Oct 09 AT 11:15 AM Dustin Earley 14 Comments

App.net Android client shootout

app.net folder

There are a lot of social networks out there. And I do mean a lot. Besides Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram, there’s Tent.io, Identi.ca, Heello, Pinterest, Geeklist; the list goes on and on. It takes something special to stand out from the crowd these days. Enter: App.net, the micro-blogging, “real-time social feed without the ads … that puts users first.”

App.net is advertised as a service where users are treated as customers. Which makes sense considering you have to pay to use it. When the alpha for App.net first opened, users had to pay $50 a year for access. For developers to gain access to the App.net API, it was $100. Developer fees are still the same, but a new pricing structure has made App.net more accessible. Instead of $50 a year, users can now sign up for just $36 a year. If that’s still too much of a commitment, you can pay $5 for one month at a time.

A one-month entrance fee is just what I was looking for to give App.net a shot. I’m already managing a handful of other networks, so I didn’t want to waste $50 if I couldn’t find some worth in App.net.

One of the big advantages of App.net is the passion its third-party developers have for making apps. With turmoil now surrounding the future of third-party clients on Twitter, a handful of well known devs have made the transition to App.net. At least on iOS.

The App Store for iOS is already starting to feel a little cramped with App.net clients. Android, however, is the exact opposite. I have been able to find five App.net clients for Android, and one service that says it works as a share intent, but doesn’t.

If you’re going to pay for a service like App.net, chances are you’re going to want to use an app on your Android device to do so. With such limited options right now, you may be wondering if it’s even worth it for Android users to sign up for App.net. I’ve spent some time with each of the App.net clients available on Android, and have a pretty good idea on where each app stands as fas as form and function go. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly App.net clients for Android.

App.net in Chrome

I didn’t count this as one of the five App.net clients available for Android, but it deserves a quick mention. Especially since it’s actually very functional.

Using App.net on Chrome is surprisingly nice. It’s quick, smooth and has all the features you get from the desktop version. There are no customization options, but it’s still better than some of the HTML5 and native apps available in the Play store now.

Of course it’s not quite as nice as some of the apps I’ll get to in a moment, but even if there were no native or HTML5 apps, you could still enjoy using App.net right from the browser.

Frapp

Developed by Tom Lee, Frapp is a “free-as-in-beer, open source (MIT) client for app.net.” It’s one of the best looking App.net apps available right now, but it’s lacking so much functionality, I don’t know why it was even released to begin with.

App.net has three feeds you’re going to want to keep an eye on. Your main stream, which features the posts of users you follow, your mentions, which are pretty self explanatory, and the global feed. You can actually view every single App.net post as it goes up. It’s great for finding new people to talk to and for getting questions answered.

Frapp only features access to your main stream and your mentions. That’s it. And I really mean it. Yes, there’s a post button, but replying to other users doesn’t work. The setting button doesn’t work. There’s no global stream.

I love the Holo theme Frapp is using (it looks fantastic), but until the app is fixed, it’s nothing more than a small bit of eye candy that leaves you wanting more. Frapp is definitely worth keeping an eye on, but there are much better options.

 

Bluebird

Apparently Matsumo didn’t get the memo. App.net clients don’t all have to be named or themed after birds. Whether or not the name Bluebird or logo have anything to do with Twitter’s still overwhelming popularity, I don’t know. But I do know it’s not bad as far as App.net clients go.

Bluebird can do everything you could possibly need it to. View the main stream, your profile, mentions and the global feed; you can see who you’re following, who’s following you; view muted users, and starred posts; there’s a functioning settings menu and an advanced settings menu; and you can even pull to refresh.

No one can say Bluebird isn’t full-featured. But it doesn’t look the greatest. The entire app has a light blue hue. And while most of the app is Holo themed, there are some obnoxious transparent buttons in your streams that won’t go away.

The only thing that would probably draw you away from other clients is Bluebird’s ability to filter the global feed by, what I believe is, Japanese.

While Bluebird isn’t my favorite App.net client available right now, since it’s free, it’s definitely worth a look.

 

Appeio

Appeio is another app that has a lot of potential, but manages to fall short in some areas.

