Feb 24 AT 4:10 PM Clark Wimberly 46 Comments

Beluga, a cross-platform chat application with style

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.


home pod send map pod-settings new settings

Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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  • http://Website Dylan Andersen

    Awesome write-up and I just realized our pod is in the header image. Haha, awesome.

    My favorite part of Beluga is the built-in Google Image search which is fucking priceless for sending random pictures to people.

  • http://Website NeoteriX

    One thing I’ve noticed about messaging/chat apps on Android is their propensity to drain battery like no other. In particular, I keep uninstalling Kik because it’s a serious offender in this regard.

    One solution that few apps seem to adopt is the use of Android 2.2 cloud-to-device-messaging (C2DM), or native “push.” I’ve noticed that an app’s use of this framework can significantly cut down on the polling and battery consumption of apps like these.

    Do you know if Beluga uses C2DM? How is the battery impact using Beluga?

    • http://Website Alex

      I don’t know if Beluga uses C2DM (i didn’t know this app until tonight), but i know for sure that WhatsApp does. I’ve been using WhatsApp since october, and battery life is great. Of course the service is always running

      • http://Website NeoteriX

        That’s right — WhatsApp does use C2DM and the hit isn’t so bad on my phone with it (although using System Panel App, when the phone is idling, it does seem to rank pretty high amongst all other idling apps). I’ve since checked and it looks like Beluga has permissions for C2DM for 2.2+ devices so that is a promising sign.

    • grellanl

      Yes it’s really pretty and everything, but I found that it runs really aggressively in the background even when logged out, and that’s a nono for me. Also, as others have pointed out it doesn’t seem to use C2DM, so that will lead to higher data and battery usage.

      Whatsapp isn’t as pretty but works well for me, as does Gtalk. WA also seems to have a level of inertia behind it that Beluga doesn’t right now – nobody I know uses Beluga, but loads use WhatsApp and Gtalk.

  • http://Website Ben 1.0

    As a former BlackBerry Curve user, I will admit that BBM (and the physical keyboard) was something that RIM just nailed. Very simple and convenient to use.

    I don’t regret switching to Android for a second, don’t get me wrong. I love my Nexus One. I do still have a few friends with BlackBerries that I haven’t been able to convince to start using Gtalk though, so I’d love it if a chat application appeared that was able to communicate with BBM. I guess that would be up to RIM to allow.

    On the topic of chat applications, is anyone else amazed that there still isn’t an official Windows Live Messenger app?

    • http://Website Daniel

      Doesn’t surprise me in the least, at this point Microsoft will probably try to use WLM support as a plus for Windows Phone. The iPhone app (which is pretty much abandoned, AFAIK; no high-res graphics or iPad support, for example) happened because they simply couldn’t ignore the phone (too popular) and their competing system was still far from release.

  • http://www.JustNewListings.com jay Arlington real estate

    this app rocks and this service is very practical in some situations in particular especially when there is an event going on such as friends from different locations meeting up for dinner or family going on vacation.

    it’s great being connected to everybody in real time communicating with each other by text I highly recommend it the challenges of course getting everybody to use it

    dictated to my android so forgive typos

  • http://Website ben

    Sounds amazing but how can it be the new BBM is it doesnt support blackberry?

    • http://Website Aston

      because blackberries don’t matter anymore.

      • http://Website Maximus


        As a former Black Berry user for the better part of 8 years this is true imo

        I made the transition to Android Dec 16, 2 days after the launch of the Nexus S as my first Google experience

        I cant believe i didnt make the transition sooner

        I have to admit the only thing that kept me as BB user was BBM other then that it offered me nothing

        I dont miss my BB at all but i have been looking for a BBM replacement that all of my friends would adopt

        Kik Messenger tried but they didnt offer Status Messages and Picture selection from your gallery which is what derailed them from potentially being the cross platform that everyone would adopt not to mention its a battery drainer!

