May 19, 2017
How to replace Facebook Messenger with a much simpler, lighter version
Earlier today I published an article about Facebook Messenger's new, somewhat improved home screen. But despite the company's attempt at some cleanup, I came away with the same feeling I've had for months: Messenger has transformed into a bloated mess. Commenters on that story agree, and so does pretty much everyone I've asked here at Vox Media's New York office. If you're tired of Messenger Day and seeing games you'll never play, I come to you with good news: there's a much simpler version of Facebook Messenger that strips out all the nonsense.
That version is called Messenger Lite. And it's not exactly a secret. Over 200 million people are using it around the world. But it's not available in the United States and elsewhere, so a lot of you might be oblivious to its existence. Heck, I'd forgotten about it until someone mentioned it in the comments.
Messenger Lite is a dramatically simplified version of the app that's "faster, uses less data, and works in all network conditions." Those are Facebook's own words. Who wouldn't want this? Remember what Messenger was like two or three years ago? This is basically that. There are three tabs: Home, Contacts, and Profile. Home is a straightforward list of your Messenger chats (with a helpful "Active Now" row of people currently online). Contacts is a massive list of your Facebook friends which I think is organized based on who you've talked to most recently. Next to everyone's name, it shows when they were last active on Messenger. And the Profile section is just where you handle settings, notifications, and so on. Pretty simple.
Facebook has released Messenger Lite in over 100 countries. But it's not available in the US, UK, Mexico, Canada, and many other places. That's because the app isn't really intended for those markets; it was designed to run on cheap, low-end smartphones and work reliably in regions with iffy data connectivity. If you're walking around a US city carrying an iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8, Facebook is happy to make you and your unlimited data plan put up with all the crud inside the regular Messenger app.
But there are ways. If you've got an Android phone, that is.
Android users might be familiar with the process of sideloading an app they've downloaded from a source other than the regular Google Play app store. By default, many Android smartphones won't allow this; you've got to head to the settings menu, go to security, and switch on the ability to install apps from "unknown sources." (This setting can be switched back off again right away once you're done, and I recommend doing so.)
If you want to use Messenger Lite, all it takes is finding the app installation file. APKMirror is a trustworthy source of such things. You can download it directly onto most Android phones for immediate installation; just make sure you've updated your security settings to permit the install. If you're on a desktop PC, you can just email the file to yourself or drop it into Google Drive and access it from your phone that way, too.
Facebook Messenger and Messenger Lite can live side by side on your phone without much problem, so you can try the streamlined version to make sure it's got everything you need before uninstalling the full-blown Messenger app. In my relatively brief time using it, I've made some notes.
You lose some arguably good stuff, including...
- Voice and video calling
- App extensions (Spotify, Lyft, etc.)
- Android: Chat heads
- Android: The ability to use Messenger as your SMS / texting app (on Android)
But you get rid of so much bad, such as...
- Messenger Day (a clone of Snapchat stories)
- Bots. All the bots.
- Aggravating "reminders" to sync your contacts and message people
- Lag and stuttering (Messenger Lite is fast)
- Extra megabytes (Lite takes up less space on your phone)
- Probably a lot of other annoying things that I haven't yet come to appreciate
There are no fancy face filters here; there's not even a built-in camera in this version of Messenger. But you can send people stickers and emoji to your heart's content. And although voice calling is missing, you've got the option to send people recorded, voice memo-style snippets. I do miss Chat Heads — an Android-exclusive feature of Messenger that lets a conversation stay on your screen at all times — but I will gladly sacrifice them for this glorious simplicity.
Unfortunately, I've got no help for you iPhone users. Facebook simply won't let you install Messenger Lite from the App Store in countries where it's not available, so you're hosed. I'd recommend just telling Facebook that people everywhere are very much interested in using this app.
by Chris Welch