Hands on with Brewster: Can it evolve the address book?

brewster homeOn the surface, newly launched iPhone app Brewster sounds a lot like the plethora of grouping apps that aim to clean up and socialize your smartphone contact list. But Brewster is a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B: it’s a dynamic approach to the contact list that makes a feature we overlook incredibly interesting and many times more engaging.

Before I go into hands-on details, a little more on the app itself. Basically, Brewster combines the functionality of your address book and pulls data about your contacts from your social networks. The idea is that adding some designations and media to this database will make it more useful than the simple list that it is. Of course you could argue that something as utilitarian as a list of contacts can remain in its natural – listed – form.


setupIf you’ve ever used an app that pulls your friends’ info from various social networks, then Brewster will run you through a familiar process. After initially logging in with either Facebook or Twitter and providing the corresponding email address, you then connect nearly any service you want; Foursquare, LinkedIn, Gmail, etc. There’s also the option to connect your iPhone contacts, and in order to get the full experience of what Brewster wants to do, you should go ahead and grant this permission.

Brewster will then tell you it’s building your network and ask you come back later – it took about five minutes for this to work for me, but if you’re much more popular than I am it could take longer (for instance, social butterfly Robert Scoble is still waiting). From there, you’re ready to start customizing and using Brewster.


Unfortunately, this is where I hit a number of tangles. The first place Brewster deposits you post setup is Favorites. Here, you get a really overwhelming view of all the contacts you’ve gathered using the setup process. So if you’re only connecting Twitter and your iPhone, it might be more manageable; since I connected nearly every service I could, the results were a little more cumbersome.

As I was scrolling through to pick the people I most often interact with, I came across the issue of multiple designations for one person. On Facebook some of my friends have their new married names; but in my phone it’s their old name. I use nicknames for my sisters, which obviously aren’t how they represent themselves on social networks. I wasn’t sure which to choose. Luckily, when you go into an individual’s page, you can edit information and there’s a merge option, which lets you grab another set of contact information. If you’re like me and came across multiple instances of this, it could take awhile, but the merge feature worked well.

merge feature

The whole process of choosing got a little tiring, as I realized there was no way I would take the time to thoroughly go through this mountain of information to select the contacts I interacted with most. Once I decided on this, though, I was disappointed to find that my Favorites dash wasn’t the lovely visual I thought it would be. The app is supposed to display tiles of your contacts’ photos with their names – but my own had nothing but the gray on black Brewster avatar.

favesI reached out to Brewster’s support team (which I’m happy to say is using Zendesk and working very efficiently) to ask why this was. And the answer is what you’d expect: thanks to the media firestorm swirling around Brewster since yesterday’s launch, the servers are trying to handle the heavy load, which means image loading could take awhile. As I started interacting with my contacts, however, and merging some, images slowly started to fill up the dash.

The updates tab is supposed to show you “who’s in town, now working in your industry, trending in your life, losing touch, & more,” and honestly was the feature that really piqued my interest in Brewster. Having a system that quantifies these things is interesting to me, if nothing more than for its organizational element. Unfortunately, it never worked. Over the course of the day, every time I checked the tab I was greeted by the feature’s description and refreshing it did no good. (I reached out to Brewster to talk about this as well and was told the team is hard at work fixing bugs here as I type this.)

The Search and Lists tabs are interesting, although I didn’t find myself using them a particularly large amount. This is where you’ll want to find everyone who didn’t make the Favorites cut, personally I found Search to be the easiest way to do so (it was a reliable fast way to get the contact I was looking for). Of course you don’t only have to search by name – try weird things like “beer” or “Summer league” (it’s Friday, you know where my head is at) and you’ll get results.

Lists sort of work like Facebook Friends Lists. A few are automatically created based on listed education, location, occupation information, etc. The most interesting auto list is Most Mutual Connections, which is a group of people you share lots of similar friends with – I can see myself getting a lot of use out of this particular list. You also have the option of making your own.


This will be sort: once your images start loading and you undertake the massive task of merging contacts, Brewster is gorgeous. The big images set against a minimalist design is perfect for what Brewster is trying to achieve here. I don’t want my contacts hub to be totally tricked out; it needs to retain some of its utilitarianism. After all, it is where I’m going to go to text and call and email people (or at least that’s what Brewster wants). It does this while also offering you something more interesting to look at than the default iPhone address book (talk about a low bar) or most of the alternatives I’ve seen.

