Viber challenges Whatsapp and Skype [Review]

If you think Whatsapp is the only Internet based text messaging substitute you’d be wrong. Viber has been around for awhile now, and not only is Viber taking on Whatsapp’s Internet routed messages, but it’s taking on Skype too with free VoIP based voice calls. Most importantly it now offers a desktop client with free video calling.

It’s easy to sign up for Viber, your phone number identifies you, just like Whatsapp. Also like Whatsapp, you verify yourself by entering a code from an SMS sent to your iPhone. After that step, you are offered the chance to synchronise with your Facebook contacts, which increases the chances of finding other Viber users within your social groups.

The contacts section of Viber feels very much like the built-in Contacts app, in that there’s the alphabetical finder down the right hand side. What marks it apart is the predominant purple colour scheme, and the buttons at the top for switching between Viber contacts, All contacts, and Favourite contacts.

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While working in the ‘All’ section , it works very much like the built-in Contacts app. Tapping on a phone number that isn’t attached to a Viber user will lead to the call being placed in the built-in Phone app. However, there is always a warning that the call will be billed as per your operator plan. There seems to be no way to disable this warning. Given that most of your contacts won’t be Viber users, it could make using Viber as a general contact manager rather tiresome.

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While you can edit contacts, Viber falls short in one key area – you cannot link contacts as you can in the built-in Contacts app.

Push notifications work very well in Viber though. Messages come through immediately. Moreover, I set up my girlfriend’s Android phone with Viber. The second that her phone was verified onto the Viber system, a push notification appeared on my iPhone telling me she was now using Viber. That immediacy is excellent.

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One of the key selling points of Viber is the free voice calls. We tested the call quality of Viber and was blown away by the quality – clearly it is using High Definition audio – the quality was noticeably better than both GSM calls and Skype calls. The call interface is almost identical to the iOS phone interface.

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A key difference, though, is the addition of a button that switches the call over to your GSM network. When you use this feature, Viber just disappears and the Phone app appears with the call to your Viber friend already being placed. On the other person’s end, Viber beeps to signal that the call has been terminated and then their phone starts ringing with a ‘real’ phone call. This is very useful if you find that your data signal is too poor to make the call work well enough.

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The text message system in Viber will be familiar to anyone who has used Whatsapp. You can send text, video, locations and plenty smileys and other amusing graphics. That’s all there is to it, it’s a simple job that the app does well.

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Of course, the reason for having reviewed Viber just now is the new desktop client. The desktop client can make PC to PC voice calls, which can then be handed off to a mobile device, and make video calls. Disappointingly though, the mobile client still does not support video calls. It’s rather frustrating that the feature is available on the desktop but not on mobiles, and feels somewhat short sighted [by Viber] given that iOS users can already use Skype and FaceTime for video calls. Hopefully, mobile video calling will come to Viber soon.

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Overall, Viber is a well-executed service. iOS users can already enjoy iMessage and Facetime, however they are iOS only services. In a cross-platform world a solution like Viber is much more desirable. However, as Skype grows in popularity, and we already have Whatsapp, Viber faces a significant challenge to provide a reason for us to use it. At the moment, I don’t quite see a compelling case for using Viber above other solutions, like Skype.

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