MovaMessenger Review

MovaMessenger is a multi-protocol IM client for your mobile, developed using J2ME, which means that it will run on most mobile devices. MovaMessenger was developed by MovaFone, the same company that did MovaMail, so the general layout is very similar.

First off I went on the website, read that it supports most IM-protocols and started wondering about how it works. Is it based on Jabber? Is it using libpurple? I don’t know, unfortunately (maybe I should sniff some TCP connections on the mobile…).
On the site I could decide if I wanted to download directly or subscribe online. I decide to register and this has been a good idea as I could define one service account immediately from the web, much more comfortable than using the phone keyboard. Once defined login, password, my phone number (what do they need it for?) and setting up one account (AIM) I was presented with a URL to type in the phone and download my personalized version.
I would have liked to be able to define all the protocols from the registration. Also, since I provided my phone number (in international format, of course!), I would have liked to receive a wappush to download the JAR and not type it manually. Not a very long URL, but still a wappush would have been nicer.

I downloaded the application, 137KB, it took just a couple of minutes and I was ready to go. After downloading and starting the application I saw a short explanation message and then was asked to create an account… Hmm… I thought I had defined everything from the website. Anyway, I typed in everything and of course it said the account already existed. I chose to go to the main menu and not try to provide new parameters. Once in the main menu I could pick “Login”, account and password were already there and I logged in. Once logged in the AIM account was already there, configured. I added ICQ and MSN profiles. It took a bit to login, but eventually I was online and my buddies started popping up.
Scrolling up and down seems sometimes a bit slow, but I’m not sure it’s MovaMessenger’s fault or rather my W810i’s slow CPU. I should probably test on some other device. Keeping the up or down key pressed jumps to either the top or the bottom of the list. I have to say that I also instinctively tried to scroll pages up and down using “left” and “right” keys as in Opera Mini, but that actually zoomed on the current buddy.

Chatting with friends is as easy as you’d expect it, pick a user from your list, click on “Chat” and start typing. On my W810i, the “chat” button is on the right softkey, I would have expected it to be on the middle button of the phone (the one in the middle of the 4 directional arrows). The chat menu opens a window where you see your last messages and can type new ones (of course!). Standard emoticons are automatically converted into icons, the others are shown as they were typed in. Quite acceptable from a multi-protocol client that also runs on a low-power, slow-network device.
The left softkey lets me access the options menu where I can “set Status”, “invite Buddy”, configure “Services” or make changes on the selected buddy such as renaming.
Clicking the middle button on my W810i opens a popup where I can configure the phone number of the remote buddy. I can either type it manually or pick it up from the addressbook. Once set I can press a button to start a call. I don’t see the use of it, right now, but maybe some day I’ll need it.

Every time I’m idling and I receive a new message, the phone vibrates. Nice.
Users who sent you a message get a little message bubble next to their name. It’s a bit slow to scroll up and down searching for the sender’s name. This could be improved, maybe popping them up or having a quick menu item from the Chat window.

A bit annoying that every time I open a chat with someone, the remote user receives the following “advertisement”:

“Hello, I’m now using MovaMessenger on my mobile phone to talk to you. If you’d like to chat from your mobile phone you can get MovaMessenger for free at http://www.movamessenger.com”

The application seems solid, even if I have used it for only a few hours.
I can’t check my data traffic in real-time, unfortunately, but I’m sure I’ll see a spike in my next bill. IM on the phone is certainly VERY interesting, but I need a flatrate for data, before I can consider it for full time usage.
Also, being a Java app (not MovaFone’s issue, of course) doesn’t make it entirely integrated with my phone in the sense that I either open it and keep it running, OR put it to sleep. Would be great to have it running in the background, maybe Sun and OMA should think about this seriously.

bluepulse 2.0 – review

A few days ago Bluepulse v2 was launched. I had given it a first try with V1, but honestly, with the RAZR V3 I had more problems than other, so I gave up almost immediately.
I don’t think it was a problem to the bluepulse itself, but rather to the poor capabilities of the V3 (not really a good phone for anything other than being slick, thin and cool).

Now that I have a cool and shiny Sony Ericsson W810i I can give a try to all these nice applications.

First things first; installation was fast and smooth. I got on their site with my mobile phone (http://get.bluepulse.com) and downloaded the MIDlet. Tech note: the download consisted of only a jar file, no jad.
In 2 minutes I was up and running. I already had an account from my first try with the RAZR V3, so I simply configured the login and password and I was in.

