Messages for Mac may support a few different chat services, but there are still a variety of features that would vastly improve the experience of messaging on the Mac. Flamingo is a new app designed to make chatting even better with a whole host of features you didn’t even realize you were missing.
Unfortunately because Apple keeps iMessage pretty locked-down, you won’t be able to use Flamingo with that. You can still use it with your Facebook, Google Hangouts (text, not video), and other XMPP-based chat services. But should you use it for those things? Keep reading for our full review.
The first thing you’ll notice when using Flamingo is that you already know how to use most of the interface. The main window has two or three columns, depending on whether you have any chats open. The first column contains a unified contact list with all of your chat buddies. The list only shows photos by default, but rolling your mouse over it allows you to see full names. You can also search the list or add a new contact from this column.
Flamingo doesn’t just combine your buddy lists, though. It also combines contact cards for the same person. If you have both Google Hangouts and Facebook setup, for example, and you have the same person as a friend on both services, they’ll only be listed once. Oddly, I couldn’t find a way to pick which point-of-contact is used when starting a new chat with a unified contact.
The second column is a list of your open chats. It’s pretty straightforward and works just like the conversations list in the Messages app. Next to it is the third column, which shows your currently selected chat. These chats can be popped out into separate windows by right-clicking them, or re-attached to the main window the same way.
The chat column is obviously where you’ll spend most of your time. The chats themselves use a bubble design similar to that of iOS 7’s Messages app, but includes quite a few enhancements.
My favorite of these features is the ability to see in-line previews for certain types of URLs. Twitter links, YouTube and other videos, and images from CloudApp, Droplr, and Instagram are all shown in-line in conversations. Other enhancements include a built-in file transfer system that uses a direct connection to supported clients such as Adium and Messages for Mac, but falls back to CloudApp or Droplr when a direct connection fails.
Flamingo also includes the ability to reply to your messages from Notification Center banners on Mavericks, just like the built-in Messages app. You can also view and search your full conversation history in a dedicated search window.
There is one major issue that could prevent a large number of users from using the app, and I would be remiss in my duty as a reviewer not to mention it.
Unfortunately, Flamingo is quite unstable on OS X Mavericks. Until the problem is fixed, users on 10.9 can expect frequent crashes. For example, I have had to restart the application at least three times since starting this review less than thirty minutes ago. Thankfully, the developers have assured me that a fix is in the works and will be submitted soon.
Update: the version currently in the Mac App Store solves many of the stability that were present in the beta version we tested. You shouldn’t run into any issues on Mavericks now.
That single issue aside, Flamingo is a solid and useful chat client that provides a large improvement over Apple’s messaging solution on the Mac. If you use Google Hangouts or Facebook chat often, you should absolutely give this app a look. You can get it right now in the Mac App Store for $9.99.
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