Hands-on: Xobni's insta-address book for BlackBerry

We take a close look at Xobni for BlackBerry, an uberutility that complements--or replaces--your address book.

Xobni for BlackBerry 1.0

If you're one of the many BlackBerry-toting hot shots who fret about the fastest, least laborious way to get their work contacts onto their phones, I have an answer for you. Or rather, Xobni does.

Xobni for BlackBerry is a utility that dramatically expands your mobile address book by ingeniously scanning all incoming and outgoing e-mail for contacts and phone numbers it can capture. It builds a profile for every e-mail it detects, regardless of whether you've typed it yourself, or if it's already in your address book. That includes people who have been copied in an e-mail, and e-mail addresses contained within the message body.

Xobni for BlackBerry is the first mobile version of the highly useful Outlook add-on. We got a sneak peek at it at the BlackBerry Developer conference last November, and we're only too happy to take a deep dive now that it's available to everyone. We like the convenient and time-saving features, but there's still room to grow for this brand-new app. Be forewarned that Xobni is a premium app; although it's expensive for the casual 'Berry owner, the price point fits in with other BlackBerry apps geared toward business users.

Xobni's address book booster for BlackBerry (photos)

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Installation and performance

Xobni's secondary address book shows up on your BlackBerry in two locations: from a standalone app you open from an icon, or from the Compose window (or Reply or Forward windows on most supported models). Just flick up toward the top of the screen to access Xobni's search bar. You can launch e-mails, text messages, and phone calls for anyone captured in a Xobni profile, plus view snippets from recent e-mail, calls, texts, and meetings. We personally prefer accessing Xobni from the BlackBerry address book instead of from the standalone app, though your tastes may differ. Performance-wise, we found Xobni to be sluggish; it should be able to load its screens with considerably more speed than it does now.

If you buy the BlackBerry-only version (more details in our pricing session below), your Xobni address book will grow apace with your e-mailing. What's more useful is getting your existing Outlook contacts onto the BlackBerry, which you can do by subscribing to another premium feature called Xobni One.

Xobni on BlackBerry--profile

Xobni for BlackBerry dramatically expands your address book, ranks contacts by how often you interact, and pulls in other information, like from LinkedIn and Facebook.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Xobni One is a cloud-based service that essentially "syncs" your Outlook contacts to Xobni's servers, and then eventually populates your Xobni app on the BlackBerry. This option makes the most sense if you already use Xobni's Outlook plug-in. Either way, it takes some leg work to register an account, download a new version of Xobni for Outlook, sign on to the account on both Outlook and the BlackBerry, and wait patiently (up to an hour in some cases) for the contacts to "sync."

We should note that Xobni's CEO, Jeff Bonforte, rejects the word "sync" in a technical sense because Xobni gathers and recombines data, rather than deletes duplicated profiles on either end. But sync makes more sense than saying that Xobni "maintains itself through the continuous flow of new information," so "sync" it is.

Xobni for BlackBerry doesn't have every feature we'd like to see. It isn't integrated with the dialer or calendar, two of the places you might want to engage a contact list (Xobni's Bonforte says this isn't currently possible, but that they're working on it). We'd also like to review entire mail messages, not just the headers. Although the BlackBerry e-mail client does a good job searching for mail, the option to find specific messages with Xobni would not go amiss. Nor would being able to manage the Xobni One super address book from Xobni.com if not from the BlackBerry.

We think pictures say it best, so be sure to check out our slideshow for the finer details of how Xobni for BlackBerry works, and stay tuned for our video review.

Pricing and availability

Xobni for BlackBerry--pricing

You can purchase the standalone Xobni BlackBerry app, or add on the cloud-based syncing service.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Xobni for BlackBerry costs $9.99 for a one-time buy. It scans e-mails you compose and receive natively, without tying in to Outlook. To sync Outlook contacts with Xobni for BlackBerry, you'll need to buy into the cloud-based Xobni One service. That will drop the price of the standalone app to $6.99, and charge a $3.99 monthly subscription for Xobni One syncing. If you commit to a year's worth of Xobni One, Xobni charges $40 for the whole year and throws in the standalone BlackBerry app for "free."

Xobni for BlackBerry is available for the BlackBerry Tour, Curve 8900s, and the Bold and Storm series smartphones. Try it by visiting www.xobni.com/mobile or by downloading it from BlackBerry App World, though it may take a few days after launch to show up for your region.

Right now Xobni is available as an Outlook plug-in and on BlackBerry, though Bonforte hinted heavily during our demo that iPhone, Android, and other mobile versions are in the works.

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