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iPod Touch & iPhone Messenger App’s Reviewed

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Instant messaging is a great way to maintain real time communications with friends and colleagues around the world or just around the corner. Real time text based messengers are a convenient way to have impromptu discussions with friends, family and colleagues in much the same way as you might if you were in the same room. Services such as Skype now also provide free or very low cost, easy to use voice and video communication. This is a useful service to have on your desktop computer for business or for just keeping in touch with family on across the globe. 

There are now a number of app’s available for the iPhone and iPod Touch which allow you to use many of the most popular messenger services such as MSN, Yahoo and AIM when you are away from your computer. Many of these apps also allow you to use your Skype account. This allows the option of free voice calls with other users of Skype and low cost calls to any land line around the world. This is particularly useful for iPod Touch users as, with the addition of a mic it turns your device into a low cost telephone.  

In this article I discuss four of the most promising messaging app’s. All of these app’s are free to  download and use, but there is a small fee should you wish to phone land lines or mobile numbers via Skype. First up is fring.    

fring  

Services it works with:

Skype, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Yahoo! and AIM (& mobile me) and a range of SIP services.  

Setup:

Set up is relatively straight forward. You first need to register with fring by entering the requested details. Once you have a fring account you can then select which services (Skype, MSN, Gtalk etc) you wish to add. If you don’t yet belong to any these you first need to register at their respective web sites to obtain login details.

In use:

fring’s main screen is the buddy list. Not only does this display the various members of your selected networks but also the entire contents of your address book. This means you can contact people who do not belong to any of your networks via email, SIP, Skype out, or iPhone call. If you have a mic for your iPod Touch SkypeOut effectively turns your iPod into a phone. The only issue I have with the buddy list is its lack of service grouping and identity. It does however group all of your online buddies at the top of the list.  

Tapping any of your contacts in the list allows you to type a message or make a call to that person. The message screen is clean and easy to read and makes a nice notification sound when a message is received. Unfortunately there is no landscape keyboard option which makes typing a little more difficult. If you wish to make a SIP or Skype call to a standard telephone number, you can use the Dialer, which is essentially a full screen number pad.  

Other than the lack of organisation in the buddy list I have few complaints about fring.   

Nimbuzz

Services it works with:

Skype, Yahoo! IM, AIM (& mobile me), GTalk, MSN, ICQ, Jabber, Facebook, MySpace, StudiVZ, Gadu Gadu, Hyves and a selection of SIP accounts.

Setup:

When you first launch Nimbuzz you are asked to enter your Nimbuzz login details or create a new account. Creating a new account takes a matter of seconds, then you are ready to start adding your contacts. You add contacts by selecting the services you belong to from a list and then typing in your login details for each.

In use:

When you return to your contacts list it will be populated with all of your contacts from the various services that you added. Contacts are listed in Alphabetical order but you can change this to “grouped by network” if you wish. Tapping a contact gives a choice of messaging, phoning or sending a kind of mail message depending on the service.   Sending messages with with Nimbuzz is nice and easy thanks to the keyboard which also works in landscape mode and like the other app’s it has a nice large numeric keypad for dialing landlines. As an additional feature you’re able to update your status across your various services.  

Nimbuzz is good. Its nicely designed, easy to use and fully featured.    

Skype

Services it works with:

Skype. Yep thats all. This is the official app for the Skype service.

Setup:

This is one of those “does one thing well” apps. It’s very easy to get started. You either enter your existing Skype details or create a new account.

In use:

Once you have signed in, you see your contacts list presented in a similar way to the iPhone’s built in address book with an alphabet index down the right hand side. There is also a search box at the top of the list and above this two buttons that allow you to view just your Skype contacts or your entire address book. This makes it easy to use SkypeOut to call standard land lines. Alternatively you could press the call button at the bottom to dial a number that is not in your address book. Skype text chat is nicely presented with icons and speech bubbles.

All in all Skype is a nicely finished, competent app and is ideal if all of your friends use Skype or you want to use it for free or low cost calls. To make calls with your iPod Touch you would of course need a mic.

Palringo

Services it works with:

MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, iChat / MobileMe, QQ, Gadu-Gadu and Facebook Chat (Alpha)  

Setup:

As with other multi service messengers you are first required to set up an account which ties together the various services you may belong to. Setting up a new account is reasonably straight forward, though you appear to be taken to a web page which is more suited to a full size computer screen than a mobile device. This is followed by another page where you can enter other optional details or change your password. I had one or two doubts about this screen but in the end I just hit the save and done buttons and returned to the main application.

In use:

Back in the main application i’m left wondering what to do next?. I have a buddy list that is empty apart from a couple of default Palringo support contacts. I can’t see any obvious way of adding anyone apart from other Palringo contacts. I could hit the support button but instead opt for random button tapping until something looks familiar. I quickly find out how to add additional chat networks and return to my main contacts list.   As with the other app’s, simply tapping a contact allows you to send a message. There is no landscape keyboard at the moment but Palringo say they have plans to implement this feature at some time in the future. Interestingly you can also send a voice message which can either be heard within the recipients Palringo app or via a web link. In addition to this you can also send pictures, which is a nice feature that seems to be unique to this app. Another unique feature of this app are its social groups. You can join a growing number of different groups each developed around a particular interest. If you can’t find the group you want, you can create one. I joined the itouch fans group. Once you have joined a group you have direct communication with all other members of that group. It should be noted that whilst you can enter a groups name into the app, the only way to easily browse and search for groups is on the Palringo web site.

Palringo isn’t quite as intuitive as the other messenger app’s but It does have some unique and interesting features

Conclusion:

Its difficult to pick an app that really stands out above the rest. If I was to only communicate with skype users or just wanted cheap calls I would probably go with the Skype app for its simplicity. Palringo is a fully featured app with some interesting functionality and a pro looking interface, but of the four, I feel most comfortable with Nimbuzz. It has a good feature set, is very easy to use and works with a large range of services.

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