Discord’s tagline is quite bold: “All-in-one voice and text chat for gamers that’s free, secure, and works on both your desktop and phone. Stop paying for TeamSpeak servers and hassling with Skype. Simplify your life.” Is there any truth in it, though? In my opinion, turns out there is.
Discord is a chat app clearly targeted at teams, and most often, gamers. There are two popular chat tools among gamers: Skype, because nearly everyone has it – but it’s cumbersome, annoying to use and has very bad audio quality. So let’s mention it no further.
The other popular alternative is TeamSpeak: everyone can run (or rent) their own server, create rooms (or channels) and let people join them and talk or text-chat. The usage is straightforward and the UI is streamlined and clear enough for any common tasks.
Compared with TeamSpeak, the first few advantages of Discord are obvious: The UI is just so much nicer.
The narrow leftmost column lists the servers you’ve joined, then there are the text and voice channels of the current server, the main message window and the rightmost column shows other user’s online status. And the chat has many niceties – emoji, image and link previews, mentions and so on. It also has a nice dark skin, not shown on the screenshot.
The installation is easy, but that hardly counts, since any five-year-old can install pretty much anything. The other features worth mentioning are the boasted encryption, direct messages (without the need to be in the same server as the recipient), low system resource drain and low latency. Discord can detect the game you’re playing and display it in your status, if you wish. There’s an in-game overlay, so you can see who’s in your room without leaving the game. There’s also the handy
/tts (Text-to-Speech) command; you give it text and it reads it out loud into the current channel. (I sometimes have to restrain myself not to spam it too much. :P ) They also have mobile apps and a browser app, but it didn’t really work for me (no sound was detected from the mic). The devs release updates quite often, and seem to be listening to feedback, too.
All of that is nice, but pointless without a working chat. Luckily, that part is also great: you can create your own servers for free, in a few clicks. This was one of the difficulties with TeamSpeak: you could run your own server, but you either had to pay for it (which means you had to spend money, although not that much), or run it on your own hardware (which required some basic tech skills). With Discord, there is no such problem: you simply click the “+” button and you’re set.
You can create text and voice chat channels and designate a channel where AFK people are moved. You can also very easily set up roles, which specify what person has which rights, giving you a granular access to your server management.
There are a few things that didn’t work that well. My first experience was a bit rocky: the boasted browser app didn’t work, and when I downloaded the client, installation failed. Only after I downloaded the Public Test Build did it work okay. This has been a few months back and I haven’t tried it again, however the test build has been running well so far.
Sometimes, Discord gets confused by network changes. I’m often connected via a VPN, either for work or privacy reasons. (I like my illusion of privacy.) When I switch the VPN while Discord’s running, it starts turning my mic off and on again and is virtually unusable until I restart it.
I keep my microphone unplugged whenever it’s not used, and that doesn’t seem to matter. When I plug it in, it starts working. If I recall correctly, this wasn’t the case with TeamSpeak – I had to restart the app.
And one last gripe: no custom servers. In the previous section I talked about how great it is that you can just spawn a server for free. Now it’s time to point out that you can’t run your own instance even if you wanted to. So you can’t have your custom URL (or branding in general), and you can’t exercise total control over your data.
So to conclude, I’d say Discord already is a great product. The sound quality is superb, the UI is pleasant, it’s feature-rich and the devs seem to be making a huge effort on making it even better. Hopefully the few kinks will be addressed in time. But even now it already is my preferred chat app.
Image sources: this for TeamSpeak and the official Discord site for the rest.
Disclaimer: my opinions are my own. I wasn’t endorsed or rewarded by Discord in any way.
There are also other apps, like Mumble. I’ve tried it, was disappointed in the sound quality, and never got back to it. ↩︎