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App Review: Phnx
by Tim Stiffler-Dean on Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011

A few months ago when the Phnx Twitter App (pronounced "Phoenix") was in the beta catalog, I asked Dave Strack, the developer of Phnx, why he decided to join a Twitter app market that was already dominated by apps like Carbon, Bad Kitty and Spaz. His answer, "I'm building Phnx to show developers that they can build beautiful apps in webOS, and then inspiring them to get up and do so." Well, Dave, you have met that goal and perhaps even exceeded it. The Phnx Twitter app is a work of art.

But don't let the looks distract you from the functionality. While I did run into a few features that I desperately wish had been added to the app, Phnx does allow you to manage your Twitter account pretty easily and catch the stream of content that is constantly flowing through the micro-blogging service. Once you jump after the break you'll be able to see the full review, but the bottom line is, the app is a great one worth checking out if you're an avid Twitter user (and it's on sale right now!).

Let's get straight to the business. When I first installed Phnx onto my Veer (it works for all current webOS devices) it did what all Twitter apps do and brought me through the login process. It was clean and simple, no problems there. Once it's loaded up, you'll notice that the interface is pretty different from the Phxn beta we took a look at a while back. No longer is it sporting the Metro UI from Windows Phone 7, but instead seems to take design cues from now-defunct apps like TweetMe and Tweed (two other Twitter apps for webOS). A navigation bar sits along the bottom edge of the screen, the loading indicator bar sits along the top (hidden until it is needed) along with profile view, refresh button and a button to create a new tweet.

The five views in the bottom navigation menu are the essentials that any Twitter app should have: Home Timeline, Mentions, Direct Messaging, Lists/Retweets, Search/Trending Topics. To get to each view you can tap the respective icon, or you can swipe left and right across the screen (like switching cards in webOS). This swiping from one view to the next (and scrolling through the streams) also works while sending a tweet, which makes it easy to grab names and details from other messages that I want to mention (something other apps have a problem with).

The way that the List and Search views has been setup is incredibly nice for me. By simply scrolling up and down I can see all of the lists that I follow from other users, the lists that I've created and three options for retweets all within one view. No unnecessary tapping of icons to get where I want. Phnx is also the first app to bring in "Your Tweets, Retweeted" to the retweets views, allowing you to see which of your messages have been retweeted by your followers, and then to see who did the retweeting (by tapping the message you want to look at and then the tiny retweet icon below the avatar).

Something else that's really cool about the Search, Trends, Lists and Retweet views: While you are viewing a stream, the top right corner icon changes from allowing you to start a "New Tweet" to now putting that stream in a new card. If you're joining our PalmCast Live, for example, you can do a search for #PalmCast (the hashtag everyone uses while sending us questions during the show) and then open that search in a new card to free up the rest of Phnx for whatever other tweeting you want to do. It's a feature I used last night while on the podcast, so that my computer monitor was free to stream live video.

Phnx does have multi-account support, which you can activate by tapping the app menu in the top left corner. From that menu you are also able to lookup a user's profile and get to the app preferences page. In Preferences you'll find some of your usual suspects: Change the font-size, notifications, sending usage statistics to the developer (which I have opted into), etc. But you can also change the theme (there are only two right now, but I hear there are plans to add more), turn on auto refresh, and define what you want a forward-swipe in the gesture area to do within the app. 

All of that is great stuff, but there are still a few features that I really wish could be added in the future. The app is strangely missing an Outbox view in DMs, and for that matter could also use the oft-loved conversation view that many Twitter clients are adding in these days (Twitter's website also sports threaded DM conversations). The app is also a tad-bit slow sometimes in loading new tweets in a stream. It's not too bad, but there have been a few times when I hit refresh several times because of my impatience. Though I'll admit, it could be the internet connection.

There isn't a whole lot more to ask for, though, as Dave has pretty well hit most of the big features that are needed. He even helped me find a few views (like seeing who retweeted one of my messages, as I mentioned above) that I was having trouble with. It has been said that there are some big features coming in the next version, including gap-detection (that's the only one he would tell me about) and a light theme. I would also love to see some webOS 2.0 features added in, like JustType to send a Tweet, Search, or Lookup a User (something other apps haven't added yet) as well as an Exhibition Mode of some sort.

At $2.99 (or $1.49 if you get it while it's on sale), Phnx is a good buy for a good app (and it's really great to look at). Even while it lacks a few features that other apps have already added in, it does hold all of the essentials (and some extras) so that you can get your tweeting done quickly (or slowly, for you addicts out there). With Dave Strack at the helm of the development, you can be sure that new features will be added in the future as well, so keep an eye out for them.

Grab the app from the catalog and then leave a review for the rest of us to see what you think. I can't be the only one with an opinion around here! You can also follow Phnx App Development on Twitter at @phnxapp, and Dave Strack at @rmxdave for more details.