Fring: Mobile Instant Messaging Software for Your Cell Phone that Dazzles
Every now and then there comes along software that accomplishes two things: It makes my life easier, better, more enjoyable, even more productive -- and at the same time it threatens to tear my family apart. Fring, www.fring.com, is that software.
Fring is software-service combination that lets you use a variety of instant message and other services on your cell phone. So instead of just checking your email while on vacation, you can now also be in constant, instantaneous contact with everyone. Pure joy. And pure misery for families that were looking forward to actually seeing your face during a vacation, rather than
seeing your nose buried in your cell phone.
To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective), Fring also lets you Twitter directly from your phone. (Twitter is a mini-blog; short quick text clips of your life at home, at work, or from anywhere.)
Fring has conduits for these services: Google Talk, ICQ, Skype, AIM, MSN, SIP (such as Gizmo Project), and Twitter.
Fring works on a variety of phones, including many Windows Mobile and Java-based phones, but obviously not all cell phones. I've been testing Fring on my Treo 750, and it works very well. All your instant message contacts, including your Skype, contacts appear in a single list on the Fring contacts screen, so you don't have to know what service somebody's using to message them. As you scroll through your contact list, a little icon changes, showing you what service somebody is using.
Through Fring you can make a Skype or SIP outgoing callswhich means that if you have limited minutes and unlimited data, you can chat without using your precious cell phone minutes. (Skype and SIP use the Internet, rather than traditional phone lines or cellular voice networks to place phone calls.)
Fring will also use a wifi connection, if your phone is wifi capable and you're near a hot spot.
There are other excellent instant messaging service and programs, but this is the very first one that I've seen that incorporates Skype into the main menu and that lets you use the voice chat features of these instant message programs, including Google Talk. Integrating Skype is such a difficult task that I am pretty sure that sorcery played a part in including
Skype into the same program that runs other IM services.
You can make Skype, Gizmo or other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) calls directly from your phone either via wifi or on your cellular data network. If you have an unlimited data plan (and you're going to need one if you use voice on Fring), then you can use that data plan to carry your voice calls for what Skype, Gizmo or other VOIP providers charge, so you don't use your monthly minutes. (The fine print on your cell phone company's service agreement may bar you from using VOIP on your cell phone, so your so-called "unlimited" data plan may be constrained.)
Fring isn't without its problems and drawbacks, however; no software can do it all. As you may have noticed, Fring doesn't yet work with Yahoo Messenger. Fring also does not display Google Talk's offline contacts, which means that you can't send your Google Talk colleagues a message when they're not online. Fring beeps every time you receive an IM (not just on the first connection), and that can become annoying to people around you. Fring's alert beep on my Treo 750 is also at that just-wrong volume level where it will bother people around you if you're in a quiet place, but is not loud enough to be heard in a room or restaurant where the volume is greater than a whisper.
Despite these flaws, Fring is an amazing step forward in mobile instant messaging. And the price? Free. Just don't get too addicted to Fring so that your spouse, significant other, or kids wishes you'd drop your cell phone in the toilet.