Unless you have a cell phone with a full alphabetic keyboard, using your handset for on-the-go instant messaging isn't very convenient. Granted, lightning fast texters won't have much of an issue, but pecking out entire conversations on a standard nine-digit keypad can be tedious for most people. And in response, some manufacturers have developed IM-specific products like the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2.
While we can't imagine that there's a huge market for mobile devices that send instant messages but don't make calls, we must admit that the Zipit is a handy, easy-to-use product. As long as you have a Wi-Fi network or hot spot, you can use your AOL, MSN, or Yahoo IM accounts to chat with your buddies. The device itself is compact and easy to use, and the response time is quick. Sure, the need for a Wi-Fi network will limit usability in some places, but once you're hooked up, you can IM as long as you like for free (the Zipit doesn't require any subscription services). And as an added bonus, you can use the Zipit to listen to streaming music or radio, and you can play music or view photos off a mini-SD card. The Zipit is $149 with service.
At 3.74 inches by 3.0 inch by 0.9 inch, the Zipit is about the size of a smartphone. That means it fits only in larger pockets, but it's still small enough to haul around with ease. And at 12.5 ounces, it won't add excessive weight to a bag or purse. We're a bit divided on its construction, however. Though the hinge has a sturdy construction, the plastic skin seems a bit flimsy.
The black and silver exterior of the Zipit has few controls. A volume rocker is located on the left spine, and a 3.5mm headset jack rests on the right spine. The charger port is on the back of the device, and the SD card slot is on the front. Inside the Zipit you'll find the 320x240-pixel, full-color display. At 2.83 inches, it's sufficient for all your messaging needs, but it's worth noting that the text size isn't changeable. On the other hand, the menu interface is easy to understand and you can change the backlight time.
The Zipit's controls are clearly labeled so we didn't have any trouble understanding their use. A four-way toggle with a central OK button is your primary tool for navigating through the menu pages and selecting options. Though it is tactile and easy to use, we noticed that the plastic material felt slightly flimsy. A "MyFriendz" control gives instant access to your IM buddy list (it could be better labeled, however) while Next and Previous keys assist you in moving backward or forward through the current application. There's also a dedicated power button, two music player keys (play and stop), a Home control, an Options button, and a shortcut for opening a menu of IM emoticons.
The tactile keyboard buttons are relatively large and are raised above the surface of the messenger. You can type by feel, and the bright backlighting makes them usable in the dark. Each alphabetic key has a secondary function, such as a number or a punctuation mark, and you can toggle back and forth using the Alt key. We also like that the space bar is long and is placed conveniently in the middle of the last row.
As mentioned earlier, the Zipit requires a Wi-Fi network to operate. When you turn it on, it searches for the strongest free network and logs on automatically. If a free network isn't available, it will then search for the strongest encrypted network. In our testing, we were logged onto a free network in just a few seconds and could start messaging away. If you prefer to choose your own Wi-Fi network, however, that option is available.
After you're connected you'll be prompted to set up your IM accounts. You can use only one service, if you'd like, or you can use all thee at once. Also, you can save your settings so you don't have to enter your username and password each time you start up. In our testing we connected to a Yahoo IM account in only a couple steps and then searched for available buddies using the aforementioned MyFriendz button. The Zipit will only show friends who are online (idle buddy names will be italics), but you can also send messages to people not in your friends list. Like on a PC, your chat window will show your entire conversation and you can toggle back and forth between conversations. When talking to someone in the same room, the response time was instantaneous, and we were alerted to new messages with a slight tone. On the downside, the Zipit froze twice during our testing, once when we disconnected it from the charger. We were able to reset it easily, but it was bothersome just the same.
We also tested the Zipit's media capabilities by listening to a couple of Internet radio stations and playing music from an SD card. Not surprisingly, the music quality was only average, but it is fine for short stints. Just keep in mind that the external speaker has weak output, so we advise using headphones. The music player (MP3 and WMA files only) has more options than we expected. In addition to playlists and shuffle and repeat modes, it also shows album art if it's available.