Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
AIM Triton 1.2 preview edition reflects AOL's efforts to package a bundle of communications services within one little application. Its goodies include drag-and-drop file and photo sharing, along with the ability to reserve a local phone number. Unfortunately, while your buddies can chat with you by voice or video and anyone with a telephone can ring your AIM phone number, you'll have to pay a monthly fee to make outbound calls from Triton.
AOL's instant-messaging brand, AIM, has stiff competition that includes Yahoo Messenger with Voice and Windows Live Messenger. As those rivals now allow users to chat with each other, their combined user base exceeds that of AIM. Rumors abound that AIM will join this alliance, but at this point no such developments exist.
In our tests, it took about a minute to download AIM Triton 1.2 preview. Think before you click during installation to avoid placing yourself on advertising lists or changing the default options on your system. For example, uncheck the options for installing AOL Explorer and Toolbar if you don't need them.
We were able to log in to AIM Triton beta with a handle from a canceled AOL account, but oddly, we couldn't use that handle to set up AIM's free Phoneline calling service. Instead, to obtain an AIM Phoneline telephone number, we created a new sign-in name and password.
The narrow, blue-and-white interface of AIM Triton is easy to scoot to the edge of your screen, leaving desktop space for other tasks, and we found it less obtrusive than its Yahoo and Windows Live rivals. Within its interface, AIM Triton displays small icons linking to other AOL properties--Mail, Talk Center, Video and Radio--as well as, unfortunately, a rotating graphical ad. The File, Edit, and View drop-down menus are easy to figure out, and a handy contact-search field lies below the Buddies and Addresses tab.
The chat window is well designed, with tabs for messaging via text, voice, or video and for sharing pictures and files. But type into the Search the Web field and, unlike the embedded search of Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 beta, AIM opens another browser window. Our main beef with Triton's interface isn't the design of the app itself, but the way its links kept littering our desktop with browser windows.
To dress up your chatting, you can click AOL Expressions from the Edit menu and pick from both noncommercial and branded backgrounds and avatars that dance and sing. However cute a talking starfish may be for kids, after a day of the cartoon's wisecracks, we reverted to our bare-bones, icon-free Triton backdrop. If you prefer an emoticon-free, encrypted chatting service for the office, we recommend trying AIM Pro.
Because AIM Triton 1.2 preview ties into the Plaxo Universal Address Book service, you can import contacts into your IM account from Microsoft Outlook, as well as e-mail accounts from Yahoo, Hotmail, and Windows Live. You can make your own profile private within Triton, but unfortunately, once you're registered with the address book service, you also permit Plaxo to send reminders to contacts to update their details. If suspicious strangers ping you, AIM provides a link for reporting and blocking them, but we still prefer Windows Live Messenger's more obvious security bar.
If you already use AIM and don't want to sign up for a third-party VoIP service, such as Skype, AIM's Phoneline service provides you with a phone number with voicemail and caller ID. To try the service, we plugged in a headset to our computer, shared our number with friends, and were able to receive calls and voice messages from them over the Internet within a few minutes. When we answered a call, however, Triton didn't open the chat window to control the call, so it took some fumbling to figure out how to hang up.
You can try Triton's free Phoneline service or pay $9.94 per month to make unlimited calls to landline phones in 30 countries, as well as to mobile phones within the United States, Canada, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Unlike Yahoo Messenger with Voice 8 beta, which displays your voice calling communications within its interface, Triton uses its own Phoneline Dashboard to display your calls and contacts on a Web browser page --a bit less convenient. However, Yahoo charges $2.99 per month for use of a telephone number, which expires once you stop paying, forcing you to get another number if you sign up again. And the calling rates within Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger vary, from around 2 cents per minute up to $1 per minute for international calls. Globe-trotting chatterboxes may find AIM Phoneline offers the best deal.
To share content while communicating, you can drag and drop photos and files into your AIM Triton chats. Sharing photos went without a hitch, except for when we sent pictures to a buddy while she was idle, and the images took nearly a minute on her end to appear after she reactivated our chat. With a swipe of the mouse, we sent another buddy more than 12MB worth of documents within a matter of seconds. On the receiving end, Triton prompts you to allow or block the file transfer. However, we prefer the approach of Windows Live Messenger; it opens a file-sharing folder that scans and cleans documents for potential security threats. AIM Triton 1.2 preview also allowed us to drag and drop photos, which our buddy could play as a slide show, then save locally. Triton's video chatting with other users via Webcams was also easy, although Windows Live Messenger has better image quality, and both suffer some lag time.
Help for this beta version of AIM Triton 1.2 comes in the form of searchable online resources and a tutorial for getting started, an ordinary level of support for free software. But multiple windows kept popping up as we attempted to click around the support page, and there's no help via e-mail.
AIM Triton 1.2 preview isn't a final product, and we ran into some speed bumps. For example, at one point the AIM icon kept flashing on our screen even though we didn't seem to have any new messages. All in all, though, we find AIM Triton 1.2 preview to be worthwhile if you already use AIM and would like the added bonus of having a local phone number, along with photo and file sharing abilities.