Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tech Column: Instant Messaging on Your Phone for Free Texts

by Bill Adler

Last week I wrote about free domestic and international texting. The best services are Google Voice, www.google.com/voice, and Viber, www.viber.com. Both are easy, free, and work on a variety of smartphone platforms. Google Voice integrates with Gmail and lets you send and receive IMs from your computer, as well as your phone. Viber, in addition to texting, lets you make free phone calls to any other Viber user on the planet. Viber is super simple to use.
But why use texting at all? Just because texting is built into your phone, that doesn't make it the best way to communicate quickly and easily. There is something better: instant messaging. IM is more ancient techolology-wise than texting, but it has numerous advantages over texting.

There are several different IM services, including Google Talk, Skype, AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Facebook Messenger and ICQ, each with a different set of features. In general, though, IM services let you start a conversation on your phone and continue that chat on your computer. IM services are free on both your phone and PC. You can send pictures and audio using IM. And with IM you're not limited to 160 characters per paid message, as you are with cellphone texting. Ain't that a relief!

So what's not to like about IM? Instant messaging isn't as universal as cellphone-based texting. You can't automatically text from any phone to any phone. In order to be able to communicate by instant message, the person you want to chat with has to have that service. But if they have Gmail, they're already in the system for Google Talk. If they have Yahoo, they're signed up for Yahoo Messenger. If they have Hotmail, they have Windows Live Messenger, and so on.

As with carrier-owned texts and alternative texting apps such as Viber, when you get an IM, a notification appears on your smartphone -- with or without an attention-grabbing beep, depending on your preference.

You can easily put IM in "do not disturb" mode. It's handy to be able to turn off texting every now and then. Any texts you received when you were away will appear when you're back in a communicative mood. With IM you can set up auto-reply, too, so that if somebody IMs you at 3am, they'll get an instant reply that says "I'm sleeping, dude. I'll reply after coffee."

You can communicate with people who are on their PCs, too. Instant messaging isn't just phone to phone, as is traditional texting. When you send a friend an IM, they'll get it on all of their devices.

What if you have one friend who has Google Talk, another who uses AOL, and still another who's using Skype for messaging? Do you have to deploy three different IM apps on your smartphone? Nope, and that's the supreme beauty of using IM: There are IM apps that let you connect to a multitude of IM services at the same time. On the top of this list are eBuddy, www.ebuddy.com, IM+, www.shapeservices.com, IMO, www.imo.im, Trillian, www.trillian.im, and Meebo, www.meebo.com. Which one to get? That depends in part on which IM services you use regularly and which ones your friends use.

Instant messaging services use your cellular data connection. If you send or receive images and audio a lot, you can burn a hole in your data allotment. But typing by itself isn't a kilobyte hog: And per kilobyte data is a lot less expensive than cellular-based texting.

Should you get a Prius or Chevy Volt? A Ford Focus Electric or a Kia Optima Hybrid? These are tough decisions. Should you use cellular texting, alternative texting apps, or IM?

Unlike picking a car, the choice is pleasant when it comes to smartphone communication: Get Viber and eBuddy. Or get Google Talk and IM+. You can have more than one text communication service. And you should have more than one for a couple of reasons: First,  things break on the Internet, and when they do, it's good to have an alternative. Second, there are times when you, or the person you're communicating with, needs to use a 100 percent free service, such as Viber.

With instant messaging and texting apps you'll have many new and free ways to communicate beyond what your cellphone company offers -- and charges you for.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

No comments:

Post a Comment