These five apps turn your static address book into a feature-full social network

exchange business cardsEveryone’s familiar with the contact exchange drill — we know it all too well. You meet, you trade numbers or names, you look new friends up on Facebook or Twitter, or get an email address if it’s a more professional meeting. With this ever-expanding list of people to manage, meet with, and remember, a new concept to turn address books into their own type of social network is sweeping the app ecosystem. So where can you turn for social-friendly contact lists? Here’s our hands on impression of a view options. 

Brewster

brewster

Brewster is a beautifully designed address book app that pulls in and combines contacts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, your address book, and your email client.

The information presented on your contact’s page (email addresses, phone numbers, where a person lives) is digestible and easily accessible. You can even call, text, or email them from within the app.

Right after signing up, you’re prompted to select your “Favorite” contacts. We recommend you select at least a few contacts for this list, if only to get rid of what’s otherwise a big empty white space every time you open the app. This is also a big part of Brewster’s function: Giving you quick, easily digestible information about your connections. 

The app focuses on maintaining your relationships. In the “Lists” tab, where contacts are curated, people that you haven’t talked to in a while are filed under “Losing Touch;” people that you talk to on a regular basis are found under “Frequently Contacted.” And you can even view the contacts that you have the “Most Mutual Connections” with.

Additional features include the latest updates about your contacts, including birthday reminders, updated cities, and group messaging.

Brewster is available on iOS devices. Check out our hands on impressions for more info. 

Ringya

ringya

Ringya is a privacy focused app and intentionally doesn’t automatically pull your contacts from your social networks and email account. In fact, you can only add individuals strictly from existing contacts on your smartphone’s address book. Adding contacts onto Ringya who aren’t on your phone already is tedious since you’re forced to plug in names manually one-by-one. But some of you might prefer an address book where you’re more likely to be selective with the contacts that you’re adding — and if you feel like your address book as is functions well for your contact needs, then you’re good to go.

The app isn’t the most visually appealing, however, and we were somewhat disappointed with the scarce information available on our contacts’ pages. The basic information like email address and phone number are there, but that’s about it.

To the app’s credit, group messaging is a cinch and it offers a unique feature that digitizes paper lists. You can digitize fifty names and email addresses from a piece of paper in one fell swoop by photographing the page with Ringya. The contact information on the page is processed and uploaded to your contact list. Users can also import lists of contacts from an Excel, Word, or PDF document.

Ringya is available on iOS devices.

Gather 

gather

Gather is a newcomer among address book apps and hits the social approach hard, focused on interacting with your contacts. Gather is a social address book so connected with networking that it could be used as a limited third-party social media client. The app supports uploading contacts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and your address book. Users can message, call, or email contacts through the app.

Gather’s emphasis on social media became more apparent while we tested out the app. There’s a personal newsfeed called “Message,” where you can read posts you’ve publish to your social networks as well as post content to LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Gather shares a few similarities with Brewster. Under a tab titled “Compass” contacts are curated by default categories including your friends’ likes, companies, and location. And because Gather is focused on social, you can also view the “Image of the Day” or see the most discussed topics among your friends, supplied from your connections’ social networking posts and updates. 

As an added bonus, there are a few bells and whistles that heavy networkers and conference-goers might enjoy: Users can add contacts by scanning a business card or QR code, for instance.

Gather is available on iOS devices.

Youlu

youlu

Youlu was developed by a Chinese company based out of Beijing and is among the leading address book apps on the market. When you first dive in, the app is admittedly not the easiest to use. It packs an arsenal of features, and in general Youlu is best described as a hybrid between SMS messaging and an address book app, and the result makes it sort of a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Its address book features are nothing out of the ordinary, looping in email addresses, social media profiles, phone numbers, and offering options for calling, texting, as well as FaceTime access. The app even adds a QR code that’s associated with each of your contacts, which makes it easy to share their information with someone else.

There are a couple of features that users might find confusing about Youlu. The first is the far left navigation button on the app which opens up a traditional dial pad. But it isn’t used for making direct phone calls — instead it launches an in-app search engine for finding your contact by phone number or name. This ended up being more annoying than anything else. 

Second, updates made on the app aren’t automatically synced to your phone. Instead you’re required to manually sync the latest changes on Youlu, which then gets pushed to its cloud. For those of you spoiled by automated services, this alone might prove to be a turn off.

On the other hand if you’re interested in talking to your friends that also have Youlu installed, you can chat using its push-to-talk or text-based messaging service, share pictures, and invite up to 50 people to one group chat. But there are other messaging apps out there that offer a less confusing experience, like Whatsapp, Kik, and WeChat.

Youlu is available on Android, iOS, and Symbian OS devices.

Smartr

smartr

Smartr offers users a clean, easy-to-use interface, if being a bit unremarkable. Like many other address book apps, you can import contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, and your phone address book. It connects all this information for your connections, and you can call, message, and email contacts using the app. But the powerful search engine under the hood makes up for where it’s unexceptional.

The homepage of the app displays a search engine where you can find contacts by company, company title, name, and email address. Where the app distinguishes itself is in explicit information that it’s able to pull about your relationship between you and your contacts. For example, an “analytics dashboard” displays the number of messages that have been exchanged between you and your contact, what it was you talked about during the first conversation, and the email threads that you’ve shared exclusively with them.

That feature alone is a powerful service, especially if you’re talking to new people on a daily basis. Smartr can help you remind you about the type of professional relationships you have with your contacts.

Smartr is available on Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a productivity address book app where you’re looking to quickly index a large number of contacts (especially on paper) and send messages to the appropriate groups, Ringya might be your best bet.

Brewster is useful for managing existing relationships with our contacts. It’s a favorite of ours, but the caveat is that it’s currently only offered for iPhone.

If you frequent conferences and need a quick solution to publish posts to your social network, find trends in your contact’s social activity, or digitize a physical business card, Gather might suffice. However we found that the app was particularly slow to process our contact list and business cards.

Youlu, fails to provide a single feature worth using that we couldn’t find elsewhere. Searching for contacts on a traditional dial pad and manually syncing our updates to Youlu’s services is inconvenient, and the app doesn’t offer any dynamic features like algorithmically curating the address book. Its messaging service isn’t convincing us anytime soon to retreat from the messaging apps that we’re using already. For us there isn’t much here that other apps couldn’t offer us.

If we had to recommend an address book app, Smartr would be our pick. While the app is unremarkable, it manages our contacts with a robust algorithm and it’s stripped of bells and whistles while still getting the job done. Smartr is also available on three different types of operating systems, which can’t be said for the other four address book apps.

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