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BBM for Android review: Elegant, zippy but some elements missing

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BBM-Screenshot1Exactly a month after a bug-ridden early version of BBM for Android leaked, and took a wrecking ball to BlackBerry’s #BBM4ALL party, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) for Android is finally here. The aborted roll out last month had pessimists laughing over what they said was another nail in BlackBerry’s coffin and even optimists were cringing and ducking for cover.

This time around BlackBerry took a far quieter approach, preferring to walk on eggshells rather than have egg on its face. And BBM on Android is big for India since Android commands over 90 percent of the Indian smartphone market, but BlackBerry also has a significant installed base, though sales of new BlackBerry devices are slow. Also, most Android users have fond memories of BlackBerry Messenger and would like to use the IM tool on Android. I had a smooth experience downloading the app from Google Play, though many Android users have complained otherwise. We experienced this on an older Sony Xperia Nero L running Android 4.0.4, but though the app failed to install once we discovered it was a memory problem. Also, the Google Play page for the app seems to go down often (perhaps because of traffic load), but there’s nothing BlackBerry can do about Google Play’s unreliability. BlackBerry suggests that users head to BBM.com from their Android browser and click on the Google Play link from there, since Google Play is ridden with fake, malicious apps that claim to be BBM but will wreck your smartphone. Once downloaded, setup was very smooth and since this was a BlackBerry ID I had used earlier, my contacts and even display picture stored on the cloud dropped into the app. BlackBerry 10 Interface If you’ve used BBM on legacy BlackBerry smartphones, you will be surprise at the elegant, intuitive design of the app. The BlackBerry 10-like, gesture-driven interface takes a little getting used to, but won’t take more than a few minutes since it’s not cluttered and remarkably clear. There are two menu bars that can be brought up on the left and right of the screen and a bottom bar replicates some of the key items on the menu bars, like chats, contacts and groups. Under the bottom there’s the Android buttons so you lose some real estate, but not too much. Profiles can be personalised too, something that teens and youth will love and animated gifs can also be used. The app is zippy and there’s no lag. Focused on Messaging alone BBM has a razor sharp focus on messaging and productivity aligned to messaging. And unlike WhatsApp, its biggest competitor in India, you cannot add someone based on their phone number and neither can they add you. You can manually add contacts based on multiple options – you could share the PIN number assigned to you when you register, or invite via e-mail, or SMS. If you’re right next to another person, say at a coffee shop, you can either scan a barcode or use NFC. And when you delete someone from your contact list, you disappear instantly from theirs too. As compared to WhatsApp don’t-care approach towards privacy as WhatsApp focuses on ease of use, BBM is focused on user privacy. These are approaches completely at odds with each other. On the productivity front, there are little touches like scheduling events in Group chat, which are automatically added to your smartphone calendar. Groups (up to 30 BBM contacts allowed in each group) also come with handy features, such as sharing images, creating lists and events. Each group has a grid with these three options in addition to the chat itself. I thought this might be quite useful for collaboration at work. In lists for instance, you can categorise them, assign a list to a contact in the group, assign due dates and priority. Very productivity-focused indeed. Scores an A in Ds and Rs One of the most frustrating things about WhatsApp was those annoying tick marks that don’t really mean delivered and read. On BBM, it’s back to the great Delivered (D) and Read (R) system. Users can also see when the person they’re chatting with is typing. Photos and voice notes can be attached to chats and multi-person chats and broadcast messages are also possible. The good old Ping function that is used to alert a contact and provides a can’t-miss, audible alert about something urgent is there to. What’s Missing? The big missing elements are BBM Video and BBM Voice. BBM Video is a powerful video tool and works on cellular networks too, so there’s no need for Wi-Fi. However, BlackBerry has said these will come in future releases. Another goody for the future is BBM Channels, a new social networking feature currently in beta within BBM on BlackBerry. BBM Channels extends the sharing experience beyond your circle of contacts and uses a ‘channel’ concept, allowing channel creators to amass an unlimited number of followers to whom you can share all kinds of content. Also remember that BBM can only be used on one device at a time. Since each installation is linked to a BlackBerry ID, you cannot be online on both your BlackBerry smartphone and your Android smartphone at the same time. BlackBerry is taking this approach for security reasons, though recently at BlackBerry Jam Asia 2013, they did demo a concept where BBM was available on a desktop, projected from BBM on a BlackBerry. That way, the application runs natively on only one device but could be used on more than one device.

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