Since the arrival of Windows Phone 7, one of my more major gripes with it (and I have a lot of gripes, believe you me) has been the lack of an instant messaging client besides the third party serving of Windows Live Messenger. Of course, the future Mango update has taken care of that, as well as Facebook chat, but if I wanted to sign into Gtalk or Skype chat, there really wasn’t an option for me. I believe the US Marketplace bore an app named Flory monopolised the instant messaging arena, before being discontinued before the impending release of IM+, a fearsome competitor if ever there was one, an app that has enjoyed outstanding success on other mobile platforms already.
Alas, this left IM+ as the sole monopolist upon arrival, which inevitably meant we’d pay a price for it, considering it’s already a pretty weighty price tag for the iOS version in particular, but on Windows Phone 7, it even outstrips that, demanding £7.99 for the full version of the app.
However, such is my desperation to communicate with people whilst on the go, via Gtalk in particular, that I went ahead and got it on the day of release, just a few weeks ago.
Since then, it’s had its first update which merely fixed a few teething problems in the original release, and is a particularly sturdy app. It’ll obviously become of much more use once Mango does arrive, as the multitasking implementation coming then, will have a great impact on apps such as this in particular, as at the moment it is oh so easy to quit the app and end up starting over just to send one message, which is a complete inconvenience.
UI-wise, It’s very simplistic, and makes appropriate use of the Windows Phone Metro UI, allowing you to swipe, or pivot, between your contact list and your open chats all from the main pane of the application.
One small issue with the app is that the ‘send message’ button is positioned to the right of the ‘add smiley’ button, which is the opposite of the default SMS application, where an ‘attach’ button sits on the right of ‘send’. Quite the irritation after months of using solely SMS, and a thumb quite happily trained that way. Surely a simple fix, and one would be welcome in the next update.
Thankfully, whilst in a chat thread, IM+ has actually outdone the SMS app by enforcing different colours for different members of the chat, rather than just a stream of backgrounds in accordance with your accent colour. I do believe this is coming across the board with Mango, though some initiative shown here is certainly welcome, though as far as I know you can’t yet change the colours, and have to stick with a simple blue and green combination.
One great feature of the app, an absolute life saver before the arrival of multitasking, is the ability of IM+ to run under a locked screen, which means that you can turn your phone off after sending a message and wait for the vibration to let you know they’ve replied, so that you can go back to it without reloading the app. This is a preference, as it does drain more battery from your device, though it doesn’t have a huge impact. It’s nice to have the choice, though, right?
Of course, as with any of the IM+ apps on any platform, you can sign in to more than one account simultaneously, and have your contacts sit together in a combined contact pane, however if you want to differentiate between them, you can show groups of contacts with clear labels and the ability to hide certain groups at a time. Unfortunately, it seems that this does unify the status option as well, so appearing offline on one account will do the same to another whether you’re actually leaving, or just trying to avoid someone on Facebook chat, for example. If you genuinely want to sign out of one account, you can deactivate it just as simply from the main menu options, whilst keeping your others active and online.
A last note I’ll make is on the inclusion of a search function, to filter out contacts by name, which is particularly handy if you happy to have a lot of friends on Facebook, for example, or instead you can simply hide any contacts that are offline.
Altogether, a fine and stable app that is particularly impressive considering it has only just emerged from beta and a lot of development work will no doubt continue to be poured into it over the coming months and years. It will certainly benefit hugely from the introduction of Mango, and some of the workarounds they have adopted will be scrapped and official channels will be used to deliver live notifications and background running. But, when it comes down to it, with the complete lack of other options, I would have paid that much had it been good or not, to be honest. We need some more competition before we can truly judge the potential of Windows Phone for this purpose.