Smartphones nowadays generally have constant access to mobile data, are fairly easy to type on and are carried in our pockets nearly all the time. This makes for a perfect platform for instant messaging programs to thrive on, with the ability to easy communicate with your friends who are either on their mobile devices or on PC easily. The data usage and CPU consumption is quite low, resulting in low power draw and they allow us to be contactable at any time, no matter where we are (if you wanted to). This also has the additional benefit of potentially reducing your voice call or SMS bills.
Personally, my criteria for a good IM program is one that has multi-protocol support, as I often use both Google Talk / MSN / Facebook Chat simultaneously and jumping between them or running different programs for each seems illogical. In addition, ease of use and a good feature set are also important. In this article, I have investigated the most popular IM programs available for Android (all of which are freely available on the market) and outlined my thoughts on each.
Note: Facebook Chat and Google Talk are based on Jabber protocol, which allows for multiple logins from multiple locations at the same time, without logging each person out. However, MSN and some other platforms will log you out if you log-in from another device, which can be tedious. Also, if you decide to install a third party chat program that supports Google Talk, make sure you log out of ‘Talk’, otherwise you will receive two notifications as you are logged in twice.
An explanation of terms: Dialer Integration refers to your phone/SIM’s contacts being integrated into the contact list, allowing you to choose the best way of contacting somebody if you press on them. History refers to chat history. Group support refers to grouping ability (ie. sort by protocol, sort by status, etc). Tab Layout refers to the main screen layout, if there are tabs for easy switching between list / current chats, or a menu press is required.
Candidate #1) Talk
Supports: Google Talk
Other Notes: Simple to use, no tab layout, pre-installed and runs automatically on bootup. GMail account required. This is the only program here to support Chat History and Block Lists.
Supports: MSN, SIP, ICQ, Twitter, Yahoo, AIM, Skype Voice, Skype Video, Google Talk, Fring Network
Other Notes: Ad supported (small banner), dialer integration is useful, no tab layout must press menu to switch between chats, Fring free sign-up required. Fring is the only one with Skype Video call support (but will be of limited use to those without front-facing cameras), has integrated dialer support so you can do all your communication at a one stop shop. This is the strength of Fring, being able to compress all the various methods to contact somebody into one place. The bad news is that the switching between chats is tedious and there’s no Facebook Chat support. It also lacks buddy renaming and protocol icons next to the names.
Candidate #3) Nimbuzz
Other Notes: Easy to use tab layout, but default list font is slightly too large, requiring more scrolling. Nimbuzz free sign-up required. Nimbuzz supports file transfers, although with ease of e-mail these days, it’s not that important anymore, it also supports the biggest range of protocols here, but there are some reports of slightly increase battery usage. The interface is pleasing and responsive, but lacking in some basic features like buddy info or renaming.
Candidate #4) eBuddy (WINNER)
Other Notes: Battery-saver mode, easy to use tab layout, conversation bubble view. eBuddy free account sign up required. eBuddy has a battery saver mode which supposedly reduces update frequency, saving a bit of power, but may result in slightly delayed messages (up to 15 minutes). The tab layout allows for easy switching between tabs, and the conversation bubble view will feel right at home if you have used an iPhone before.
Overall, out of the there main contenders above, they each have their own advantages and disadvantages, there’s no clear winner here, which makes the choice even more difficult. My personal recommendation goes towards eBuddy because it supports the full range of protocols, including Skype (which Fring also supports). However, in extended use, I found the battery drain on Nimbuzz to be extensive, it was keeping the network busy with tiny updates constantly, causing undue battery drain. In which case, I would have to lean towards the more practical option, which is eBuddy with the battery saver option. eBuddy wins!