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iPod & iPhone Messengers Tested.

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. In addition to this services such as Skype offer free or very low cost, easy to use voice and video communication.
There are now a number of messenger app’s available for the iPod Touch and iPhone which allow you to keep in touch when you’re away from you computer. If you’re an iPod Touch user they can also turn your iPod into a low cost telephone. All you need is a internet connection and a mic.

In this article I discuss four of the most promising free messenger app’s. First up is fring.

fring http://www.fring.com 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 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:
The buddy list displays the various members of your selected networks as well as the entire contents of your address book. This allows you to 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, as long as you have an internet connection. The only issue I have with the buddy list is its lack of service grouping and identity.
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. Unfortunately there is no landscape keyboard option which makes typing a little more difficult than it need be. 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 http://www.nimbuzz.com 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:
Upon launch 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 can start adding your contacts by selecting the services you belong to from a list and 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 it’s own kind of mail message, depending on the service.
Sending messages with with Nimbuzz is nice and easy thanks to the fact that the keyboard works in landscape mode. Like the other app’s it has a nice large numeric keypad for dialing landlines. As an additional feature you’re also able to update your status across your various services.

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


Skype http://www.skype.com 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:
Your contacts list is presented in a similar way to the iPhone’s built in address book with an alphabet index down the right hand side. Two buttons at the top 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, but no landscape keyboard.
All in all Skype is a nicely finished, competent app. It’s ideal if you only want to use the Skype service or you want to use it for free or low cost calls.



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 its done through web pages that don’t feel like they have been optimised for a mobile device. An additional screen then allows you to add optional, additional  information. I just hit the save and done buttons and returned to the main application.

In use:
At first I was left wondering what to do next?. I had an empty buddy list and no 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.
Instant messages are sent in the usual way but again there is no landscape keyboard. 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 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.

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

To Conclude:
Its difficult to pick an app that really stands out above the rest. If I only wanted to use Skype 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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