I guess I should start the review by disclosing that I’ve never even seen BBM. As many of you know, BBM is short for BlackBerry Messenger. It’s supposedly one of the best features BlackBerry offers. I know this not because anyone I know actually owns a BlackBerry, but because of all the comments I see online from ex-BlackBerry users. It seems to be the one feature they actually miss.
It also seems to be the one feature developers seem interested in building on, as we’ve seen a total outbreak of Android apps claiming to be “like BBM for iPhone and Android.” My absolute favorite of these apps is Beluga.
Beluga is a cross-platform messaging system. Not only can you text, but you can send pictures, attach locations, even include multiple people in a single conversation. Your conversations are organized into pods (going with the whale theme). Each pod gets its own settings (an image, notifications, users) allowing you to customize each chat experience.
All of this happens for free, without any SMS fees. On top of allowing users from Android and iPhone to chat with each other, Beluga has a fledging web interface that lets PCs get in on the action. Sometimes when I’m working I find it way easier to just bring up the website and fire off a message to Angie rather than pulling out my phone.
Like I said, there are quite the handful of apps claiming to be the new BBM. There are a ton of apps with similar features that all work great. What really sets Beluga apart is the beautifully crafted UI. Some cross-platform apps come across as the second-rate iOS counterpart, but the Beluga interface is a step above even the nicest native apps. Really, I mean it. This UI is so nice I wish I could rip it out and slap it over some of my other apps. Everything is easy to use and looks perfect in both portrait and landscape.
The only catch is you’ve actually got to convince your friends to use the service to make it useful. Thankfully the signup process is totally painless (they’ve even baked in Facebook support to really make it breezy) and I haven’t had many problems enticing my contacts to try it out.
I’m thinking Beluga will be an absolute killer way to stay in touch with my various groups of people during the crazy times of SXSW. During the madness I usually can’t hear a call but frequently have more to say than would fit in a text. Luckily I’ve got a Beluga Pod to cram full and share with any contact that needs it.