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BlackBerry Messenger 5 now available, we go hands-on

Jacob Schulman

BlackBerry Messenger: it's the holy grail of the BlackBerry platform, and, for many, the only real reason why they don't make the jump to another smartphone. Well, RIM has finally gone ahead and released the latest and greatest version upon the world (in an official capacity at least), and we're definitely pleased with the added functionality and other updates that they've cooked in to the app to make it even more useful and better. Read on after the break for a full breakdown of what's hot, what's new, and what we think of it all.

While most of the new functionality in the "new BBM" was seen in the version that leaked a few months back, the final shipping update has a slew of tweaks and changes that we really like. Just to start off with the interface, you can see that the whole contact list screen has gotten an overhaul, with a tighter layout, spaces for avatars, and a highly useful "Recent Updates" bar at the top. Inside individual conversations, the standard "Name: Message" design has been updated to a "chat bubbles" one that groups consistent messages from the same sender and saves space on screen. Of course, for those reluctant to change, you can tweak this display in the options panel, and make it look however you'd prefer to.

Adding contacts has also improved with the latest release. For starters, you don't have to do it by PIN or e-mail address. RIM has added a QR code generated by the PIN that allows you to scan someone else's and automatically have it added to your list. You can also show your code to a friend and they can scan yours -- provided he or she has a BlackBerry with a camera. Another minor yet convenient tweak is the new "Invite to Messenger" menu option that appears when a PIN is detected. For example, when a person sends you his or her PIN in a text message, instead of copying and pasting it, you can simply scroll over it, and choose the menu option "Invite to Messenger." Long time users who have always had to select, copy, and paste will really appreciate this new addition.

The other headline new feature in BBM 5 is the option to create a "BlackBerry Group." This allows you to create a group of friends or colleagues, assign a group icon, and even pin it to your home screen. Once the admin creates the group, he or she can add members and proceed to have a group chat. However, you can also share pictures, create and comment on lists, and even share and create shared calendar entries. Of course, to keep things organized, there's another "Group Updates" status bar at the bottom so you can know what you've missed.

Unfortunately, most of the functionality mentioned here requires that your contacts also be using the latest version of BBM -- 5.0.33. Smartly, RIM has made the update available OTA, both through BlackBerry App World as well as We should note that while updating our phone, we unfortunately had our software corrupted, resulting in the need to reinstall the whole OS. However, it's a fairly easy -- if not time consuming -- task, so be sure to make a backup. We're definitely in the very small minority though, as we've mostly heard of nothing except smooth updates across the board. Overall, we're incredibly impressed with the update and all of its new functionality, and really glad that RIM finally made it official. So, if you've been holding out for the official release, make sure to hit the read link and get your downloading on -- after you've made a full backup, of course.

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