Jut the way cellphones made instant text-based communication ubiquitous, the advent of smartphones, the widespread availability of mobile internet, and services like WhatsApp made it free. However, multiple messaging apps can be a pain to manage, plus the more apps you run, the more system resources they are going to consume, especially with apps that actively work in the background. Remember the days when MSN, Yahoo! and AOL Messengers were all the rage, and multi-protocol IM apps like Pidgin, Digsby and Trillian were immensely popular because they supported all these services and more in a single package? Disa aims to do the same with the modern, phone number-based mobile messaging services. Currently in alpha, it’s starting off with SMS and WhatsApp, with support for more services like Google Voice and Hangouts in the pipeline. Though despite being an alpha, it boasts an impressive interface, works surprisingly well, and even lets you merge conversations on multiple services into one! For our detailed review of this extremely promising app, read on.
Like any well-deigned app, Disa gives you brief instructions on how to get started with it upon first lunch, but unlike many apps that make those instructions a multi-page slideshow, Disa keeps things as simple as possible. Just tap Finish on the instructions page, and you’ll land on the app’s UI, which is empty by default, and understandably so. Like Hangouts, you can swipe horizontally to switch between contacts and conversation view. Swipe rightwards (as the text says, and not as the leftward-pointing arrow seems to imply), and you’ll be in the messages view.
To start configuring the app, tap the settings icon from the action bar. Here, you can toggle and tweak several parameters of the app such as notifications, back button behavior, fast service switching in unified conversations (more on this below), emoji, contact thumbnails display, locale etc. Also, it’s from here that you can add the services that you want to use with the app. To do so, tap the + button from the top action bar, and select the service you want to add. You can repeat this to add another service the exact same way. As mentioned earlier, SMS and WhatsApp are the two currently supported services, and you can add one instance of each.
After adding your desired services, scroll all the way down and from the Services section, you’ll be able to start configure any of them by tapping the service’s icon. You’ll also be shown the status of that service right under its icon, which can be Running, Needs Settings or Stopped. Long-pressing the icon of any service allows you to stop/start the service, remove it, or change the bubble colors for the messages you send and receive through it.
Let’s take a look at the service settings now. For Text messages, the app should automatically detect the correct APN settings for your carrier, though you can also choose them manually if auto detection doesn’t work for you. When it comes to WhatsApp configuration, the app truly shines, letting you choose exactly how you want to verify your number. After specifying your number and a display name, you are offered to choose between verification by SMS or by receiving a call. If you are using the same number on your device, keep the “Verifying with this phone’s number” option checked and the app will attempt to automatically detect the verification code for you. Otherwise, uncheck it and just enter the code manually. You can also tap the ‘I Have a Code’ option if you have already received a verification code that you haven’t yet used.
Note that although the app says you can’t use it along with the official WhatsApp app on the same device and should uninstall it first, you actually can use them both; just not with the same phone number. So, using Disa and the official WhatsApp app, you can actually use the WhatsApp service on the same device with two different numbers! Now how cool is that?
Upon configuring your services, you’ll be able to start messaging. Head back to the home scree and tap the new message icon from the top action bar to see a list of available contacts. If you have multiple services configured, you can switch between their contacts from the button on the top-right. As you’d expect from any well-built messaging app, there’s also a search bar at the bottom to help you quickly find the contact that you want to message.
The messaging experience itself is full-featured, and extremely refined for an alpha release. For WhatsApp messages, you can see the online or last seen status of your contact, send pictures and videos by choosing them from your gallery or snapping/recording new ones, send audio clips by selecting them via one of your installed file managers or recording a new one from within the app, and send a location by using your current GPS location, or selecting one from the map. With the exception of location, the other multimedia options are available in Text messaging as well, and are sent as MMS, though support for MMS is currently limited to certain carriers, and may not work for all. The developers are working on adding MMS support for more carriers.
As you start having conversations, your conversation list starts getting populated with them, each showing an icon representing the service that conversation is on. Navigating between your last conversation and the conversation list is as easy as a horizontal swipe, just the way it is in the Hangouts app. For incoming messages, you also receive notifications in your status bar, complete with a preview of the message. On devices running Jelly Bean also get to enjoy expandable, unified notifications for multiple messages.
You can long-tap a conversation from the conversation list to select it, and an action bar pops up at the bottom, allowing you to dismiss the selection or delete the selected conversation. You can also select multiple conversations by long-tapping on each of them in succession, which brings us to one of the best features of the app. Let’s say you chat with someone over both SMS and WhatsApp, depending on whether you or they have Wi-Fi or mobile data access available or not. Instead of keeping two conversation threads for that, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a single one? Just select both those conversations and tap the >< icon to merge them! You’ll be asked to confirm if you want to merge the selected conversations, and then asked to choose the primary one. Don’t fret; choosing the primary one only decides what picture and display name will be shown for that conversation, and you will still be able to send and receive messages using both services in the merged thread.
In the conversation list, you’ll notice that the two conversations have been merged into one, with the display picture and name of the primary conversation that you selected. The icon representing the conversation is also changed to make it clear at a glance that it’s a merged one. Open a merged conversation, and you’ll see a small icon at the bottom-right of the send button denoting the service currently set for your replies. Long-press the send button, and you’ll be able to choose the service that you want to use for sending the message. Though there’s an even easier way of doing so. Remember the fast service switching option that we saw in the setting? If it’s enabled, you just have to tap on one of the sent or received messages in the thread, and Disa will automatically select the service that the message was sent from. This way, you can quickly reply using the same service that your contact used for messaging you, or that you already used for messaging the contact.
Disa is undoubtedly one of the best messaging apps we’ve seen so far, and it’s completely unique in that it’s the first third-party WhatsApp client we’ve seen out there, a well a the first app to merge Text messaging and WhatsApp. We’re hoping the service will not stay limited to adding only Google Voice and Hangouts support in the future, and will also consider adding the likes of Kik, WeChat, ChatOn and the like to the mix. What would be even more awesome is support for Viber and Tango, be it just for texting and sending multimedia.
As mentioned earlier, Disa is currently in alpha stage, and isn’t available as a stable release on Play Store yet. You’ll need to join its community on Google+ and then enter its testing program before you’ll be able to access it on Google Play. The links and instructions for doing this, along with more details about the app can be found at its website linked below.