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Review: IM+ 3.3 for iPhone (with a 3.4 preview)

IM+

I’ve tried a few of the free messaging clients on the App Store, but this review marks my second foray into the land of paid instant messaging apps on the iPhone (Beejive being my first), and Shape Services’ IM+ seemed like an interesting solution to try. They’re pretty well known on other mobile platforms, and I learned a bit more about the app when we wrote our “three leading iPhone IM apps” roundup a few months ago. Shape Services was kind enough to send me a promo code for this review, and so I relocated Beejive to a derelict page of my iPhone home screen (who knows what goes on past page four?!) and have been using IM+ on my first page for the last couple of weeks.

The app loads up fairly quickly, although there are some times when it just seems to take forever to re-connect to my chat services. A quick restart of the program fixes this, but it also seems to clear notifications of new messages.

IM+ 2

How does it work?

IM+ interfaces with all the mainstream IM services (listed here). One notable extra is the fact that you can actually access Skype chat through the app, which is a useful bonus for users of that service. I used the app primarily with MSN and Gtalk, although I did give the Twitter interface  a whirl for the sake of the review.
Most of IM+ lies within the five tabs at the bottom of the screen: contacts, inbox (for active chats), favorites, status, and a “more” button. The “More” tab is where you’ll find account toggles, the in-client browser (great feature!), and the app settings.  The tabs work pretty well for the most part, although I did find myself wishing that they were customizable. I don’t really use “Favorites”, since I keep my contact lists to a minimum, and I’d have liked to have switched it out for another function.
IM+ 3M-m-messaging

Messaging is obviously the meat of IM+. You can send messages, your current location, and the standard voice/picture/video messages. The next update, IM+ 3.4, also adds some emoticons with some basic animation. Each IM conversation resides within a tab and you can flick between different chats or select them directly through Inbox tab. The interface works well in portrait mode, but landscape mode is another story altogether. It’s a lot more comfortable to type out longer messages with the larger keyboard, but it comes at a real cost in IM+: screen real estate. The big honking keyboard already takes up half the screen, and I think IM+ just features too many UI elements that end up crowding the screen, so much so that I can’t really effectively read and chat in landscape mode. I either hide the keyboard and read incoming messages or I pop it up and miss most of what my friend is saying.

Beejive on the left, IM+ on the right

COMPARISON SHOT: Beejive on the left, IM+ on the right

Push notifications are up and working fine, although if you’ve got chatty friends, it can get a little overwhelming. IM+ sends out an alert with sound and vibration for every single incoming message, so your iPhone tuns into a one-phone band when you receive a string of incoming messages. You can customize these alerts and take away the sounds, but I’d prefer to just be informed of the first incoming message. This probably highlights my main complaint about the IM+ UI: something about the interface feels just a little too busy for me. I’m definitely being a little nitpicky here, but I think these minor details are what ultimately separate the top IM clients.

IM+ 3.4 preview
One new messaging feature that is going to be added in 3.4 (I’m using a preview version) is voice-to-text. It’s an in-app purchase on a monthly subscription of $0.99 / month. It’s not a huge cost, but I’m really not a fan of subscription services for chat clients. I like to know I’ve paid for something once and will reap the benefits until the next major revision. Speech recognition is activated in the More tab, and is accessed via a mic button within a chat. Unfortunately, I found the feature a bit too slow to really be much use for my needs. Entering a simple sentence like “this is Thomas from Just Another iPhone Blog dot com” took about 10 seconds. The resulting text was 90% accurate, but if it takes that long to render, I’d hope for something closer to 100% so that I don’t have to go back in and edit my text with the keyboard. Speaking of the keyboard, though: IM+ normally features the predictive text that’s available in all iPhone apps, but there is a bug in my 3.4 preview version that seems to disable it completely.
IM+ 4Twitter too

Something that seems unique to IM+ is the Twitter interface. You can actually log right into your own Twitter account and manage your tweets while you chat (who says the iPhone doesn’t support multi-tasking?!). Once you add your account, four Twitter-specific buttons (@Replies, DM, Favorites, and Friends Timeline) appear in the contact list, and tapping on a button will load up the appropriate list as a chat in the Inbox tab. You can reply to or write new tweets using the keyboard, and there’s also a handy little counter to warn you if you’re about to go over 140 character Twitter limit. I think this is a pretty novel feature to add, but it’s definitely limited because it lives within an interface catered to instant messaging. It’s a decent way to update your status, but I’d suggest you go elsewhere for more heavy duty Twitter feed management.

Conclusion

It’s certainly difficult to get rid of a bias, and I was admittedly a huge fan of Beejive before ever trying the IM+ app out on the iPhone. However, I’m also obsessed with trying out the competition to see who really gets “it” right. That said, I’ll still be sticking to Beejive in the everyday instead of using IM+ 3.4, and the reason really boils down to the user interface and the speed. IM+ can sometimes take a while to reload my contact lists and log back on, and I find the chatting to be almost unusable in landscape mode because I can’t more than two lines of text at a time. If Shape Services could fix these problems and clean up the interface, then I’d be glad to give IM+ another whirl. Until then, it’s back to Beejive for me.

IM+ is available on the App Store for $9.99. Link here.

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  • BeeJive or Palringo seems like the alternates. I paid for it . but overall IM+ is good for having a nice icon indicating the # of messages you have, Twitter,Facebook, MSN .. all in one. in-fact i use it rather than my Windows Live Messenger on my PC sometimes coz i dont tend to stay on facebook chat and keep that window open typically.
    good point about the landscape mode.. in terms of updating your MSN .. it seems to only let you update the personal message and not your MSN name .. i.e. IM+
    any other benefits of Palringo, or beejive?

  • Applestar

    quiet easy: I love beejive – but since they do not offer skype I use IM+ 🙂

  • There is also Agile Messenger, but I haven't tried that app yet.

    That is a good point, though, Elton. if you turn off the push alert and keep it to simply badges, you could use the app as a great little alert system for various social media services.

    I've used Beejive and Palringo (lite). Palringo I didn't like so much because I found the UI a bit convoluted and slow. Beejive I'm still quite happy with. My major reason for sticking to it is really the cleanliness of the UI and the speed, the very things I criticized in IM+. I think an IM app should load up in about a second or two and just connect instantly … which is exactly what I'm enjoying with my Beejive. Palringo might be faster now (esp. on the 3GS), but I haven't tried it recently.

  • There is also Agile Messenger, but I haven't tried that app yet.

    That is a good point, though, Elton. if you turn off the push alert and keep it to simply badges, you could use the app as a great little alert system for various social media services. It does interface with a LOT of services!

    I've used Beejive and Palringo (lite). Palringo I didn't like so much because I found the UI a bit convoluted and slow. Beejive I'm still quite happy with. My major reason for sticking to it is really the cleanliness of the UI and the speed, the very things I criticized in IM+. I think an IM app should load up in about a second or two and just connect instantly … which is exactly what I'm enjoying with my Beejive. Palringo might be faster now (esp. on the 3GS), but I haven't tried it recently.

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