        Im going to check out beluga and see if it lives up to the hype

      • http://Website ben

        it might not matter to you but alot of my friends have blackberrys and do use bbm……

  • http://canadroid.com BigC_13

    You might want to make a point that the SMS messages sent by the app are only fee free for users in America. I touched on the effect for Canadian users in my review of the app here: http://bit.ly/enZyeB
    The 5th paragraph down shows the effects for Canadian users. Other international users will want to check the same thing with their carriers as any SMS messages from the app are sent from California.

    (Hope this seen as spam or attention grabbing, I’m just trying to spread the word on international use)

    I love this app I’ve been using it for a while. Reviews for it have been popping up everywhere it’s really taking off.

  • http://Website My Galaxy

    Cool app, already have a few people on it but why does it always set gps on when you first connect with a person. wish they would stop doing that. You can switch it off, but it should be you deciding from the start if its on or not.

  • http://Website Mike

    Or, people who mis BBM can just use google talk, thats what its there for. Free message that works on Black Berry, iPhone , and Android. Oh and their web browser mac, pc, and linux. Crap I got google talk running on my router.

    Really nobody needs crap software like Beluga. All this stuff is already built in to android.

    I am starting to think this site gets money for promoting peoples stupid apps….

    • http://Website Bob

      Does Gtalk let you do group chat? Or easily include your location? Or let you set notifications per chat? Or any of the features that set this type of app part from just a “plain” text messaging app?

      • http://Website Mike

        Its called feature creep. Google provides you a way to do all those things. All this new chat program does is require you to have yet another app that does the same thing as 100 other apps on your phone.

        Not to mention most of these things that Beluga can do also can be done in the facebook application. Or even via twitter (although the message length is too small).

        And a even larger problem is NOBODY is using it. So YAY you have a “awesome” new app and system to chat on but ill be damned if I give it my facebook login.

        If this was a app to take advantage of the backend google provided to do all these things then it would be much more useful. But what you are doing is now giving all your chats and personal info to a 3rd party that has no track record. Its free because YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. The last thing I need is another 3rd party knowing everything about my life. I already have enough quams about google, but so far google has had a okay track record.

        In any case, this app is clearly not needed, or a good replacement for BBM. BBM was only widely used because it was free to send messages.

        Going on a rant here, but its not so much about the app, but about the platform. We already have good platforms to keep in touch with people. Email, google talk, buzz, facebook, twitter. The last thing you want is yet ANOTHER platform to work with.


    • http://Website saucysauces

      But not everybody likes the same messaging software…
      Isn’t that the beauty of Android? Choice?

      If we all wanted the same thing, we would all have iPhones.

  • http://Website Beno

    I found it painfull before to use gTalk/Skype/or MSN when I was chatting with iPhone users; Thanks to their push multi task OS, they get disconnected or don’t get any notifications… But I discovered Whatsapp that make it push pull from server, with full screen notifications on iPhone ! Now you show me Beluga that is similar but with computer, BB and better Android integration, and login using Facebook ! Wow Awesome ! I will sent that to all my friends :P Thanks Clark

    • http://Website Rayyan

      Beluge doesn’t support Blackberries (unless you’re talking about the browser client).

  • http://Website Howard Smith

    Never worked for me on Droid X / Froyo. Queries via Beluga pod with founder/developers unanswered. Uninstalled.

  • http://Website Reem

    I’ve been thru a few IM apps for my Droid. Kik started out great but fell behind becaude they never updated the features and it look boring. After that, I stuck with WhatsApp and have gotten pretty much all my friends on it. It’s pretty reliable. Beluga sounds/looks great but to start over and convince people to try this app is a mission.

    • http://www.twitter.com/miniu Minkiu

      “Beluga sounds/looks great but to start over and convince people to try this app is a mission.”

      Its why i don’t underesant so many devs doing the same kind of apps.. :/ Whatsapp has the field :s

  • http://Website Derek

    I don’t understand how this is different from Whatsapp?

  • http://Website Paul Atreides

    I use Live Profile. Thanks for an alternative to consider.

  • http://Website Alexander
  • http://pryvateid.tumblr.com Dave

    Thanks for the tip. I wish it had username’s & pins though. Most of my friend’s either don’t have smartphones or can’t afford the data plans to take advantage of this, so it’d be great to connect with people who do have those liberty’s. I love LiveProfile, but people on there seem not to respond to me when I send them messages.

