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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 a number of 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 to how to use WhatsApp, from installing the app to chatting with friends and family in groups. Let’s get started!
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a free chat app that launched at the dawn of the smartphone era back 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 due to the fact that it’s free, it doesn’t have ads, and of course, it has a huge existing userbase. 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.
In addition to standard one-on-one and group chats, you can also do voice or video calls free of charge, even internationally. Just keep in mind that this will eat up your data when not connected to Wi-Fi.
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 that 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 a lot of 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 WhatsApps marketing material.
In other words, if you are concerned with your privacy and don’t want Facebook having access to 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 it can be finished in just a few minutes. As mentioned above, the app is completely free and only requires a phone number and a mobile device to sign up.
How to install WhatsApp:
- 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.
How to set up your WhatsApp profile:
- 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 all of your chats and contacts will be transferred to that number.
How to start a chat
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 chat by tapping on the chat bubble in the bottom right.
From there, simply 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 now is to type your message at the bottom of the screen. After entering your text, tap the arrow icon that appears alongside the text box to send it.
You can also send pictures or files on WhatsApp by tapping the paperclip or camera icons at the bottom of the screen. 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 options to edit, 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 all kinds of additional features available, so be sure to check out our list of WhatsApp tips and tricks for more info.
How to use gifs on WhatsApp
Sending gifs in 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 on the bottom of the screen to see a selection of the most popular gifs at the moment. To search for more gifs, tap the magnifying glass in 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 of brand phone you have, or if you have a different keyboard installed. Often you can simply 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 gif text in the bottom left corner. Tapping the magnifying glass icon in the bottom left will allow you to search, and you can also save your favorite gifs for frequent use by starring them. Once selected, just tap send.
How to send a gif on WhatsApp (Android):
- Open a WhatsApp chat window.
- Tap the smiley face to the left of the text box.
- Tap the gif text at the bottom of the screen.
- (Optional) Tap the magnifying glass icon to search for more gifs.
- Select the gif and press send.
How to send a gif on WhatsApp (iPhone):
- Open a WhatsApp chat window.
- Tap the plus icon in the bottom left, then select photo and video library.
- Tap the gif text in the bottom left corner.
- (Optional) Tap the magnifying glass icon in the bottom left to search for more gifs.
- Select the gif and press 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 at the same time.
The steps for how to make 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 are the type of person who prefers typing on a keyboard (or just 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 very convenient way to chat or send files from your PC or Mac.
How to use WhatsApp on your computer:
- 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 tons 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 then 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.
How to use WhatsApp on an iPad:
- 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 both 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 for now this workaround is the only thing that works.
Q: Are WhatsApp calls free? What about video calls?
A: 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.
Q: What is WhatsApp Plus? Is it safe?
A: 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. That said, it is not safe to use, and may lead to your WhatsApp account being banned, or worse, your information being stolen.
Q: Is WhatsApp owned by Facebook?
A: Yes, WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook in February of 2014.
Q: Is WhatsApp social media?
A: While it could be considered a social media app by some, it’s generally considered an instant messaging or communication app. That said, as more business features are added it may tip further into social media territory.
Q: Does WhatsApp work in China?
A: No. The app has been blocked in China since 2017, although it may still be accessible via VPN. Learn more about the best VPNs.
Q: Is WhatsApp encrypted?
A: Yes. Both calls and messages are encrypted end-to-end, so in most conditions neither law enforcement nor WhatsApp itself can see them unless they have access to your device.
Q: Can I send high-quality images on WhatsApp?
A: Yes! Navigate to Settings -> Storage and data -> Photo upload quality and select “Best quality” from the list. Note that this will use more data than the default setting.
Q: Can I use multiple devices with a single WhatsApp account?
A: Aside from the web browser version, you cannot currently use one account on multiple mobile devices. This may change in the coming months, as a new multi-device feature is currently in beta.