Tech Review: Stay connected with instant messaging apps

Apps that help users stay connected. Apps that help users stay connected. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images

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Instant messaging apps have become extremely popular because users can send text, photos and videos without paying the per-message charge that's a part of many wireless carriers' standard messaging apps. Facebook last month paid a staggering $19 billion for WhatsApp, the category leader with 465 million users. But WhatsApp is not the only instant messaging app. Here's a look at WhatsApp and three competitors.

WhatsApp

(iOS, Android; free for one year)

WhatsApp's popularity has been boosted because it is so easy to use. It automatically finds other WhatsApp users in your contacts list by matching mobile phone numbers. (Both sender and recipient must have WhatsApp installed.) WhatsApp is free for one year. After that, it costs 99 cents per year. Unlike some other messaging apps, WhatsApp does not offer voice calls, a feature it says it will add this year.

Line

(iOS, Android; free)

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Perhaps the biggest competitor to WhatsApp, Japan-based Line boasts 360 million users, many in the United States. Line users send texts, photos and videos and also make free voice and video calls to other Line users either one-on-one or in a group. Messages can be adorned with icons and emoticons. A "timeline" feature allows users to update each other on what they are doing and where they are going.

KakaoTalk Messenger

(iOS, Android; free)

With more than 130 million users, this app from South Korea is extremely popular in Asia and has made significant inroads in the United States. In addition to sending text, photos and videos, users can make free voice calls to other Kakao users, either one-on-one or in a group. In-app purchases allow users to affix stickers and "emoji" emoticons to their messages and play games.

Kik

(iOS, Android; free)

This Canadian import, with more than 100 million users, offers features not found in other messaging apps. While it does the basics of sending text, video and photos, Kik differs from its rivals in that it does not require users to enter a mobile phone number. Kik users connect via their user names. Another distinctive feature is the "photo bomb," where a sent photo disappears from the recipient's phone after a few seconds.


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TECH BYTES

Stamp of approval for Jobs stamp

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs will be honored with his likeness on a first-class postage stamp next year, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post. The document, from the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, indicates the Jobs stamp has been approved along with stamps for Johnny Carson, characters from the Peanuts comic strip and two new stamps in the Music Icons series honoring James Brown and Elvis Presley. -- Peter King

Disney launches online movie service

Disney has unveiled Disney Movies Anywhere, a service allowing consumers to watch Disney, Pixar and Marvel films online. About 400 movies are available through Apple's iTunes store and the Disney Movies Anywhere website and app. Movies can be downloaded and stored online to be viewed on mobile devices or streamed to PCs through the Disney Movies Anywhere website. -- Peter King

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Whiter teeth via Bluetooth

Procter & Gamble is bringing the dentist into the bathroom with the world's first smartphone-connected toothbrush, a device that gives personalized advice to help people improve their brushing. The Oral-B electric toothbrush links to an Android or iOS app via Bluetooth. The device has a retail price of about $300 and is expected to go on sale in June. -- Reuters

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