Text messaging is a lot more complicated than it used to be, especially when iPhones and Android devices are mixed together. Due to a few different factors, media attachments (like photos and videos) can end up degraded in quality when sent over text messages, depending on who the recipient is and what kind of phone they have.
If you've ever wondered why videos sent over text to/from an Android device don't look as good as videos sent over iMessage, you've come to the right place. Here, we'll explain why your memes and cute videos of pets look terrible when sent over SMS, and how to get around the problem.
Why your videos look terrible
Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS for short, is how phones send media content to other phones over text messages. It's a standard that was created in the early 2000s — a time when the photo quality of most cell phones was only a few megapixels — so perhaps it's not too surprising that smartphones have outgrown the technology.
The main problem with MMS is that most carriers have an incredibly strict limit on the size of files that can be sent. For example, Verizon only allows images up to 1.2MB to be sent over text messages, and videos up to 3.5MB. AT&T is even stricter, only allowing videos up to 1MB in size. If an image or video is too large, it is compressed automatically.
MMS has a strict file size limit.
You can see the difference in the below samples of my mom's dog eating the lift cord on some window blinds. The first video is the original 54MB recording, while the second video is the downgraded 348KB version sent over AT&T.
By comparison, Apple's iMessage platform has a less-restrictive file size limit — somewhere around 100MB. That's why videos generally look better when sent from an iPhone to another iPhone, because the media never leaves Apple's servers. Media sent from an iPhone to an Android device, or anything sent between Android devices, will typically use MMS instead.
How to work around the problem
There's no fix that can improve videos sent over MMS, because the file size limits are enforced by carriers. However, there are workarounds that involve using different messaging protocols.
The easiest solution, in most cases, is to use a third-party messaging service. Skype is available on Android and iOS (as well as PCs), and allows files up to 300MB in size. Telegram is another popular option for sending messages between phones, and it has an even higher limit of 1.5GB. If privacy is most important to you, Signal has end-to-end encryption on all messages, and supports videos up to 100MB.
If the recipient already has Google Photos installed, you can also share backed up photos and videos to other people directly in the app. Just pick the desired video or photo from the Photos app, press the share button, and select one of your contacts (or create a link, then send that to the recipient).
One more option is to use Rich Communication Services, or RCS for short. It's the intended replacement for MMS, with support for greater file sizes, but carriers haven't unified their implementations of it. Some networks require you to use a specific application for RCS messaging — Verizon has Verizon Messages+, AT&T has Advanced Messaging, and so on. Google Messages is generally available to everyone who has a phone number in the United States, but rollouts in other countries are still ongoing.
If that wasn't annoying enough, these apps usually are usually carrier-specific, so everyone in the conversation typically has to be on the same cell network and using the same app. As a result, it's probably less complicated to just use a third-party messaging service (like the ones outlined above) or Google Photos.