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Yahoo! Messenger: Is the iPhone-to-PC (and Android) video calling app a FaceTime challenger?

There was once a time when FaceTime was the only iPhone 4 video calling gig in town. Fring entered the ring first, but now Yahoo has joined the video calling party, with an update to their Yahoo! Messenger app.

Unlike Apple's current implementation of FaceTime, Messenger allows you to video call over both Wi-Fi and 3G, but if that wasn't enough, you're no longer limited to iPhone-to-iPhone calling either. iOS to PC or Android is now also possible, making Yahoo! Messenger the first cross-platform video calling app to cover Android, iOS and the desktop. But how does it stack up to FaceTime in actual use? Read on for our quick test drive.

The App

First thing you notice about the app is the lack of Retina Display support. Considering the only iPhone with a forward facing camera is the iPhone 4, you would have thought Yahoo could have updated the UI with higher resolution icons. Fuzziness aside, the app functions like any other IM app on iOS, with contact support for both Yahoo IDs and MSN. Four buttons at the top of a chat are used to initiate sending a photo, making a call, initiate a voice chat and most importantly, start a video chat.

iPhone 4 to iPhone 4

Yahoo video chat between iPhone 4s was frankly disappointing. Even on WiFi the experience was laggy, while the video was tiny and zoomed-oddly compared to what you normally get from the forward facing cameras, certainly not a scratch on FaceTime. On 3G only, the experience was much the same, with slightly less detail in the video and even more lag. Having used FaceTime over 3G I can say that, again, Yahoo! Messenger doesn't compare favorably, but of course does have the added advantage of actually working over 3G without having to jailbreak your iPhone. To really see the difference, be sure to check out the full size images in the gallery.

iPhone 4 to Desktop

What about iPhone to desktop I hear you cry? Well in a brief test there seemed to be less lag, and as you can see from the screen shot above, the video looked average -- It doesn't seem to be pumping out the full VGA resolution of the iPhone 4's front facing camera. Unfortunately iPhone to Android video chat wasn't available when we tried - we're still waiting for the updated Android client to become available.

Yahoo! Messenger for iPhone Video calling

Overall, I was a little disappointed. OK, it's novel to be able to video chat between a computer and an iPhone, but the small video combined with heavy lag was enough to make it not worth the effort between two mobile devices. It shows promise, and choice is always nice, especially in the cross-platform chat business, but we'll be sticking with FaceTime and Fring for now.

Yahoo! Messenger for iOS [iTunes] - Free

[Thanks to Richard Tong for being my video chat subject, and apologies for grinning like a buffoon.]

Tags: android, facetime, IOS, Ios4, iphone 4, Iphone4, review, Yahoo, yahoo messenger, YahooMessenger