It's been awhile since we've heard anything from Pinger, creators of a service that allows you to trade voicemails like they were emails. Their previous offering was interesting but not ultimately useful for most people. Their new offering, a clever iPhone application (iTunes link) that combines a social media aggregator, a dialer, and an IM client is interesting and likely useful for most people. For me, it addresses my #1 gripe about the iPhone. It's also free.
Read on for a review!
Pinger essentially combines three functions and has a little bit of an identity crisis when it comes to making one of them primary. They do give you a clue at how to think of the app when it first launches by showing you a demo of yanking your phone app from the dock and putting Pinger in its place. That's a pretty bold statement, but for me it was the exact right thing to do.
Ok, so what are we looking at here?
Pinger takes the above functions and spreads them around the app fairly effectively in 5 tabs: "Friend News," "Contacts," "Favorites", "IM," and "Keypad."
Since Pinger prompts you to replace the phone app's place in your precious dock, it had better be darn good at getting a hold of your contacts. Fortunately, it is. Pinger was sure to include a simple dial pad (above) for people who just want a number pad, damnit. They've also included a 'Favorites' tab that, you guessed it, allows you to list favorites (it doesn't match the favorites you've set in the default phone app).
However, the above is ho-hum, just in Pinger so that it's able to compete feature-for-feature with the iPhone's default. Where the real dialing action happens is on the Contacts tab. It's here where Pinger blows the default dialer away and become my go-to app for getting in touch with people.
Reason #1 I love the contact list: it makes no bones about how you're supposed to find your contacts. A keyboard pops up the moment you open it and although you can scroll through contacts, it's clear that's a secondary searching option. Because of this, you can immediately start typing a name instead of scrolling up to the search bar at the top of the regular contacts listing. As you type, the letter's your typing appear just above the keyboard.
That, friends, is how it should be.
Just as nice as the above, the contact listing in Pinger is also much more useful than a standard list. Underneath each name are pressable buttons to immediately use that method of communication -- i.e. call mobile, SMS, email, etc. Of course, you can also drill into a full contact page to get more control over the contact.
Also visible in the contact listing: IM presence. You can see right here in the contact listing whether a given person is available, away, etc on AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and Google Talk.
I'll be recommending Pinger to folks simply because its dialer is superior to the iPhone's default phone app. Pinger also has those other two features, however, and though neither is especially powerful, both benefit from being integrated into a single app.
The Pinger IM client offers a fairly standard suite of features: ability to work with AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and Google Talk. Its best feature is the fact that it adds the little red and green presence icons to your contact listing.
On the friends list from the IM app, you'll find that your IM groups are maintained and that you can clear tell which friend is on which service. You'll likely have to spend some time 'linking' your buddy list to your contacts (more on that below), but otherwise it's pretty nice.
The other IM feature that I'm fond of is SMS notification. When you exit the app but leave yourself online in IM, Pinger takes note of this and sends you an SMS when you receive an IM. It's a bit nicer for me that BeeJive's MobileMe/Exchange 'out of IM' solution, because I pay more attention to SMS than I do email. The SMS you received contains a link that launches Safari, which in turn launches Pinger, which is a little odd. Either way, you can turn the feature off.
Pinger decided to only make IM work in landscape mode. While I appreciate the landscape keyboard, I'd have liked the option of working in portrait. Why Pinger doesn't allow this is beyond me. I also suspect they just couldn't get the graphics for portrait mode done in time -- even in landscape there are some inconsistencies with the bubbles.
Nevertheless you have a decent IM client with SMS background notification and integration with a dialer app. Not bad, not bad. We're not quite done yet, though.
"Social Media Status Aggregator" is a mouthful, but I can't really think of a clearer explanation of the 'Friend News' tab. Once you've set up Pinger to have access to your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts, this tab will show you each your friends' most recent statuses. It does this properly, only showing the most recent status for each friend so your listing doesn't consist of that one guy (you know who) who twitters every 30 seconds.
Additionally, each contact has a button the righthand side that pops up a window with buttons to the various bits of contact methods you have for that person as below:
Occasionally, you'll find that a given contact here isn't linked properly to your local contacts -- this also happens in IM. In that case you can 'link' to that person's contact to help make this pop-up bubble useful. Pinger inserts a custom email address into the contact to make the link.
Note that while you have a nice, integrated feed aggregator for social network status, what you don't have is a great client for social networks. Yes, you can drill into a contact's profile page in an embedded browser, but it's not as full featured as the separate Facebook app. You can directly message somebody on Twitter, but you can't 'just Tweet' or send @ messages.
Still, for me, status is a good 40% of what I'm looking for about most of my friends on social networks anyway, so the feed aggregator is pretty good.
Pinger has a smorgasbord of social functions here so it's pretty difficult to wrap up in nice, pithy conclusion. The contact tab is a great improvement over the default phone app and has become my default dialer.
The IM client is sub-par because it's medium-light on features and requires you to go into landscape mode, but I'm using it as my main client anyway because it reports status to the dialer and provides SMS notifications when I'm not in the app.
The Friend News tab is a nice alternative to browsing through my twitter feed because it includes statuses from Facebook and MySpace, but otherwise it's not all that useful. Then again, just because it isn't useful doesn't mean I don't use it.
In all, Pinger came very close to creating an integrated dialing/media app that is insanely great. Some bugs, some portions of the app that seem slightly unfinished, some crashes (just a couple), and that annoying landscape IM thing hold it back though. I have to admit, however, that I've followed their advice, it's replaced the phone app on my dock -- primarily because searching through the contacts app is just so much quicker and seeing IM presence in that same app is the 'way it should be.'