The first thing we’ll talk about is the design. Initially, the design was somewhat controversial since BBM follows the BlackberryOS standard of design and not Android. Believe it or not, it’s a change you won’t notice all that much. The left side slide-out menu is still present, but there is a second menu on the right side that slides out as well. Generally speaking, the left side menu acts as a sitemap of sorts. You use it to navigate around the app. The right side menu changes depending on what you’re doing in the app. So if you’re in the groups section, the options are different than the contacts section.
General movement and chats are about what you’d expect them to be. You open the chat and there are chat bubbles. The action bar is a lot taller than other messaging apps, but usually doesn’t get in the way too much. There are icons for when messages are delivered and received. The chat section looks like the old Google Talk interface, while the contacts and group tabs use more of a tile layout.
The last thing we’d like to mention are the settings. You can remove that obnoxious notification icon if you want to. BBM for Android warns that if you do, messages may not send. So that’s a risk-reward situation you’ll need to work out. You can also tap on your own picture at any time to view your BBM pin, change your profile picture, or update your status.
Okay, so here’s how this app actually works. There are a few ways to get contacts invited to your list. You can send your PIN via email, SMS, and other typical services. If you’re actually with the person, you can create a bar code that the other person can scan. This may seem outdated, but it actually works for all major platforms that BBM supports. So you can use this method to swap contact info with, say, an iPhone or Blackberry owner. Lastly, and my personal favorite, you can use NFC to swap contact details. Just tap the phones together and then tap the screen and things are done.
From here, you can do a lot of stuff. There is emoji support similar to Hangouts. There is group chat support, but we’ll talk more about that here in a minute. Obviously, one-on-one conversations work pretty well. You can send voice notes and photos as attachments along with regular text messages. There is no video chat yet, but we assume that’s coming eventually. Generally speaking, all of these functions worked perfectly fine. You can also do a lot of smaller things like send broadcast messages out to multiple contacts, ping people which shows up as a separate notification from regular messages, and even copy the entire chat if you need to log it somewhere.
The last thing we’ll talk about is Groups. Using this you can create a group, add people, and interact with them all at once. This is similar to having a Hangouts with a lot of people in a certain circle. The difference is BBM for Android goes more in depth with it. You can upload pictures to create galleries that everyone in the group can see. You can create lists which can be assigned to contacts as tasks. You can even set events that everyone in the group can see. If used properly, this can be a very powerful, real-time way to manage and communicate effectively with people in a business environment. This is admittedly far more than you can get with competitor apps.
What We Liked
The first thing that jumped out at us is the ease of use. There are at least 3 different ways to add contacts. You can do the conventional method if you wish, or use the NFC tap or the barcode scan to add people. The chat, contact, and group tabs are all pretty much self explanatory and no one should have any problems figuring out how things work. After you get used to the dual menus, nothing in this app is hard to find or master.
Another thing we found particularly wonderful were the Groups. The task lists, the group gallery, the group events, and group chat put together create a comprehensive group experience unlike anything else you’ll find in the messaging space. It can be used for things as simple as keeping in contact with your friends, but the tools provided can be useful in pretty much any group atmosphere, be it business or pleasure.
What We Didn’t Like
So here’s what we didn’t like. The design is functional, but not all that good looking. When I went through this app the first time, it was the features that impressed me and not the interface. Since the design is functional, it’s hard to denounce it entirely. However, there are little things. The action bar is pretty tall. The menu buttons cover more real estate on the screen than the contacts, groups, and conversations tabs combined. The design itself is functional, but it’s not striking to look at. It’s not bad, but you won’t find many singing its praises either.
The only other thing we could find were inconsistencies in the interface. You can slide open the left-side menu, but you can’t slide open the right side menu. You can’t swipe between tabs. Turning off the notification icon makes the app not work sometimes. None of these are reason enough to complain on their own, but put together they can create a somewhat confusing experience.
When you get right down to the brass tax, BBM for Android is definitely good enough to compete on most levels with other messaging services. You can send text, voice, MMS, and, eventually, video content using this app. The Groups functionality is simply amazing. The interface isn’t perfect, but it isn’t awful either. The NFC contact sharing is a nice touch. The app doesn’t look amazing, but it’s functional, which is all you can really ask for.
There is still a lot of work to do for Blackberry and, unfortunately, several issues will probably never be fixed. The notification icon is likely here to stay and several design flaws will likely stick around forever. Once the launch day kinks are worked out we see no reason why BBM for Android can’t be successful. Whether or not it can beat out Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp is anyone’s guess. BBM is late to the party but it has a loyal fan base, so anything can happen. For once, Blackberry did something that was more right than wrong. We’d love to hear what you think about BBM for Android. If you have a moment, feel free to let us know what you think in the comments. Also, click the button below to download BBM.