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Hands on with Fring, the all-in-one VoIP and IM app for Android

Today... my Android phone arrived!

Yes, I finally bit the bullet and bought one. I had hoped that someone would send me a review sample of a sexy HTC or something, but alas... cheap bastards... Anyway! This means you'll now be treated to reviews of Android apps. Most of them will be free and available from the Android Marketplace, but I will also occasionally turn my attention to the slightly seedier selection of under-the-counter apps.

I actually wanted to review Skype first -- to make the most of my unlimited data package -- but as you may already know, it's not available for Android yet. Instead, I turned to Fring, a free app that communicates with just about every messaging network out there. MSN, Google Talk, Yahoo, ICQ, AIM, Twitter... and Skype!

Yes, you can make and receive Skype video calls with Fring. Also, don't despair if you don't have an Android phone -- you can install Fring on just about every breed of smartphone, including the iPhone.

First up: Fring works! It's messy, but it works! I could chat to my friends on both MSN and AIM, and sure, I could make both audio and video calls to Skype and Google Talk contacts ... but ... it feels so damn clunky. It's hard to use, counterintuitive -- and it even crashed occasionally. My main problem was actually with the combined contact list that Fring forces you to use: all of your contacts -- from any and all services you link to your Fring account -- are dumped into one huuuuuuge list. It also has issues with updating that huge list. I added a contact on my desktop install of Skype, but it refused to appear on my phone.

Then there's the actual quality of the video calls. Maybe it's my phone, but I could hardly be heard during my video calls. The call also broke up a few times -- and this was using Wi-Fi, not 3G! I had thought that the video call would be phone-to-phone, but maybe it goes via a Fring server, causing quality of service issues? Despite that, one cool thing stands out: you can make VoIP calls using Fring, via Skype. Just key in any phone number!

Other than the big contact list, and the disconnects, Fring has interface issues. I just couldn't get the hang of navigating around the app. Maybe it's the UI, or maybe it's just because I'm new to the Android platform and/or a window-licker. Time will tell, I guess. Personally I would have preferred separate contact lists for each service -- or at least the option of organizing the list in different ways.

But, despite all of its apparent pitfalls, Fring is by no means a bad app. If you're a social networking guru, or simply someone with a lot of friends, you'll love Fring. I mean, I can't really complain: it's free and it works. It's also in constant, rapid development and I have no doubt that all of my niggles will be fixed as soon as possible. There are just so many little things that I'd like to improve...

If you're not convinced yet, or you just want to find out more, here's an introductory video from Fring. Alternatively, check out their site for a full list of Fring's features. Remember, the easiest way to install it is to search for 'Fring' on the Android Marketplace on your phone!
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Tags: android, cross-platform, features, fring, im, mobile, msn, review, reviews, skype, smartphone, video, yahoo