WhatsApp Messenger for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android – Review

By Ben Rossi on 7 July 2011
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WhatsApp Messenger, an intriguing app by Silicon Valley-based WhatsApp Inc., brings text messaging into the smartphone age.

A number of key features make WhatsApp a must-have. Since the app uses the same Internet data plan that smartphone users have for e-mail and Web browsing, sending texts, audio, images, and video with WhatsApp costs nothing (as long as you don’t go over your data plan’s allowance). Even more important, in a world of competing smartphone platforms, WhatsApp is a truly cross-platform service. The app is compatible with iPhone, Nokia, BlackBerry, and Android smartphones. Only Windows Mobile 7 is missing. This allows users on different platforms to communicate with one another using the app. Indeed, it’s WhatsApp’s multi-platform capability that sets it apart from similar services like BlackBerry Messenger which, while sharing some of WhatsApp’s features, can only communicate between BlackBerries.

The big leap in capability that WhatsApp achieves over SMS is its Group Chat function, which allows users to chat with up to five contacts in a single conversation (the company’s Web site says that number of users supported in a conversation will soon increase). This is perfect for long-running “background” discussions between co-workers. Another neat feature is the presence function, which allows users to let contacts know what they’re doing with small messages appearing below names on the contact list (of course one has to update one’s status in order for it to be accurate). A feature that lets users know when their messages have been sent to the server and received by the recipient eliminates the uncertainty that SMS users face. It’s also possible to search, save, and e-mail chat histories.

The basic interface for WhatsApp Messenger closely resembles SMS, making it quite simple and easy to use. Contacts in my address book who already had the app automatically were placed in the “Favorites” list and I was able to start chatting with them immediately. Since Whatsapp also imports the phone’s address book to its menu, inviting others to download the app doesn’t require logging out. Unlike SMS, users can also block contacts if necessary. Using a smartphone’s push notification service, WhatsApp allows users to remain aware of new messages activity even when the app isn’t open.

If I have any complaints about WhatsApp, it’s that, with relatively few people using it, the app’s features—particularly Group Chat—are not very useful. But once the app achieves a critical mass of users, I believe it will be a feature that smartphone users simply cannot do without.

You can download WhatsApp Messenger for iPhone at the Apple iTunes App Store or www.whatsapp.com for other platforms. The app costs $.99 for iPhone users, a one time fee; for other platforms, download and service is free for a year, $1.99 per year after that.

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