My Place
bluepulse is first of all a community. “My place” is basically a guided menu that lets users describe themselves, their interests and so on. This is obvsiously central to the community. When searching for friends you can see their profile, read about them, see pictures and videos. None of the fields is required, but if you use bluepulse for chatting and meeting people you will certainly want to fill these fields. Available fields range from Age/Sex/Location to free text fields, pictures, video. You can pick an icon from a list of available images or get one assigned automatically. Details go down to your e-mail address and phone number.
I have browsed a few people in the community. Most users wrote a good amount of text and provided their A/S/L. Very few provided images or videos. If the MIDlet allowed users to use the camera to take a picture or record a video it would have been easier in some cases; on the other side you have to specify a URL and the application will download and store it. Considering that this application also relies a lot on Web 2.0 concepts, it’s should be noted that it also provides the ability to use Flickr.
I am not a usability authority, but I am certainly a user, so I have a remark here: Age/Sex/Location is all menu-driven, so much menu driven, that I think it would be easier to dial in my birth date rather than pick it from multiple menus (first select a year range, then year, then select month, then day all using the joystick).

Community
To start you need to find people. Search is easy, pick age/sex/location, SEARCH. Would be nice to have an automatic suggestion of the same age and location as my profile (if set) and then pick the sex. If wanted, change the other settings. We all know why people use this to kind of tools. 😉
Search my nickname or e-mail is also available.
After searching you may see the user’s profile, add as a friend, browse his/her friends. While most users have written a lot about themselves and their interests, I often could not find pictures or videos. The menu items were always present and often resulted in a “user did not upload an image”. A bit disappointing. It would have been nicer to only list items that contain something. It would also save time (and money).
Exchanging messages is quite easy. You should first add someone as a friend (you send the request and the user is allowed to accept of reject). Once the remote user has accepted your request to become a friend you can send him/her a message. When logging in the application you get an alert if new messages are available. All common mailboxes such as “inbox” and “sent” are available. Messages can be stored or deleted. Sending a message is much like an SMS, so anyone can do it quite easily.
I tried the online chatroom, but they were empty, so I can’t say much. Looked like an IRC channel.

Widgets
Bluepulse can be seen as a container of plug-ins or widgets. Its power layes in the ability to add a lot of custom widgets according to your needs and pleasure. Pre-installed you can find a feed reader and the full messaging and chat system that is part of the “community feature-set”.

Add a widget
Managing Widgets is certainly a major functionality of bluepulse and installing a new one is quite easy. Search among the available plug-ins selecting by category, popularity or more recent. Click, read a short description and install.
Installing a new widget really takes a minute. Once installed you find a new icon in the starting page. A breeze.

RSS feeds
I tried to add my own feeds to see how they would look on BP. I thought it would be better to check feeds I know. Unfortunately I had to type the exact URL of the feed, quite uncomfortable while on the move. During the tests, anyway, I was near my computer and could get them. Once gotten the exact URL (not always very short to type on a mobile) it worked as expcted. I encountered some problems, anyway. I tried the atom feed from Mobile web planet, at first it seemed to work and showed me all the headlines, but then I could not see any contents.
I tried the pre-defined Flickr feed and this time it worked, but I could not see any of the images of the 3 different posts I tried (3 random posts from the first page).
Another pre-difined feed was Yahoo! sports. News were OK and contents were present. I was not able to see any images, again. I guess this is a rescaling problem. The W810i should be able to display most image formats. I think the server-side application (of bluepulse) should convert the files into a supported format, anyway.
Overall results were a bit disappointing. It’s OK if some remote feed does not work, but you would expect the pre-defined feeds to be widely tested.

IM
I installed MSN as a test. Installation was smooth as with other widgets. I looged in at my first try and all the online buddies were downloaded and shown in a list. I hadn’t thought it would have been so easy. 😉
I could exchange messages with a friend easily. The page looked like a standard chat or IRC, all text, not buddy icons. It worked well. The page is refreshed every 30 seconds or so, a good time considering that it’s a mobile application. Sometimes the refresh seemed a bit annoying, maybe because it’s a page refresh and was very visible. Quite acceptable, anyway.

Overall results
The client in general works smoothly. I received an SMS and later a call while playing around; in one case the application kept going without a glitch, after the call I saw an error message (something on the lines of “connection error, try later”), reloaded and everything worked fine. This is certainly a demonstration of solidity.