That whole privacy breach thing

Brewster is barely a day old and already it’s responding to a privacy breach. In a blog post, the company explains that it became away that some Foursquare data was leading users to see information they weren’t supposed to.

“One unfortunate problem that arose was for Foursquare users who were fans, but not friends, of other Foursquare users. Even further, Foursquare only offers the ability to be fanned to an extremely small number of users. In this case, if we had the contact information from a full Foursquare friend, we briefly displayed their contact information to fans. This happened with one user who was fans of multiple people on Foursquare.”

TechCrunch pointed out that a number of well-knowns had their information briefly available, but the problem has since been fixed.

Not much more needs to be said about this. As is the case with nearly every social application, there are bugs. What happened here isn’t even close to the degree of the fallout of the Path privacy debacle and the ensuing insanity over Addressgate.  


Right now, Brewster is buggy. That’s to be expected given the major amount of attention it received at launch as well as the sheer expanse of data it’s trying to help you organize. So if you install Brewster today, be prepared to muddle through some of the same hiccups I did.

But the tease I got from my limited use of Brewster of what it can be (or hopefully, will be) is inspiring. It gives a little more life to using my phone for basic tasks, and I’m still interested to see what this Updates dash will be like.

For the moment, you’ll have to weather the storm while Brewster irons out the kinks and put a bit of effort into manually setting the thing up, but if this thing can delivery post launch glitches, then it remains a compelling download.

Product Review

Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 is a Surface Pro alternative with one big advantage

The 2-in-1 form factor is clearly a big deciding factor for anyone looking to buy a new device, which is why Samsung is again getting in the action this year with the new Galaxy Book 2.

Need a do-over? Here's how to factory reset an iPhone, from XS on down

Resetting an iPhone can alleviate all sorts of software woes, and wipe away personal data should you sell your device or give it to someone else. Here's how to factory reset an iPhone from within iOS or iTunes.

Here are the 5 best Salesforce alternatives and competitors

Salesforce has taken the customer relationship management, or CRM, world by storm. But these five alternatives, including Freshsales, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and Zoho CRM, are solid options if you're looking beyond Salesforce.
Social Media

Grow your Twitter audience overnight with these simple tips and tricks

Using Twitter can be intimidating, but these tips will help you feel less inadequate when you look at your follower count. As long as you use a bit of moderation, you'll soon be one step closer to social media fame.

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.

Google Maps brings its real-time journey-tracking feature to iPhone

It's been available on Android for a while now, and now Google Maps has brought its real-time journey-tracking feature to iOS. It lets you choose who to share a journey with, and tracking ends automatically when you arrive.
Product Review

Huawei’s monster Mate 20 X makes the Galaxy Note 9 look small

The Huawei Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch screen, but is surprisingly manageable to hold, yet still a little too big to carry around. Huawei’s pushing the phone’s ability as a mobile gaming handheld, challenging the Nintendo Switch.

The five-camera LG V40 ThinQ is now available from the major carriers

LG has finally taken the wraps off the new LG V40 ThinQ, the company's latest and greatest flagship phone that packs a whopping five cameras. Here's how to buy the new LG V40 ThinQ.

A strap for everyone: The best Apple Watch bands you can buy right now

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far and there's something for everyone.

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.

Which new iPhone is the best? iPhone XS vs. iPhone XS Max vs. iPhone XR

Apple has three new iPhone models to choose from this year, making the choice a little harder than usual. What's the difference between the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR, and which is best?

Google may charge up to $40 per Android device for app suite following EU ruling

Google announced that it will be charging Android device manufacturers in Europe a licensing fee to use its apps and services. The announcement is part of an effort to comply with new European Commission regulations.

How to sell your old Google Pixel or Pixel 2 for the most money

So, it's time for a expensive new smartphone, and you'd like to partially fund the purchase by selling your old Google Pixel. Find all the information you need to get as much money as possible for your Pixel or Pixel 2 here in our guide.

The OnePlus 6T is coming a day earlier, event moved to October 29

According to a recent report, the launch of the OnePlus 6T could be different from any other OnePlus launch in history. How? It could have the backing of a major U.S. carrier. Here's everything we know about the OnePlus 6T.