Article updated at 8:30 a.m. PT with a correction about Trillian Astra's highlighting capabilities and more opinions.
Leaning on the simple journalistic knowledge that one's impression of a product changes after a week of constant use, I attempted to empty my head of first-impression snap judgments and give Trillian's Astra (screenshots), now in (seemingly open) private beta a fair, unprejudiced shot as my primary chat application. Ten days later I like the free, multinetwork instant messenger better than I did in the first few hours after downloading it.
This more congenial view could be the result of giving the app's features a chance to permeate and charm. It could also be that the thorns and snarls I first cursed have blunted as they became normalized as a result of continued use. It's somewhere between these poles that my real attitude and recommendation resides. From an IM standpoint, Astra beta lacks Yahoo Messenger 9's visual luster. Yes, I know, Yahoo's IM has the distinct advantage of being a full-fledged application and not a private beta, but then again, Cerulean Studios has had three years to focus on design. However, there's nothing terribly offensive about Astra, either, and it does have that invaluable ability to contact friends on a wide variety of IM networks going for it.
Here's what's good
1. Themes: Within Astra's simpler, cleaner Cobalt skin and the three-dimensional Cordonata is a range of colorful themes. When clicking the View navigation in the default Cordonata, around 40 themes show up, ranging from lime to esoteric colors like "Toxic," "Cupcake," and "Chameleon" (they should really come with preview pics or a color palate). In that first crucial half hour of discovery, the toasted-brown "Honey" theme kept me from ditching the program altogether.
2. Notifications and replies: It's up to you which action triggers a notification window in the bottom right of your screen, but during a chat conversation, seeing your buddy's entries can help you decide the urgency level of your response. Even better is the shortcut "reply" button that takes you to the chat window, and the "Quick Reply" that lets you respond right in the window. (Best yet would be if Astra followed Digsby's lead--see below--and enabled direct replies from the notification window without reopening the chat window by default. In other words, if it made the Quick Reply button the automatic behavior.)… Read more