Chat on the go… or not
Until now, Palringo has been the only legitimate cross-service instant messaging program for the iPhone. We didn’t dislike the app, but in a lucrative market like mobile instant messaging it was unlikely to go unchallenged. Twenty08’s MobileChat 3 allows users to connect to up to six different IM protocols and chat using a telco's 3G network or a local Wi-Fi network. The program provides some useful features, but poor implementation and numerous bugs make it a poor competitor to the free alternative offered by Palringo.
- Landscape keyboard support, display pictures, multiple conversations, simple interface
- Keyboard performance issues, doesn’t display user names, service connection issues, comparatively expensive
With many developers still exploring the various ways they can harness the iPhone’s computing power and interface options, MobileChat 3 brings some feature which push forward mobile instant messaging. Unfortunately, this is marred by poor implementation and a number of bugs, making it an expensive and inferior alternative to Palringo.
Price$ 3.99 (AUD)
Palringo requires users to sign up to its proprietary service first, but MobileChat 3 users can dive straight into the action. The application supports a number of popular IM protocols, including AIM/MobileMe, Windows Live, ICQ, Yahoo!, Google Talk and Jabber. Simply choose the desired protocol, enter the relevant user details and the application will connect.
It is here, however, that the software’s flaws are immediately noticeable. The user interface is quite buggy. While there is a status bar indicating the progress of the connection, we found it to be non-functional. While the app will sometimes recognise when it is connected — represented by a green rather than grey status orb — often we would find that once the service had successfully connected, the application would continue to show the grey orb.
It will often take up to two minutes before a service can be connected. Palringo has been updated several times in order to streamline this, but MobileChat 3 is too new to do the same; it will almost certainly undergo an update to remedy this in the near future, however.
MobileChat 3 utilises the standard iPhone interface and has a blue-and-white motif with tabs at the bottom for switching between buddies, chats, status and accounts. The buddies list is functional and simple; even here, however, there are flaws. Although the application is supposed to show buddies’ display pictures, often MobileChat 3 wouldn’t retrieve a picture and simply displays the default user icon. MobileChat 3 does display status messages but, oddly, it won’t display actual usernames — instead the buddies list becomes cluttered with contacts’ e-mail addresses. Within chats users are able to modify the other person’s name but this does not affect the buddies list.
Multiple chats are supported and are handled better than Palringo. A dedicated screen lists the open conversations, and users can simply pick which chat they wish to engage in.
The chat screen also allows a user to initiate a chat with a friend who isn't on their contact list by sending an SMS to their mobile phone, though this is only supported for AIM or MobileMe users
Our main concern with Palringo was that the iPhone’s soft keyboard is ill-suited to input-intensive IM conversations. MobileChat 3 has somewhat remedied this issue with support for a landscape keyboard. Using the application in landscape mode will reduce the viewable conversation area to little more than two lines at a time, but it does mean that the users can easily type two-handed (or two-fingered) if they prefer. However, the dreaded keyboard lag that many an iPhone 3G user has suffered is heavily exaggerated in the application’s landscape mode, rendering MobileChat 3 nearly unusable. Although this isn’t particularly Twenty08’s fault, it will inevitably impact on the user experience.
MobileChat 3 is an inferior alternative to Palringo. There are some ideas and features that make MobileChat 3 a potential competitor, but poor implementation and several performance issues hinder this. It’s functional, but there’s no compelling argument for paying $4 for a chat application when Palringo does a better job for free.
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