Developed by Harold Fudge, it’s extremely obvious that Appeio was developed for iOS first, and ported to Android later. Just look at the Google Play listing, the sample images are actually from an iPhone (!). That alone was enough to make me not even download the app. But after reading the app description I decided to give it a shot.

The description for Appeio reads, “a device responsive App.net client for all computers, tablets and smartphones. The Appeio Android binary is a Java shell for the evolving HTML5 app available at http://appeio.com. Depending on your device you may have a better experience using Appeio.com directly in Chrome or Firefox and saving an icon to your home screen.” I’ll ignore the fact that there is no way to add an icon to your home screen from Chrome in Android (at least not that I’m seeing) to see how Appeio handles their HTML5 app. We already know Facebook can’t get it down. Can a smaller developer with a smaller service?

For the most part, Appeio functions just fine. There is a non-working legacy menu button, and the drop down menu in the app itself is very finicky, but it’s usable. All the basic features are present in Appeio, and even a couple that aren’t available in others. In-line image and video previews work well, there’s a cross post to Twitter function, some interesting theme choices, and you can choose to view everyone’s posts with their cover images attached. Still, whatever Appeio has going for it doesn’t make up for what it lacks.

It can be slow. At least slower than other apps. And even though it’s technically a web app, it looks more like an iOS app. As I said, Appeio shows a lot of promise, but nine times out of ten, native apps are going to be much better than HTML5 or web app alternatives. I don’t want to say releasing a Java wrapped HTML5 app is lazy–it still takes a lot of hard work–but come on Harold, you didn’t even upload images from an Android device to your Google Play listing. I can’t say I was expecting much to begin with.

 

Dabr

Dabr is another “webview app” that is surprisingly decent.

Let’s just get the functionality of Dabr out of the way. It does everything. At no point in using Dabr will you ever think, “I wish I could do this.” In fact, it offers a lot of features the competition doesn’t. Like font customization and in-line Spotify and Foursquare previews. It’s relatively fast, too. It remind me a bit of Twicca for Android: not very showy, but a powerhouse of an application.

The developer, Terence Eden, is very active on App.net. And he’s working very hard to make Dabr the go-to app for Android. I certainly admire his enthusiasm, but that doesn’t change the fact that Dabr is very much an acquired taste.

There is no Holo to be found in Dabr. And when you first open the app, it’s slathered in 50 shades of pink. You can change the theme, but none of them look as good as something like Frapp, or the next app I’m going to talk about. If Dabr ever went native and adopted the modern look of Holo, I could imagine it being the top App.net client on Android hands down. It offers a better experience than the actual App.net website; I just cant get past how it looks.

I’d love to see where Terence takes Dabr in the future. I will not be uninstalling Dabr anytime soon.

 

Hooha

As far as I’m concerned, Hooha by The Modern Ink is the all around best App.net client available for Android.

Not only is Hooha full-featured, not lacking in functionality whatsoever, it looks gorgeous. Hooha is fully Holo themed in a lovely shade of dark grey with bright red accents that really pop and boasts a swipable UI. It even has one of those awesome layered menu panels found in apps like Spotify.

I do wish Hooha had in-line media previews like Dabr, but Hooha looks so much better I’m willing to lose them.

I really value a developer who spends the time to make their app look good. For too long now, Android apps have just been thrown together without any real rhyme or reason. With the introduction of Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, that changed. The Modern Ink has embraced the unified look Google has brought forward with Holo, and it really shows.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about Hooha. It looks good, it feels good, it’s constantly being updated with meaningful features. If you’re going to be using App.net on your Android device, you’re most likely going to be doing so with Hooha. It’s that simple.

 

Wrap up

There you have it, folks. My opinions on the current crop of App.net clients for Android. It really comes down to this: Hooha, Dabr and Bluebird are the only ones with enough functionality to consider using on a daily basis. Out of those three, Hooha is my obvious choice. It doesn’t do quite as much as Dabr, but its beautiful design puts its at the top of the heap.

If you’ve been using App.net on your Android device, I’d love to know which app you’ve been using. If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them in the comments.

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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