  • http://Website mjschmidt

    Hmm.. I don’t “get” this. Everyone is making a big deal about these BBM style apps that allow you to message back and forth without incurring SMS fees, but it requires others to have the same app.

    How exactly is this different from having MSM or ICQ or Yahoo messenger on your computer? If you use MSM you can only message other people with MSM, UNLESS you use a program like Pidgin, or Digsby, that allows you to see all your friends on EVERY IM program you sign up for?

    There are already existing apps for this for Android, like “eBuddy”.

    Install eBuddy, and you can then chat/send messages to ALL of your friends, regardless of the IM client they use on their computer.

    If they all also install eBuddy, they can then use it to use their various IM accounts to do the same BETWEEN PHONES.

    So… how is this exciting/new/different?

    Why reinvent the wheel?

    • http://pryvateid.tumblr.com Dave

      Because you’re messaging strictly between smartphones. It’s a completely different set of consumers with that being said, & also a lot of people don’t really use or sometimes don’t have computers, so it’s really convenient because with that said they don’t really have Yahoo Messenger on AIM.

      • http://Website mjschmidt

        Really? I’m afraid I must beg to differ, sir. In the north-american/eurpoean/asian markets, how many people do you suppose have a smart phone and NOT a computer?! I have to think that number must be EXTREMELY low!

        Sorry, but it seems like just another IM service, especially if you use it from your computer as well.

        No, I’d argue the majority of smartphone users also have a computer and are already using one or more of the following: Facebook Chat, MSM, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, etc etc etc.

        Why lock yourself into a new self-contained IM ecosystem (forcing you to chat only with people also on that system) when you can use eBuddy, or Fring, and chat with all the people you ALREADY chat with!

        • http://Website smabe

          I don’t understand these apps. Just use an AIM client or send a text.

    • http://Website Dave

      I agree with you for the majority of what you said. However, there is one App exception that has a clear distinction and thats Whatsapp.

      With Whatsapp, there is NO Login or Sign Up needed. It has effectively replaced the “Enter Email, Enter password” by linking it with your phone number. Does nobody see this as a major positive???
      I hate the fact that any registering and signing in exists for Kik and other Apps. I want to be signed in all the time.

      This is the reason why I use Tango (and Viber when it comes out) instead of Skype, Whatsapp instead of Kik/Beluga/GTalk. You are always “signed in”. Is signing in not a dated paradigm from the days where we share the households PC to differentiate the users? Smartphones are personal; only one person ever uses it and the easiest way of identifying users is through the unique phone number. The need to give out a Username to your friends (who already have your phone number) is also pretty annoying. Its a shame so many ppl still want the old style of “HEY, heres my BBM PIN…” communication.

      Yay for the simplicity of Tango, Viber and Whatsapp :D

  • http://pryvateid.tumblr.com Dave

    I’m using it now. It’s not my new favorite app. I can even message people who don’t have the app. :D. Cool. With this said I wonder can I get rid of my messaging plan?

  • http://Website Rix

    Surprised nobody’s mentioned pingchat, it’s pretty good IMO, i use that along with Whatsapp

  • http://Website Clarence

    This is totally off subject.. But… No one is going to talk about on this site how my Nexus One just received a Gingerbread OTA update this morning…. wow

  • IceCrush

    KakaoTalk anyone ?

  • http://Website donovan

    no articles today huh? no wonder this is always the last tech site i check..

    • http://Website Rayyan

      Android and me not only provides news, they also write really good speculative articles. I love how they analyze various rumors before a launch of a certain device. Android and me ranks in the top of my list of favorite Android blogs!

  • http://Website Rayyan

    BBM Pros: 1) group chats, 2) media sharing.
    BBM Cons: Limited to Blackberries, 2) Blackberries suck.

    I am all for a chatting eco-system which allows cross-platform chatting, especially if it’s available on the PC, and several mobile platforms (Android, iOS and Blackberry – the rest don’t matter right now)

    I use Gtalk, and we have it on android. Sadly though, Gtalk doesn’t support file sharing on mobile devices. Google should really work on bringing many features to Gtalk.

