Monday, 1 August 2011
VoIP app Viber adds off switch, but still thinks you're too stupid to control autostart
Free calls to other Viber users
Viber lets you call and text other Viber users for free. There are plenty of other apps and VoIP services for that, but the sound quality of Viber is comparable to CSipSimple, and much better than Skype, Nimbuzz, or fring.
Warning: if you dial a non-Viber user from the Viber app it gets charged as a normal phone call. You can use LBE Privacy Guard to make sure that Viber can only call through VoIP.
Viber calls eat half a megabyte of data per minute: 0.25 MB each way. That adds up to 30 MB per hour. That may turn out cheaper than an international phone call if you buy the right data roaming package, but usually it's way more expensive. Do the maths before you Viber away on a foreign data network. Or simply stick to WiFi.
Free messages, but it's not SMS
Texting on Viber works, but it lacks smilies. Sometimes messages take ages to arrive. Viber messaging makes noise, and you can't switch the Viber sounds off unless you put your entire phone in silent mode.
Viber does not integrate with standard SMSs, so Viber texts won't appear in the stock SMS program or in any other SMS app. Viber SMSs will be missing from the universal inbox in Androids messaging app too. Same thing the other way 'round: normal SMSs won't appear in Viber either, even though normal phone calls are listed in Vibers call log.
Viber messages are free, but that's the only reason to send Viber texts. If speed matters an instant messenger like MSN, Google Talk, or Skype messaging wins. If cost is not an issue you're better off with plain old SMS.
No need to sign up
Your phone number is your user name, so you don't need to create accounts or add your friends and enemies by hand. If your Viber-using contacts are in your Android address book then Viber knows where they are. They'll automatically know that you're on Viber you too.
There's no way to run two Viber accounts on one phone, so forget about having one Viber identity for business and another one for your friends. I wonder how Viber plays along on phones with dual SIMs?
The first versions of Viber for Android wouldn't let you switch it off. It would always run and make you available, even if you wanted to take a break from Viber. That's really stupid behaviour with plenty of potential for disaster. Imagine your phone bill after you accidentally pick up an incoming Viber call when roaming abroad because Viber refuses to shut up.
That problem is partially fixed in the latest Viber update. Now you can shut the app down, although it pops up an annoying window to complain about that the next time you launch Viber. Too bad that they left another error unfixed. Even worse is that they left it unfixed on purpose.
The other error: Viber starts up automatically. You can't switch autostart off, so if you switch your phone off at night, after running out of battery, or for any other reason you'll have to manually switch off Viber everytime you boot your phone. This is highly annoying, especially when you're travelling and you want to keep Viber away from your expensive data roaming connection.
And why is autostart mandatory? A Viber representative on the xda forum believes that they'll be flooded with complaints from users who disable autostart and then blame Viber when the app doesn't launch by itself. In plain english: Viber thinks we are too stupid to decide for ourselves whether we want to allow autostart or not.
By adding an off switch Viber shows that it's willing to learn from its mistakes. Maybe they'll learn some more and add the missing autostart toggle later on? Until then you'll either have to accept the autostart behaviour or tame it with one of the autostart managers out there.
Watch your data!
Something else to keep the Viber team busy: the difference between WiFi and mobile data. Viber won't tell them apart, but if your mobile operator bans VoIP from its data network you need a way to tell Viber that it can accept incoming calls on WiFi but not on 3G. The programmers at Viber should have a good look at the settings menu of CSipSimple, which lets you do just that. It's very easy to miss a switch to mobile data if you walk out of WiFi range. VoIP apps like Viber should be aware of that and act accordingly.
Integration with other VoIP apps?
I have Skype, CSipSimple, Vonage, and Viber. CSipSimple works with any VoIP provider that uses the standard SIP setup. Nimbuzz and fring used to have Skype built in as well, but Skype made them remove it. Skype now only works as a stand alone app, and we should never ever forgive them for that. In its present state Viber only works with Vibers own app. I hope Viber will allow other VoIP apps to incorporate its network so we don't end up with a home screen full of VoIP apps to stay connected with all our contacts scattered over different networks. Every instant messaging app that's worth installing supports multiple networks. VoIP apps should do the same.
• Viber Media, Inc.
• Viber (Android Market)