Chat for Windows 8: Instant Messaging Daily Driver

Perhaps the most basic requirement of any operating system is a good chat app. Windows 8 ships with the default Messaging app, but as it lacks Google Talk support, this essentially cripples that app. So in my quest to find Windows 8 apps for all of my day-to-day functions, I stumbled upon Chat.

The simply-named, even simpler program is one of many chat programs in the Windows 8 store that promise simple day to day use. But so far, I’d not stumbled upon a program that meets any of those promises, until I found Chat.

Design

Main screen for Chat

Main screen for Chat

Chat does a great job of balancing between features and simplicity. The design of the program is extremely simple, showing a chat list of everyone who is online on the left, and your current chat on the right.

This design works perfectly well for 99% of scenarios, but it would also be nice to have a more full-featured view, that takes advantage of all the unused screen real estate and allows for two or even three active chats.

Still, the design is more than adequate for normal chatting use. The indicator to the right of a contact’s name shows the number of unread chats in that conversation, which makes it easier to switch between two or three active conversations. For a day-to-day use, Chat is perfectly adequate. It is especially useful in snapped view, which is how I use it most predominantly. With a 1600×900 screen, this leaves plenty of space for normal work and web browsing, while still allowing me to stay connected.

Functionality

Accounts for Chat

Accounts for Chat

Chat is simple in more ways than design. It is built on the XMPP protocols, so Facebook and Google Talk accounts can be connected, in addition to any other Jabber/XMPP accounts. Multiple accounts can be connected, which works great for those of us with more than one gMail account for business or other purposes. And that is all the app does.

I have my Facebook account connected, and two gMail accounts, and all three services feed into a single contacts list. This unified list is excellent, though can lead to duplicates between gMail and Facebook.

As far as the chatting itself goes, Chat lacks more than it includes. Hyperlinks are not supported, and neither are Facebook and gMail’s custom chat enhancements. Some of these, such as gMail’s Markdown-like formatting, would be welcome additions to the program, but thus far they are not included. Facebook’s ‘Seen’ notifier to show when the other user has read your chats is another enhancement that is missing.

The most glaring omission is a ‘User is typing…’ notification, that both Facebook and Google chat support, but that is lacking in Chat. This is something that will hopefully be added in the next few updates. So as far as the chatting itself goes, Chat is pretty barebones.

Still, for day-to-day use, this is more than adequate, and far superior to leaving the web version of Facebook and gMail open all of the time. But there’s definitely room for the core functionality of the app to improve drastically without sacrificing its valuable simplicity.

Stability

Snapped view for Chat

Snapped view for Chat

I have found Chat to be rock solid, after several updates from the developer. At first, when Windows 8 was in its preview releases, Chat was buggy and crashed multiple times a day for me. Happily, this is no longer the case. You can leave this app open 24 hours a day and run five or more chat conversations simultaneously, without problems. If your internet connection drops, Chat will not download chats from your contacts that were sent while you were offline, but this is its only limitation. This is another feature that would be nice to see in the app, but isn’t mission-critical.

Customizability

Chat does offer an array of customization options. Different services and accounts you’ve connected, such as Facebook and gMail, are identified by a small square of color, which is user-selected. This square will then show up in the contact list to identify from what service a contact hails.

In addition, with a recent update, the foreground, background, font, and many other colors can be set from the options panel. This allows for a complete customization of the program – if Neon green is your thing, then you can have that – but a quick ‘Defaults’ button allows you to set everything back to how it came. And really, Chat comes in a soothing array of greys and whites with a hint of green, which is great for reading and puts emphasis on what’s needed. It should be more than adequate for day to day use.

You can also change other options, such as the placement of the contact list (left or right), and whether or not to display offline contacts, among others. One option that is particularly helpful to me is ‘Play notification when application is in focus’ – this ensures that even in snapped mode, Chat still displays notifications, which is invaluable when my attention is focused on work and I might not see a new chat pop up in the snapped view.

Wrapping Up

Snapped conversation for Chat

Snapped conversation for Chat

A common strand across this review is ‘day-to-day use’ – while Chat may not be the fanciest or most feature-packed application around, it’s more than adequate at instant messaging: for business or personal uses. Sure, there are some features that would be nice to have, but everything that needs to work does, and Chat makes up for it by being very stable – something that the competition, such as IM+ for Win8, fails miserably at. Chat is well worth the $2.99 that it costs, and you would do good to pick it up for your chatting needs.


Summary

Chat is a lightweight instant messaging application for Windows 8

8