While Opera Mini was born as a browser, it has a few features such as the RSS feed reader that are in direct competition with bluepulse. I have to say that Opera is much more advanced in this field and that I was a bit disappointed by the results that I obtained in the tests I made with bluepulse.
Opera also takes advantage of the left and right joystick moves to scroll quickly. I think bluepulse should take the suggestion and do the same to make the scrolling of long lists of widgets and contacts faster.
Last one thing is the use of the camera. Opera was really smart to integrate it. If you want a real 2.0 experience, the camera must be part of that.

Pageloading was in generally a big issue that I noticed, as a user. Every time I wanted to do something “Loading 0%” appeared, then jumped to “Loading 100%” and eventually displayed the page. It’s useless to see a “0-100” excursion and it’s annoying to keep re-loading every page. Opera Mini seemed to be faster, I don’t know why. Maybe Opera Mini uses sockets and bluepulse uses HTTP?

The application is very solid, the basic features such as messaging and chatting are good and work smoothly. Installing a widget is very easy and fast and the developers’ community provided a ton of plug-ins aside from the ones developed by bluepulse. The overall result is certainly positive, but not an A. It certainly still has some rough edges and should make the general navigation smoother. It’s a bit frustrating to use it and I think it will make some users walk away due to this.

Related topics:
Opera Mini 3.0 – review, by me
bluepulse website
Bluepulse 2.0 is Bigger, Slicker, Broader and Deeper (and may be the ultimate mobile media platform) on MobileCrunch

Opera Mini 3.0 – review

I did not even have the time to test Opera Mini 3.0 Beta that the full release is ready.
I have felt bad for complaining about the HTTP headers and not even give a shot to the full features. So here comes a little review.

Installation was smooth. I downloaded the MIDlet and installed. During the installation the client checked my internet connection and automatically picked the best one. It also generated keys for security.

Test #1: HTTP headers
I visited my test site at http://t.wurfl.com/ to grab some headers. I STRONGLY suggest the download from WAP, because as Mike Rowehl pointed out, the default browser’s user-agent will be store in an HTTP header.
These are the custom headers:

  • X-OperaMini-Features: advanced, download, camera, folding, inputhints
  • X-OperaMini-Phone-UA: SonyEricssonW810i/R4EA Browser/NetFront/3.3 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1
  • X-OperaMini-Phone: SonyEricsson # W810i

Test #2: Photo Blog
I wanted to upload a test image. Entered the Photo Blog link from the main page, took a picture of a nice flower… And discovered that the only supported blog is Opera’s! What a bad surprise. Reading from Opera Mini’s site: Now you can take images with your phone camera and upload them to any of your blogs, forums or e-mail blog right from Opera Mini.
Looking at the screenshots it’s clear they are uploading to Opera’s blogsite, but I thought that was just an example. I could not find any preference in the settings menu.
Reading on Opera Watch, they say you can post to myspace or other blogs. I am sorry I really could not find how to do it!

Test #3: my blog
The page looks very good. On top there’s a link to subscribe to the feed (read more to know about feeds support). All my articles are well readable and the ability to scroll up and down quickly with left and right joystick makes it very usable. Scrolling is smooth.
Images are rescaled and respect the proportions from the original layout. Just like on my desktop I can click on an image and zoom. Initially it fits the screen (little bit of vertical scrolling on big images, but that’s OK) and then I can zoom more to see the real image. I can also download the image.
All the right column of the blog is moved on the bottom of the articles. So I first need to scroll all the articles and then reach the right column. Not perfect, but probably the only possible solution on a small screen. Going through the “label cloud” and previous posts list is OK considering the high number of links. Again the ability to scroll up and down of one page is very helpful.

Test #3 bis: Tom Hume’s blog
Tom Hume‘s blog has a left column with links and images and then the articles on the right column. I wanted to see how Opera Mini would handle it.
The approach is very smart as I see Tom’s picture, a couple of other links and then all the articles. Links to Flikr and previous posts have been skipped totally. I don’t know if this is a feature or a bug, but works very well. I think it’s a feature! 😀

Test #4: slashdot
Slashdot works smoothly. I would add “as expected”. It provides a CSS for handhelds and the content is reduced to the minimum. There’s a form to login and then the articles.
I personally don’t like the layout, you can’t really understand that the title are not part of the article as they are rendered as normal links. A bit of background color would have made it much better on Opera Mini, but I guess the CSS is made to work on any mobile browser.
Reading an article means also loading all the comments. It gets very long. I think slashdot should have made it more efficient for a mobile device. Again, not Opera’s fault!

