As much as “the cloud” enables us to work across platforms and get all kinds of information anytime and anywhere, it’s easy to feel like there are too many moving parts and not enough centralization—especially when it comes to people. However organized your iPhone address book may be, rest assured that list of people doesn’t match your Facebook friends list, the people you follow on Twitter, your long list of LinkedIn contacts from careers past and present, much less your Gmail contacts, and so forth. The iPhone app Smartr Contacts (free) solves this problem of disparate contact lists by hooking into all of them. The app is more focused on searching than browsing, although it searches pretty effectively.
One app that does have more browsing and exploring capabilities is Brewster (free, 4 stars), which also has more visual appeal than Smartr Contacts and does a better job of cleaning up duplicates. While Smartr Contacts can merge duplicate contact entries, I only figured out how to do it through trial-and-error, whereas Brewster automated almost all merging and provided clearer options for manually merging information.
Smartr Contacts supports a long list of places where your contacts live, starting with your Contacts app on the iPhone. Then you can add a bunch of webmail services and social networks: Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo!, Outlook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Notice Hotmail is missing from that list. You can connect to multiple accounts from any of the Web mail services, but only one account for the social networks (that is, you can’t connect to two different Facebook accounts). Brewster has that limitation as well, unfortunately. Any busy professional who prefers to leave out their social networks from this aggregating app should steer toward Smartr Contacts over Brewster, because the latter actually requires that you connect to at least one social network, either Twitter or Facebook, to work at all.
After you connect the free app to your various contacts lists, the main screen shows two important pieces: a search bar and a selected preview of one of your contacts and some recent activity she or he had, such as a tweet or LinkedIn post. The search bar very quickly enables you to find people by name, company name, or even a string of letters in their email address. Quick with results and very thorough, the search bar is definitely the key feature of the app as a whole.
But I like some of the additional information you can uncover by looking at the contacts individually, too. For example, the area of the home screen that shows the selected activity is a swipe-enabled slideshow, so you can page through more activity from other users, too, although if you click on the name and image of the person, Smartr opens up their contact page. Oddly, the slideshow kept showing me tweets from a woman with whom I have not corresponded in more than two years. I don’t understand how the app chooses content for that pane, but it often didn’t seem relevant.
The contact page gives the app a little more life than the search bar alone, showing three tabs of information. The first is the profile, which shows the name, email address, Twitter handle, and any other information related to that person. Next, the history tab reveals your previous interactions with the person, including a summary of when you first made contact, how many total interactions you’ve had with him or her, and anyone else who was involved in your early communication (think email CCs). If your history with the person is long, you can swipe to see a graph of your frequency of communication over time (see the image for an example). Last is the “common” pane, listing people with whom you’ve had mutual communication (again, think email CCs).
When it comes to merging duplicates, Brewster excels and Smartr only does all right. Brewster magically and automatically merged almost every single person with whom I’m connected across multiple channels. And for the one or duplicate sets I found, Brewster had clear instructions for merging them. With Smartr, I homed in on a couple of duplicate sets and only through trial-and-error realized I could merge them by simply adding all the email addresses associated with the person into any one of the contact entries. That is to say, if a contact has one email address for LinkedIn but uses a different one for communicating with you by email and yet a different address as their Facebook login, then you’ll have to pick one of the contact entries and type in their email info. Then Smartr cleans up the rest automatically. I’d prefer a simple button that says “merge” that lets me simply select multiple contacts to unify.
Smartr Contacts works fast and has a powerful search function, but it doesn’t encourage exploration or browsing, the way Brewster does. In that sense, I think Brewster appeals more to people who draw inspiration about how they can leverage their network by looking through a display of people’s faces (I fall into this category), whereas Smartr Contacts works better for people who know exactly what information they need. It’s also a better contact search app for anyone who wants to leave social networks out of the equation, as Brewster requires you connect with either Twitter or Facebook to work at all.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc