Since switching from the iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy S III, I have been missing a feature from iOS, iMessage. Though this feature isn’t enough to drive me back to the iPhone, it was still driving me crazy trying to figure out how to recreate it on Android; more specifically, why Google hasn’t implemented a unified messaging solution with Google Talk and SMS. After weeks of searching and trying many alternatives, I managed to find a solution to the answer with GO SMS Pro, but does it live up to the real deal?
Now the question I know some Android-enthusiasts might ask is, “What is so great about iMessage?” iMessage provides a few of the most well known features of BlackBerry‘s BBM, messaging over data and delivery/read status. I know that most plans include unlimited messaging, but the data isn’t about the free messaging. With the data connection, the iPhone can also send higher quality pics and vids when messaging. There would be some compression when sending over cellular, though not to the extent of MMS, and would send uncompressed over Wi-Fi. Some might even experience situations where they are in a building with poor to no cell reception, but Wi-Fi connectivity, and you can still maintain conversations without missing a beat.
The second aspect, the deliver and read status, is a very nice convenience. There are those occasions where I would send a message to a friend and they wouldn’t receive it, which can be a major annoyance especially if it’s relatively important. It’s nice to know if an important message got delivered, and even better to know if it was read. Now, most SMS apps include a feature called “Delivery Confirmation,” however, it’s limited in real-world use depending on carrier support. I have Verizon and everyone I text on Verizon will give me a delivery confirmation, but when I text my friends on AT&T and Sprint, I would not get a delivery confirmation. This is an inconsistent experience that is avoided in iMessage and BBM across carriers.
Now, I should add at this point that yes, I know there are services like Whatsapp that does all I listed, but don’t forget about two other aspects of iMessage, unified messaging and SMS fallback. iMessage gives you the benefits of Whatsapp, but if you or the person you’re trying to message are without data, it’ll fallback to SMS automatically…a feature that Whatsapp lacks.
So with Whatsapp, your message will remain in limbo until they log back on, or you’ll have to go into your SMS app and contact them through that, splitting the conversation into two and can become a pain trying to keep track of what’s going on between two separate programs.
So how does GO SMS Pro deliver an iMessage experience? Well, first thing to know is that I actually found out that both GO SMS Pro and Handcent can offer the same experience; however, I chose GO SMS Pro over Handcent because it’s a better client for setting up group messaging and is a MUCH better UI. As I told Mike, GO SMS Pro has a clean, modern UI while Handcent looks like it belongs on an Android 1.5 device. Even Handcent’s themes are hideous when compared to the beautiful themes from GO SMS Pro. Now to get back on topic, GO SMS Pro provides an iMessage experience through the use of its service called GO Chat. GO Chat is a service that is really easy to set up. Once you installed and launch GO SMS Pro, GO Chat is available by sliding your screen to right.
Once you register for GO Chat, you can add info to set up your profile for it. I recommend adding your name, an avatar, email, but it is mandatory you add the phone number of your Android device for it to work correctly. If you fail to do so, you will end up with two separate conversations for the same person. Now don’t worry about people being able to see your number, it is only visible to people you invite or accept an invitation from through the SMS side of the app.
Once you have your GO SMS profile set up, the next step is inviting others. You must make sure that the people you invite have a GO Chat profile set up with their phone number before they accept the invitation (and don’t worry, you can always delete and re-add them to get it synced properly). To send an invitation, you click on a contact in the Messages main screen, and from there, it’s just a simple click of the GO button in the upper right. It’ll create a text message asking them to accept your invitation for GO Chat and just send it. Once they hit accept, you’re pretty much good to go from there. Your messages will default to GO Chat (data) and if you or the person you’re messaging are without data, it’ll default to SMS. And of course, with GO Chat, you’ll have your delivery confirmations for every message with a little check-mark/GO attached to the message you send.
Now, how does this solution compare to iMessage…well, it’s still no iMessage. iMessage has virtually no setup required. It comes defaulted on with an iPhone and Apple handles all the setup. With iMessage, if Apple’s servers detect that you and the person(s) you’re messaging have iMessage, it’ll automatically convert it from SMS to iMessage. It’s a seamless experience with Apple that is not there with GO SMS Pro. While for some the setup can be fairly easy, for others, it could be somewhat cumbersome, and adding to the fact that it GO SMS Pro isn’t installed by default on all Android phones unlike iMessage (which is default with every iOS 5+ device), it’s definitely lacking. Just like iMessage, it is a bit sluggish at times to recognize if someone is offline on GO Chat which might cause your message to show sending and not delivered, but it can easily be resent through SMS (just press the GO button at the top right to force a switch between GO Chat and carrier SMS). GO Chat also limits files to a maximum of 1MB unless you pay for their premium service to get up to 10MB, though GO Chat does allow you to send virtually any file type instead of being limited to just pics and videos.
Even though it’s lacking compared to iMessage, GO SMS Pro is currently the best solution for those who want an iMessage experience on Android. It’s fairly easy, but cumbersome to setup, but if you and your friends are willing to take about 2-3 minutes to set it up, you’ll be pleased with the results. It has delivery confirmation and automatic SMS fallback. Unlike iMessage, you can force it to send via carrier SMS (iMessage requires you to send it iMessage, then you can try to resend it via SMS after it fails), which some might find useful.
I’m hoping Google sees the benefits of unified messaging and integrates Google Talk and SMS together, add with delivery/read status, and give us the ability to send files through Google Talk. This would provide the best unified messaging experience for Android since Google Talk is available in nearly Android phone and is automatically included in pretty much every Google account. Hell, I would be thrilled if Whatsapp adds carrier SMS in their app, since they have the best data messaging service out. If Whatsapp did that, I could see their user base skyrocketing. Until then, we have to make due lesser solutions like GO SMS Pro and Handcent.
[Mentioned Apps] [GO SMS Pro]
[Title Picture Source][OSM]