Test #5: searching with Google
Smooth and effective. Works like a charm.
I followed some random links and all worked nicely.

Test #6: Gmail
I went on http://www.gmail.com and logged in pretending to be a desktop computer. A big alert was on top of each page reminding me that standard HTML was being used. A link to move to the advanced AJAX version was available. Clicking would simply reload the same page.
The entire site was barely usable. Each page started with the left column of gmail, so mailboxes and labels. No contacts. Then the e-mails. It was crowded and mostly hard to read. I guess the mixture of the standard HTML interface and the small screen caused this. To read emails I had to scroll down about 3 pages.

Test #6 bis: Gmail mobile
When logging on the standard gmail I tagged the “remember me on this computer”. When accessing http://m.gmail.com I was logged in automatically.
The layout was much cleaner and simpler, of course. Navigating around was pretty easy and fast, of course.
Should be noted that I could not make the accesskeys work. Is this something that I need to discover in the online documentation?
Lists of links were all folded. Clicking on the + sign would open the list and I could pick the desired link. Quite nice feature. I am not convinced this is a usability advantage, but was nice to see it. Interesting. I will need more time using it to give a final judgment on this.

Text #7: RSS feeds
I tested my blog’s feed, of course. Clicking on the feed (always presented as the first link on top of the page) loads a page where you can see a first link that says “subscribe” and below the contents of the feed.
Subscribing brings you to the Feeds page. Feeds can be sorted alphabetically or by time.
In the Feeds page you see your subscriptions with a tiny icon, a title, and the number of unread news. Once you visit a feed all news are marked as read.

Overall results
The general user-experience is very good. I browsed a lot of sites and I could access all the information I needed very easily.
It is clear that some sites are more friendly and some others are harder to render.
No objects such as flash were rendered by the browser, but that’s OK too.
Browsing is fast and smooth and I really, really like the ability to scroll up and down quickly. Ebay is really ugly, but works. PlayDeep, an e-commerce site, works and I could place an order. Too bad that all the simple javascript in the page did not work at all. Every time a javascript event was supposed to happen I saw a big error message and the phone vibrated.
Sites that are providing a good CSS for handhelds clearly work better than other sites so thumbs up for the authors that took the time to draw a good stylesheet for small devices.
Memory does not seem to be an issue as it used to happen with old WAP browsers and sometimes still happens with some modern browsers.
Pop-up windows are managed OK. It is probably not clear to the user the difference between a normal link and a pop-up, but I also don’t see much advantage in notifying it as the browser only shows one page at a time.
I did not like that when picking something from a list (select element), the list is shown as a new page and when I pick the element the browser goes back to the web page. I would have liked the standard dropdown list like in all browsers. This is a feature that has also been present in the Openwave browsers for years. According to openwave this is a usability feature that helps the user pick the desired element more easily. I personally don’t like it and always feel strange when I click on a list and see an effect similar to opening a new page.

As an end-user I like the ability to automatically detect the best connection, but as a geek I would have liked to have a menu in the settings to change it and not a button to re-test. I want to be in control. :)
When loading pages a tag “Processing” appears at the bottom and then changes into “Loading” and shows the KB that are being downloaded. I know that “Processing” means that the Opera Mini-Proxy is downloading, analyzing and adapting the page, but it’s odd to see it on the client. It feels like the client is processing the page before having downloaded it. Just a small comment, this does NOT mean that the client is bad! Not at all!

Last thing is I would like to know what the “features” in the HTTP header are. I can guess that “camera” means I can take picutes and that download means I can download images. Is DRM supported? “inputhints” means that my phone supports T9 or does it mean that sites can use the format attribute? “advanced” means what?

How I did it
Tested with a Sony Ericsson W810i, running Opera Mini 3.0.
Mobile Operator is TIM, in Italy and using EDGE connectivity.
I will check my next bill to see how much this test costed me. Unfortunately the online service provided by TIM does not provide the detailed traffic.

Download from web: http://www.operamini.com/
Strongly suggested wireless download: http://mini.opera.com/

Want to see how it will look on your mobile? Look at the Opera Mini simulator.

Other Reviews:
Dan Appelquist: New Opera Mini Integrates Photo Blogging
Dominique Hazaël-Massieux: Off-line browsing on a mobile device
Helicoid’s mmm: Opera Mini 3
Mike Rowehl: Bloglines Mobile and Opera Mini 3