There's a new BBM-like client in the waters: Beluga has shown its face and it's a very simple to use instant messaging client that works on both Android and iOS devices. Now, having switched from a Blackberry Tour, using BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) fairly often towards the end of its days, I can say that this is probably the closest you'll get to the same experience right now.
Look and Feel
After downloading the application from the Android Market, the first thing I noticed upon opening it (and creating an account really quickly) was how simple the layout was. There are 3 tabs that run right underneath the bar where the "Beluga" name is, where you can access your "Pods" (conversations), "Contacts," and "News." The color scheme is a simple blue and white theme with a royal blue and a light blue contrast, and is pretty easy on the eyes unless you happen to be in a pitch black room. The only thing I wish they had added here was the ability to apply different color schemes or even customize the interface with whatever color I chose (I'm a fan of darker themes on my phone, but that's just me).
The developers decided to call the conversations "Pods." Why? Is it because whales travel in pods? Going along with the simplicity theme, the Pods tab is straightforward; you can start a new conversation, select ongoing conversations, and invite friends via Facebook, email, or text.
When you click on an ongoing conversation, the app brings you to the conversation screen, and there are 4 tabs under the name of the pod: "Messages," "Members," "Map," and "Details." Messages is pretty obvious, it's where the messages between whoever is involved are listed. When you click on the area where you type your message, you can insert smiley faces, choose to add your location, and either take a picture, insert a picture, or do an image search (I presume to add a picture you won't have on your phone). The members screen lists whoever is included in the conversation as you can have group chats (like BBM); but I'm not exactly sure what the limit of people is in a single pod since I haven't tried that feature out.
The members' names and emails are displayed. The map screen simply lists your location on Google Maps. I'm not exactly sure why they included this, and I haven't noticed if the map will update to include the locations of others in the pod. That would be a very interesting concept adding onto what BBM does for Blackberry users. The last tab, details, allows you to add a picture for the entire pod, to change the pod name (anyone in the pod can change it), turn off or on notifications for the pod, you can set a time for an event if that's what you need. The developers plan on adding the ability to set an event location. This adds more functionality over BBM in the sense that you can almost set up a complete meeting whether it is business or just a get together with a group of friends who are using Beluga. These are definitely some welcome additions to an instant chat client.
So, from the main screen, you can click on "Contacts" which will bring up a screen of all the contacts in your phone. Now, if the contact doesn't have Beluga, there will just be a "+" sign next to their name and if you click on that contact, a bubble comes up where you can invite that person to Beluga via text. If a contact has Beluga, there will be a chat bubble next to their name, and when you click on it, it will automatically bring up a screen for a new chat.
The news tab just shows updates from within Beluga. The only news I have in mine is that someone started using Beluga. I haven't gotten anything else in that tab, so its really only good for notifying you if any of your contacts have started using the app.
I've been using this app since my girlfriend got her iPhone, and I can say it's definitely made us completely forget about BBM. It can do all of the same features and more, its just as fast, and on my Android version, if I have the sound on, its makes a swoosh noise to let you know the message sent (it also says "Sent!" on the screen) which is a cool little feature. You can include pictures, group chats, and even text people from the app who aren't using it (similar to Handcent SMS or What's App Messaging). So for all of you with Android phones with 2.1 or higher that know a lot of people using Android 2.1 or higher or an iOS device, this is definitely a handy application to check out.