Xobni for BlackBerry has long been anticipated, bringing together the rich contacts experience that Outlook users have been enjoying through Xobni the last 2 years. But appearing as a paid-for app, does it offer enough over BlackBerry's existing powerful search functions?
Xobni for BlackBerry is available in different forms. First up you can get the stand-alone BlackBerry application, which will cost you a one-off $9.99. It's priced at a point where you might pause before you buy it and works locally on your device, scanning the contents of your BlackBerry.
Beyond that you have a new service called Xobni One, which is essentially forms a bridge between Xobni in Outlook on your PC and your BlackBerry, so you get all the rich detail from the emails on your PC, not just those on your BlackBerry. This knocks the cost of the stand-alone app down to $6.99, but then comes with a $3.99 monthly fee for the One service. You can also subscribe for the year at a cost of $39.90.
So this review is split into two parts, first we deal with the stand-alone application and then we go the whole hog with Xobni One in the mix.
Xobni for BlackBerry
A quick download and installation Xobni for BlackBerry quickly gets to work scanning your device and mining for contact information. It draws this information from your emails and your address book, bringing in call information, SMS messages and shared appointments from your calendar. We found the process took about 10 minutes to complete the scan, giving us 533 contacts (when we started writing this review).
Of course, the scan can only dig through the emails you have stored on a device. The amount of email information you have stored on your device will depend on your device setup, ours was 30 days, on two email addresses. The end result was an additional 132 contacts on top of our usual BlackBerry address book.
One clever option is where you store the Xobni database – you can save it to your BlackBerry memory, or onto the microSD storage card, so you don't need to worry about it growing and hogging internal memory.
Xobni presents your contacts as a ranked list, which in principal sounds great, giving you access to the people you are in contact with the most, however, it only uses email frequency to define this list. The current flaw is that Xobni's algorithm can't get round any lists you are subscribed to, so if you receive a daily digest for example, this will appear near the top of your list, even if you've never returned a message. Xobni confirmed to us that they were working on incorporating other factors in the ranking list, and there is an option to hide those contacts you don't want to see, so it isn't a serious point.
If you have reletively few emails, you'll find a few contacts at the top of your list, before the remainder of your contacts from your address book are listed alphabetically. As you receive emails, these contacts will update their rank, so Xobni changes over time, giving you a ranked list that is always relevant.
You can search this list or scroll through it – searching is likely to be the most common option given the number of entries you are dealing with. You get instant results returned, so as you type, you'll see the results list forming. It will return results from names and email addresses, so if you are searching for someone from a particular company email address, it's simple to find them. Unfortunately you don't get full text scanning of your emails like you do in the Outlook version, something that the standard BlackBerry search offers.
If you are going to compose a message, you simply flick up to access Xobni, select a contact and away you go. You can do the same with replies and forwards too. It gives you access to all those recognised contacts, without them having to be in your address book. You don't get the same integration in SMS messages, however.
The contact list gives you something like the rich contacts experience that many smartphones offer, for example HTC Sense. Visually the display is rich, pulling in pictures and details from LinkedIn and Facebook where possible, and presenting a rundown of email addresses and phone numbers. The bottom of a contact listing is given over to a log of recent calls, SMS messages, emails and meetings, and a contacts network, so you can see those people that a contact talks to, which is great for finding those people cc'd into emails, who's name you don't instantly recall.
You can email directly from the listed addresses, or call or SMS from any of the supplied numbers. A word of caution on those numbers however, as we found that all sorts of numbers found their way into the listed telephone numbers where they have been picked up from an email, including parts of phone numbers, bits of company numbers or charity numbers and so on.
We did find some duplications, for example you might find yourself a couple of times if you have more than one email address, and some prominent contacts we found several times as well. Ideally you'd want to merge these which isn't currently an option. Xobni told us that this was being addressed and we could see an update within the next few weeks to give you a little more control.
It would also be nice to be able to pull up information on someone when you receive an email, so you can instantly see what else you've been talking about with them – something that is really useful in the Outlook version. You can access the BlackBerry address book from the sender of an email, so it would be good to see Xobni in this space as a quick reference tool as well.
As a standalone application then, Xobni applies plenty of gloss, where BlackBerry's address book is bland but functional: it won't populate the address book, it exists in parallel. BlackBerry's own search system is very powerful and returns keyword searches in email with aplomb. It won't draw out contact numbers or addresses with quite so much ease, however, making Xobni a really useful tool.
Is it worth the money? At first it might not seems as though it is, especially if you don't have a lot of email on your device. But Xobni really becomes valuable after a few weeks, when the list is more richly populated and you've run more emails past it. Using the BlackBerry address book may well become a thing of the past, because Xobni makes it so easy to find people with so little effort.
Of course Xobni for BlackBerry is only half the story. Your BlackBerry contacts probably come from your address book on your PC, which is a much easier way to manage contacts than on your handset. Xobni One looks to bridge this divide too, syncing with Xobni's servers and sharing the information mined from Xobni in Outlook with your BlackBerry. As mentioned above, Xobni One is the subscription end of the deal, with an ongoing cost.
Updating Xobni One can be easily forced through the menu in Outlook, sending the data out to the Xobni servers. Depending on how extensive your email is, this will take a varying amount of time, but a status screen tells you what is being done so you don't go spare – and geeks will love seeing what it is getting up to "Collecting Facebook profiles", "Cleaning up temporary files" and so on.
From the Xobni servers, this information is then pulled into your BlackBerry when you update the contacts. You'll see the BlackBerry application flicking through various actions in the top bar "Updating xobni ranks" and so on, including "Updating Outlook contacts". You can force this refresh through the menu, or set it to update at a specific time frequency or when plugged into the power. In reality, you don't need to update every hour, and that will unnecessarily eat power and data.
From the hundreds of contacts that Xobni for BlackBerry had given us, we suddenly found we had over 6000 with the information pulled in from Xobni for Outlook via Xobni One. If you've been using Xobni for Outlook for some time, you'll already know how powerful it can be and bringing this data to your BlackBerry makes it a potent addition.
This is a two-way syncing option too, so you'll see any contacts added to your BlackBerry appearing in Xobni for Outlook, so if you key in someone's details, or add a caller to your address book, you'll find them added to Xobni on your desktop too.
We found that some old phone numbers appeared in contacts, but from the ones we checked, this wasn't a widespread problem. There is also the issue of people leaving companies and their email addresses changing or ceasing to exist, but hey, it can't do everything. As contacts are used less, they will naturally drift down the ranked list, but will still appear in search results.
So is Xobni One worth the ongoing subscription costs? If contacts syncing between your PC and your BlackBerry is an issue for you, or you constantly find yourself searching for contacts than yes. For some, however, it might be that you just want to sync once to incorporate "legacy" contacts, and then let the app crunch its way through your emails as they arrive on your mobile device.
Whichever approach you take, Xobni is well worth looking at if you have large network of contacts or find yourself working on the move. We've been living with it for the last 2 weeks, and it has made itself an essential tool.
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