about that issue in our WhatsApp privacy explainer.
Is WhatsApp safe and secure?
With every message and call end-to-end encrypted by default, WhatsApp is quite secure for virtually all uses. This level of encryption means that not even WhatsApp (or its parent company Facebook) can see the content of your messages, despite what you might hear online.
Still, you should be wary of phishing attempts. Never give your personal information to someone you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to block or report users you think are trying to scam you. WhatsApp also supports two-step verification in the form of a six-digit PIN.
This update was the subject of much debate among users but ultimately rolled out on May 15, 2021. Later in 2021, it was revealed that although WhatsApp cannot see your messages, the company regularly uses contractors to do so as part of a content reviewal system. This is limited to extreme cases of child abuse material or terrorism, but it does fly in the face of WhatsApp’s marketing material.
In other words, if you are concerned with your privacy and don’t want Facebook to access some of your data, WhatsApp might not be for you. Other apps like Telegram and Signal offer better security but don’t boast nearly the same number of users.
How to install WhatsApp
The first step in learning how to use WhatsApp is installing the app, and you can do it in just a few minutes. The app is completely free and only requires a phone number and a mobile device to sign up.
- Install the app from the Play Store (Android) or App Store (iPhone).
- Launch the app and approve the requested permissions.
- Enter your phone number and tap Confirm.
- Enter the verification code received via SMS (WhatsApp may do this automatically).
- Import existing contacts into the app (optional).
That’s all there is to it. You’re now ready to start chatting with any of your contacts that have WhatsApp installed. You can also manually add contacts to WhatsApp if you don’t want to import your entire contact list.
How to set up your WhatsApp profile
Before you start chatting, there is one more step you may want to take. Creating a profile will help your contacts know who you are, even if they don’t have your number saved in their contacts. You can add a picture, name, and a short bio.
- Tap the three dots in the top-right corner of the app and tap Settings.
- Tap your name at the top of the screen.
- To change your picture, tap the camera icon and select a photo.
- To change your name, tap the pencil icon next to Name.
- Enter or adjust your bio by tapping the pencil icon next to About.
You can also change your phone number from this screen, and the process is the same as when you first set up your account. It will send a verification code via SMS, and once confirmed, WhatsApp will transfer all of your chats and contacts to that number.
How to start a chat on WhatsApp
Now that your profile is set, it’s time to get to the task at hand: chatting! The first time you open the app, you won’t have any chats open, but you can start a new conversation by tapping on the chat bubble in the bottom right.
Select the contact you want to chat with from the list. If you already have a previous chat with that contact, it will open that instead of a brand new chat. All that’s left is to type your message at the bottom of the screen. After entering your text, tap the arrow icon alongside the text box to send it.
You can also send pictures or files on WhatsApp by tapping the + icon next to the chatbox. WhatsApp has a built-in camera app, but it’s better to use your normal camera app to take the picture and select it in the gallery to send. This will give you more editing options, and generally results in higher quality photos.
You can also send pictures or files on WhatsApp by tapping the paperclip or camera icon.
To start a group chat, tap the same chat bubble as before, then tap New Group. You can then select the members you want to invite, enter a name for the group, and start chatting.
There are many additional features available, so check out our list of WhatsApp tips and tricks for more information.
How to use gifs on WhatsApp
Sending gifs on WhatsApp should be a simple task, but the exact steps are far from obvious. To make matters worse, they differ between iPhones and Android phones.
To send a gif on Android, you first need to open a chat and tap on the smiley face next to the text box. Then, tap the gif text at the bottom of the screen to see a selection of the current most popular gifs. To search for more gifs, tap the magnifying glass at the bottom left and enter your keywords. Once you’ve found and selected your gif, all that’s left is to press send.
It’s worth noting that the process may be easier depending on which brand of phone you have, or if you have a different keyboard installed. Often you can tap the gif text above the keyboard instead of the complicated process above.
To send a gif on an iPhone, open a chat and tap the plus icon in the bottom left. Then, select Photo and Video Library from the menu and tap the magnifying glass icon in the bottom left to search. Once selected, tap send.
How to call using WhatsApp
One of the most useful features when using WhatsApp internationally is the ability to make phone calls. Unlike standard international voice calls, WhatsApp calls use your internet connection rather than your phone line, so they’re completely free (barring any data overage charges when not on Wi-Fi).
To start a phone call on WhatsApp, all you need to do is open a chat window and tap the phone icon in the top right. If it’s a group, you can even select multiple people to call simultaneously.
The steps for making a video call on WhatsApp are virtually identical. Just tap the video camera icon next to the phone icon. It’s a great alternative to FaceTime, especially for Android users.
How to use WhatsApp on your computer
If you prefer typing on a keyboard (or don’t like looking at your phone all day), you can also use WhatsApp from a computer. You’ll need to keep your phone nearby, but it can be a convenient way to chat or send files from your PC or Mac.
- On your computer browser, navigate to web.whatsapp.com.
- Open WhatsApp on your phone, tap the three dots in the top right, then WhatsApp Web.
- Tap the plus icon at the top right.
- Point your phone camera at the QR code on your computer screen.
- WhatsApp should instantly log in on your computer.
If you don’t want to use a browser, you can also install the WhatsApp PC client directly on your computer. If you think someone is using WhatsApp Web without your permission, you can remove access from your phone by following the first two steps above.
How to use WhatsApp on an iPad or Android tablet
With iPadOS adding lots of new features every year that make it more and more like a computer, it might come as a surprise to learn that using WhatsApp on your iPad is quite difficult. You can install the app directly, but you have to remove it from your phone, which obviously isn’t ideal.
Read also: Apple iPad at 10: A decade of tablets
The best way to use WhatsApp on your iPad or Android tablet is with the web portal outlined above. Even then, there’s an extra step involved due to accessing the site from a mobile browser.
The trick here is to request the desktop version of web.whatsapp.com. This will tell WhatsApp that you’re using a computer instead of a mobile device, and allow you to connect your phone with the same steps above. How exactly you request the desktop version will depend on which browser you’re using, but we’ve outlined the steps for Safari below.
- Open the Safari browser and navigate to web.whatsapp.com.
- Tap the three dots next to the URL field, then tap Request Desktop Site.
- Open WhatsApp on your phone, tap Settings in the top right, then WhatsApp Web.
- Tap the plus icon at the top right.
- Point your phone camera at the QR code on your iPad screen.
- WhatsApp should instantly log in on your iPad.
Note that this trick works with Android tablets and iPads of all sizes, and they can be paired with both Android phones and iPhones in any combination. Official multi-device support on WhatsApp might be coming soon, but this workaround is the only thing that works for now.
Other WhatsApp FAQs
Both calls and video calls are free, but will use data if not connected to Wi-Fi. Be careful not to exceed your mobile data limits, especially with video calls.
WhatsApp Plus is an application developed using stolen code from the official WhatsApp app. It enables a few extra features, but needs to be downloaded and sideloaded to work. It is unsafe to use and may lead to your WhatsApp account being banned, or worse, your information being stolen.
Yes, WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in February of 2014.
While some could consider it a social media app, it’s generally considered an instant messaging or communication app. As more business features are added, it may tip further into social media territory.