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Review: Beluga looks to be Android and iOS’ BBM

Even though Android and iOS have emerged as the preeminent smartphone operating systems, there will always be a one mainstay that refuses to kick the bucket: RIM and their Blackberry OS. There’s a big reason why people are still tethered to these phones, even though most new devices by other companies blow them out of the water. It’s one little application: BBM.

Blackberry Messenger is important to the brand’s survival: it is free phone-to-phone communication tied into a PIN number, rather than a username. More importantly, it’s on every Blackberry. This means that there is nothing to bug your friends to install, or more importantly use.

Which is why when cross-platform BBM-alikes get released, like Kik Messenger or the above Beluga, it’s almost a lost cause. They (of course) aren’t compatible with BBM, nor are they offered on Blackberries at all: RIM, like Apple, is very finicky with apps that “replicate features.”

However, the app does what it advertises extremely well: Beluga’s interface is sleek on both platforms, and allows users to group their contacts into “pods” which then can be communicated with instantly. You can provide image and location-tagged messages, and members of the pods are updated on-the-fly. It’s simple, and works; I had no hiccups testing it.

Beluga also takes some time to try to tackle the user base problem, as well. When you sign up, you are required to tie your account to your phone number. While I was initially apprehensive about this, I realized its greater purpose: automatic contact sharing.

What Beluga does is query your phone book for any numbers that are on the system. When it detects a match, it automatically notifies you that person X is also using Beluga, and vice versa. When I asked a couple of my friends (pictured above) to use the service along with me, there wasn’t any questions of what their Beluga username was; as soon as they signed up for the service and their number was entered into the database, my app let me know. I cannot stress how great that is.

However, the reason I won’t keep Beluga on my phone is the same reason I won’t join Facebook-alternative Diaspora: none of my friends use it, and trying to convince them is not worth the effort.

If I had to convince all the Android and iOS users I know to install an app, coach them on how to use it, then hope they all check it once and awhile, I would have to wonder why I wouldn’t just call/SMS them in the first place. I mean, their contacts are already in my phone!

I have the same apprehensions with BBM: I don’t understand the appeal of “instant.” My friends tell me it’s big amongst professionals, where time is money; others tell me it’s comforting to know that while texts can be ignored/lost/unread, BBM lets you know that your message has been sent/received.

All I know is that its success is largely because of the fact that everyone uses it, and if a phone would otherwise be cast off if the feature was omitted, then there has to be something to it.

If you have enough people in your network of contacts using Beluga, I’d say go for it; it really is an amazing app. However, if you’re like me and only have one or two people that would actually use it, you might find that Beluga’s downfall is one that has nothing to do with the way it’s coded.

You can download Beluga for Android here.


Matt Demers is Droid Life’s app guy and feels it’s a bit hypocritical telling people that instant doesn’t matter when he’s such a Twitter addict. You can give him tips to things you want reviewed by following or e-mailing him.

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  • Anonymous

    I love this app. Use this every hour with my different groups of friends!

  • Anonymous

    is there a way to have google talk go through your phonebook to add people

    • http://twitter.com/rayfei Rayyan Fairaq | 费拉扬

      aren’t your phonebook contacts synced with gmail? If that’s the case, you can choose the option to display “all friends” in gtalk, rather than “most popular”.

      • Anonymous

        well then i only have 1 friend with gtalk and thats because i put it on her phone haha

  • Anonymous

    I thought one of the big draws of BBM was security. Your BBM’s are encrypted on BB’s servers, which is the reason BB’s were banned in UAE, because the government couldn’t snoop on people’s BBM’s. That’s why corporations dig it too.

    Are Beluga messages encrypted?

  • Imdannyfive

    My friends and I use pingchat. It’s multiplatform across Android, blackberry and Apple OS. So far its sticking with us and our bb friends are happy they get to chat as a group again.

  • Silent Majority

    Group Me is the best SMS app out there right now

  • Anonymous
  • http://twitter.com/rayfei Rayyan Fairaq | 费拉扬

    While we do have Gtalk, there are a few issues. A) there is no official iPhone client B) no file sharing. Gtalk would be great if they work on adding new features to it, especially that it can be accessed from a desktop/laptop. File sharing and powerful group chats are the two things that BBM users really love about BBM.

    I don’t know about Kik.. I didn’t use it because the reviews were bad. The real contenders are 1) What’s App and 2) Kakao Talk.

    The good thing about What’s app is that they have clients for Android, iPhone AND Blackberry. Cross-platform support is always a plus, and much better than closed chat formats like BBM or even Facetime. What’s App even integrates with the phone book on Android. So if a friend is on What’s app, when you click on his/her icon in Android, you’ll find an option to start a chat with him/her through What’s App, just like there are contact via call, SMS, e-mail, facebook, twitter etc… But What’s App has a few issues. 1) Although they recently added support for groups chats, groups are limited to 5 members. 2) There’s a limit to the size of media files you share, which I hear was recently implemented. This matters to some people who like to share videos.

