Google’s selection of applications available for the iPhone is excellent. We have an official YouTube client, which is superior to the one previously installed as standard in iOS, plus a Google Maps app which not only beats Apple Maps for many users, but is also incredibly intuitive to use. Add in the Google search app, Google+, the Gmail app (which has improved over the time it has been available) the Chrome browser plus several more, and Google users usually feel quite at home using Apple’s mobile products.
Except that is, when they want to use GTalk, also known as Google Talk. Most people find this in the Gmail window on the desktop, or access it using a Chrome extension or a standalone app such as Pidgin. It’s also baked in as standard on Android, where chats and notifications are part of the operating system, in the same way as iMessages are on iOS.
But what if you want to use Gtalk on iOS? Surely Google has produced an app, seeing as almost all its other services are well covered? Surprisingly, it hasn’t, and GTalk isn’t part of its Search or Gmail app. Instead, Google Talkers are forced to use a third-party app to get their chat on, and the selection borders on the bewildering.
Because there isn’t a default app against which to measure them, users need to try out several, and as the cost ranges from free up to a few pounds, this can be a costly and annoying process.
We’ve been testing out four of the most popular GTalk-enabled chat apps recently, and have evaluated each one to help make it a little easier to select the one which suits you best. Each can be downloaded for free, and most come with an in-app purchase option to unlock new features, however if you don’t want to pay, we have made sure each app functions as a freebie.
The apps we’ve selected are, IM+, IMO, Chat for Google Talk and BeejiveIM for GTalk. We initially included GTalk: Tap to Chat, however it proved highly unstable and crashed more often than it worked. We replaced it with Chat for Google Talk, which although it works, isn’t optimised for the iPhone 5.
IM+ is a universal app which supports multiple chat systems, including Facebook, Yahoo! and Windows Live. It’s also universal for the iPhone and iPad. The app is free to download, but there are several in-app purchases. To remove the ads costs £2.50, while a secure messaging option called Off-the-Record costs £3. Signing in takes only a few moments, and your Google contacts appear in a scrollable list. Each has its own set of options, including notification of when contacts come online, and the chance to put them into groups.
An inbox keeps all open and recent chats together, while tapping a user name brings up the current conversation, with the option of swiping to the side to view other open chats. Push notifications are included as standard on the free app, but it does sign you out after a while – sometimes several days – so unless you use the app regularly, notifications won’t appear. A longer notification period is part of the pay option or the IM+ Pro app, which costs £2.50. In our tests, IM+ was one of two apps to provide consistent notifications, and is an all-round excellent option for Google Chat. The ads are annoying though, and are placed at the top of the screen.
Chat for Google Talk
An entirely ad-supported client specifically for Google Talk. As mentioned above, Chat for Google Talk isn’t optimised for the iPhone 5’s larger screen, so will suit iPhone 4 and 4S users better. It’s simple, lightweight and perfectly acceptable. However, if you want notifications you’ll have to pay £0.70 for the Pro version. The big draw here is the app’s ease of use, as you don’t have to deal with other chat options or fancy features; it’s all about the Google chat. Don’t expect iPhone 5 support to turn up anytime soon though, as the app hasn’t been updated since March 2012.
Of the four apps, this is the one we kept returning too. Like IM+, IMO Messenger is a multi-client app, but it also has its own messaging service similar to WhatsApp, along with a Skype-like free call system. We didn’t try these out, as we were focussing on Google Talk. IMO was always the fastest with notifications in our tests, and the app continues to monitor for them for a week. The interface has a more modern look to it than IM+, plus there are no ads. You do have to sign-up for an IMO account though, which requires an email address, and there are a few security options to be mindful of, along with a public chat service called Broadcast which was fairly unpleasant. Turn all this off though, and IMO works brilliantly.
BeejiveIM for GTalk
Beejive is a well-known chat client, and this is its standalone app for Google Talk. It has a similar look to Chat for Google Talk, and is equally sparse in the way of extra features. Its push notifications last for five days, matching IMO Messenger, but unlike IMO it’s ad-supported and removing them costs £1.50. It’s optimised for the iPhone 5, has a group option, and is very easy to use. However, it’s not the most attractive app on our list.
After using them all, it was IMO Messenger which has stayed installed on our iPhone, with IM+ coming in second, primarily because its notification alerts were only moments behind IMO. If you’re after a free Google Talk client for your iPhone, we’d say you won’t be disappointed with either.