Since I came on the Windows Phone platform, BBM was one of the biggest deficiencies that existed therein for me. Hence hindering the full switch away from my trusty old BlackBerry Bold 9700. I have been keenly following the blogs and forums, and once I got to know that the app will be available for my preferred platform within July, it was easier to relax and wait. News came out that the app has popped up in the Windows Phone app store last week, but hopes were crushed once again as it was discovered that no regular person could download it because it was in a private beta.
A few days later, we heard that registration for interested beta testers was open in the BlackBerry Beta Zone website, I quickly applied before that was closed again a few hours after. Then all that was left was to wait for it. The email came in yesterday at around 3am with a download link. The version I got is 99.00.0.351.
One of my first shockers was the fact that one could not use another BlackBerry ID apart from the one used to register for the beta invite. I successfully created a new one, but using it was impossible as I got the 00000000 pin and I could neither add contacts nor accept requests. From going into the official forums it was seen that I could only log in with the BlackBerry ID I used to register, which is active on my BlackBerry. There is no way around this.
With some reluctance, I made the switch to the Beta app and migrated my BBM credentials. The migration was less than smooth, but it behaved well eventually.
This is a comprehensive list of the issues I have with it for now. I have classified them as follows:
i. Really annoying bugs
- The app takes a while to load up and display chats – something in the range of 6-10 seconds. Beta or no beta, this is woeful as even some Windows 8 machines boot faster than this duration, how will it now fare when other features are added to make it on par with the versions on other platforms?
- App feels and responds slowly. The lags are very noticeable. Even the Windows Phone animation effects could not cover up for this one.
- It crashes at seemingly random times, and for apparently no tangible reason. Sometimes when I receive too many messages at a time it just force closes itself.
- When connected to Wi-Fi, notifications may or may not work when the app is not opened in the foreground.
- When on mobile data, especially EDGE/2G, notifications don’t work. I receive new messages only when I launch the app.
- Messages don’t queue when network is bad, it just simply fails to send, showing a little x.
- The app does not recognize URLs and as such I cannot click a link to open in a browser, whether on a profile or within a chat. Okay, actually it does, but clicking the link will try to initiate a phone call to it. Yeah, call a link, if you don’t believe me check the screenshot below.
- If I miss a lot of messages in a group chat thread, and I scroll up to the beginning of the unread chats, by the time I start scrolling down, the unread messages would have disappeared leaving only the last two or three messages and a line.
- I was sent 3 photos from a fellow WP user. I received all three, was only able to view one of them. See screenshot:
ii. Quite a bit annoying
- It uses a lot of battery power, much more so than WhatsApp which is a leading battery killer out of apps capable of running in background. Oh yes; it uses a lot more data also.
- When trying to initiate a chat from recent updates, tapping the update sometimes open up the chat window with that contact; sometimes it doesn’t.
- Notification header says ‘you have a new BBM notification’ instead of actually telling you what the notification is, same applies to notification centre
- Sometimes when the app is launched all tabs are empty, no messages, no contact list and no updates. Closing and restarting usually fixes this.
- Changing PMs is a little clunky because it auto saves before you finish typing the PM, no option to save manually after concluding it.
- No way to know whether your DP change has reflected. On my older BlackBerry I just add myself as a contact and check my profile.
- When adding a new contact it brings people already on my list as suggestions.
- Hard to see at a glance whether there is any new message as both read and unread chats mostly look the same.
- Sending a picture on BBM requires prayer and hope, and patience.. and making sure the app remains open and in foreground with the lock-screen not engaged
iii. App deficiencies/feature requests
- It is currently only limited to chats, updates and group messaging. None of those add-ons (Stickers, BBM Channels, BBM Voice etc) that makes it buggy and bloated on the Android versions and legacy BlackBerry. This may not be a bad thing in itself as I find myself liking the simplicity, however how short-lived it may be.
- No live tile. The BBM tile stays static on the start screen.
- App icon needs to be more flat (in my opinion)
- No transparent tile. To be fair it’s a bit transparent because we can see the background but I wouldn’t call this transparent in light of what obtains in other app tiles.
- Tile does not display notifications. In addition to being static, ugly and out of place, the app tile does not display new info/content/notification unlike what obtains as active heads in BB10 devices or on other WP apps. If in one of those rare moments it wants to display notifications, it does it the iOS and legacy BlackBerry style, showing a red star with the number of items that need your attention. Screenshot below:
- In a group chat, I see the names of only group members on my BBM list. For people not on my list in a group I see their pins. Enabling pictures in chats hasn’t helped fixed it either, their pics simply don’t show.
- No option to auto-save pics uploaded in a BBM group. They cannot be deleted either.
- Files cannot be sent from the media hubs as BBM doesn’t show as part of the apps that pop up in picker whenever sharing is attempted. So you have to go through BBM to send a picture via BBM. And no, it can neither share videos or audio files (except voice notes), nor can it share links from a browser.
- No option to customize the UI to follow phone accent. I use a black background and BBM prefers it white. Would be nice to be able to adjust it to suit my needs.
Now that we have gotten those out of the way….
- These are the things I find absolutely delightful about the app
- Ability to hide updates from a particular contact, and even being able to streamline it to whether the affected updates should be music updates, PM/DP, or even all profile changes. Screenshots below. I think this is a first on Windows Phone
- Swiping to move from chats to updates to contacts, very smooth and convenient
- Can pin a contact to the start screen as a live tile. Yeah I know this isn’t new but I like it.
- UI looks prettier than on BlackBerry, Android and iOS. Although I agree that this is subjective, but I don’t see who will prefer the old BlackBerry UI over this.
- It works, quite well. And it is very much usable.
The app is on to a good start, and I hope the complaints are addressed soon. Despite the issues listed above I intend to stick with the WP version, I want to see it grow and improve and I want to be part of that improvement. When the app leaves beta I shall return back to my BlackBerry and use the newly created currently dormant BBID on this one. Be aware that these issues were discovered entirely on Lumia 630 running stock Windows Phone 8.1 Cyan with no dev preview updates. Set up with wifi but used predominantly on mobile data. If you have any additional bugs to add, or dispute please sound off in the comments below and more importantly, respond on the official forum thread here.
We await the official launch of the app.