    Kakao Talk is also a good BBM-like messenger. It’s very new, and they are aggressively adding more features and constantly improving their app. Kakao Talk overcomes at least one of the issues which What’s App has. They allow large group chats. I’m currently in a chat room with 15 other friends! It allows file sharing too, but I’m not sure if there’s a cap on allowed sizes. Kakao Talk isn’t perfect either. 1) It has support for only Android and iPhone (no Blackberry support), 2) You can’t change the ringtone (but you can turn it off), doesn’t integrate with the phonebook like What’s App.

    I’m going to test Beluga. Maybe ask a few friends to install it and see how it goes. If someone used Beluga, What’s App and Kakao Talk, I’d like to hear their input!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carlos-Carrasquillo/100000738258253 Carlos Carrasquillo

    KAKAO Talk FTW :)

  • Lord_20_bucks

    Is that a lonely island reference I detect?

  • Drew

    While we have Google talk installed on our phones by default if you have friends with the iphone they do not have an app for just google talk. The only google talk from google for iphone is web based and the other alternatives cost money or like fring you have to create a user account to use it.

  • http://twitter.com/gorirrajoe Joey Hernandez

    You need to stress the fact that beluga is about mobile GROUP chat. I agree, Google Talk is great, but on a phone, you can’t group chat people. Texting in a group is a pain to set up and maintain as well. I think it’s well worth the effort to convince people to get the app!

    Ahem, my review: http://mattersofgrey.com/beluga-android-app-review/

  • Greg

    Seriously.. if you have that much time to bbm someone instead of call… your smartphone is dumb. No maam, I will not develop carpel tunnel for you.

  • http://twitter.com/samthomas86 Sam Thomas

    EXACTLY! Google needs to invest a little time in making Talk into a BBM killer, its a on every smart phone, BB included, why not invest in it?

  • Anonymous

    Great review. I think cross platform to BBM is a necessity to make these kinds of applications worthwhile though. There are enough BB users out there that I feel I’m not getting the complete product by only having messages to iOS and Android. I loved Kik for the few weeks that it had all platforms. After RIM shot them down and then sued, I lost all interest in the app.

  • Pessimist_Prime

    Why doesn’t Google talk just add more features and become a bbm competitor/alternative? Its pretty much fully cross platform as it is. Google needs to realize the potential of gchat and step their game up.

  • Anonymous

    people said the same for kik messenger. it was viral for a couple weeks…now no one uses it.

    • JagoX

      That’s b/c the damn thing doesn’t work half the time anymore. It worked great for a while for allowing my wife & I to communicate quickly (and for free) but then messages started taking up to 5+ hours to deliver.

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      RIM also kicked (heh) it off its network; what’s the point in using it if you can’t contact Blackberry users?

  • Anonymous

    Hey, uh, Matt… we have an app preinstalled that does exactly this. It’s called Google Talk. And it is on every Android device out there.

    Any app like this is destined to fail. What is wrong with GTalk?

    • Maximillianx

      Google talk has no group chat, does not allow you to send pictures or videos, has no shared calendar, has no sent/received status for messages, etc. That’s the difference.

  • WhoMe

    LiveProfile…

    • http://twitter.com/samthomas86 Sam Thomas

      LiveProfile is probably the worst of the worst. Its decent UI masks a crappy app with even worse devs. Not to mention, its used by even less people than Kik, Ping or Whatsapp.

  • Anonymous

    so, same thing as whatsapp, which already has some traction to it. although whatsapp is free for a year then you have to pay 2 dollars for a year

  • Anonymous

    Google Voice.

    Free texts messaging and you do not have to bother your friends with installing a program.

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Like I said in my EasySMS review: Google Talk is only available in the US. I live in Canada.

      • Anonymous

        ah… Well that is no good!

  • Anonymous

    Looks cool but google talk is the only chat app I will ever need.

  • KingDave

    whatsapp does the same

  • http://www.searingarrow.com AlienSix

    I want to be a boss too

  • FortitudineVincimus

    BBM

    a text message app or Google Talk chat app by any other name

    yawn

    • DroidVader

      Exactly. I got bored reading this post. Who cares about BBM when there’s TALK. Same thing different platform. I came from a BB curve and now have a D2. Didn’t look back. And for my friends still on that archaic device I send txt msgs.

      • FortitudineVincimus

        even worse is that Blackberry is even pushing the value of BBM by making commercials about it. I just saw one last night and was like WTF? Imagine, they have nothing more to hang their hats on than BBM?? And in the end, we can all essentially BBM these days – they act like it is something unique to Blackberry.

      • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

        “Same thing different platform.”
        Not necessarily. Google Talk is tied to a username, which in turn can be one of many that’s assigned to your phone. I have five different Google Accounts synced to my phone at the moment, and only one can be connected to Google Talk at one time.