    But another thing about the Gtalk/yahoo/Windows Live messengers, people have preferences.. For example, a lot of people I know are STILL on Windows messenger, but I don’t use it… I strictly use Gtalk.

    All these new chat apps on phones appeal to people who chat on mobile devices. So let’s ignore PCs/laptops for a second and just focus on mobile devices. BBM clearly has the disadvantage of being available on BBM only… Enter all the new apps that are trying to replicate BBM features with support for 2 or more mobile platforms.

    The first app I used was What’s App. It supports all the 3 major platforms; Android, iOS and Blackberry. The problem? Although they just recently added group chat support, group chats are limited to 5 users only.

    Before I go on to the next app, one of the things that make applications like What’s App attractive, is that you register using your phone number. Basically, you don’t need to ask your friends for their ID/PIN/username. The app simply scans your phonebook and lets you know which users already use the chat app.

    Anyway.. After what’s app, I started using Kakao talk mentioned by IceCrush. Group chat on Kakao Talk is amazing! 15 of my old college friends are using it. The problem? No support for blackberries. Another problem, which is a big deal for one of my friends, is that it has a size-limit for shared videos. My gripe with this app is that you can’t change the ringtone (though you can turn it off, even turn it off for specific chats). The developers are doing a great job updating this app though.

    I then read about Beluga in an article by Droid Life. Like Kakao Talk, it doesn’t have Blackberry support yet, but the interface was really nice. But there were a few problems. Adding users was annoying. Let’s say my friend “Bob” is in my phonebook with the phone number “12345″ and “[email protected]” as his email. I tell Bob to get Beluga, so he downloads it, then signs-up with username: “Spiderman”, phone number: “12345″ and email: “[email protected]”. Once he registers, I get notified that “Spiderman” joined Beluga, but clicking on details only shows me the username and “[email protected]”. I don’t have this e-mail in my phonebook, so I have no idea who spiderman is! (Peter Parker, I know). My guess is that because Bob registered the username “Spiderman” with the number “12345″, his nickname showed up in my list because I have that number. Only thing is, the details for “Spiderman” don’t show the phone number. One more problem? The interface on the iPhone actually blows! I was impressed by Beluga’s interface on my Nexus One, but my friends using iPhones showed me how they don’t have a list of users!

    So I moved on to the next app (quest for perfection)… This time, I got PingChat! mentioned by Rix. Like What’s App, PingChat! supports the three platforms. Problem? Once you start a chat, you can’t add people to it (which Kakao Talk allows).

    I want an app which is available across multiple platforms, which does group chats, allows media sharing, and can share locations. Right now, there’s no one app that does it all. Till then, more and more developers will try to bring BBM-like apps.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilsnickers 3V1L

    Been using this for a while now, loving every second.

  • http://Website Mike

    I think voting on this site is busted… If you click + or – on any comment it shows that your vote counted. But then if you refresh the page the vote gets reset….

  • http://Website ruh orh
  • http://Website mother-yamen

    love forever

  • http://Website Phil4

    Check ReChat (Android chat):
    - Facebook, Yahoo!®, Google Talk, Jabber/XMPP;
    - group chat (Yahoo!®, Google Talk, XMPP);
    - free SMS worldwide BETA (with replies for USA/Canada);
    - plain/bubble view, font packs, send image/video;

    Facebook features: upload image/video, send image/video, send message (as private event or wall post).
    Yahoo!® features: conferences (create/invite), add/remove contacts.
    Google Talk features: group chat, new email notification, unread emails w/o content.
    Jabber/XMPP features: rooms (create/invite), add/remove contacts.

  • http://Website battleactionken

    A Pidgin plugin for Beluga is now available:

    This give you a convenient way to interact with Beluga on your desktop machine.

  • momoko

    I heard that Beluga is shutting down. There’s a new IM app which I found to be quite impressive. My friends and I are checking out Hookt IM app. I believe you can get it in the app stores, but you can use it on desktop as well (wee! awesome bonus!) at http://www.hookt.com. Very cool. :D