Line Comes to the Mac, But It’s Lacking Polish

Even though Apple users are blessed with iMessage, it’s not truly cross-platform, so some people prefer Google Hangouts (which doesn’t have a native Mac app) or Facebook. There are even those who still use WhatsApp, but this once-popular system has recently been challenged by Line, a competitor from Japan. Sporting “stickers” and a solid messaging platform, the service has taken Asia by storm; it’s now becoming very popular stateside as well.

Line’s developers recently released a Mac companion to the fleet of mobile apps. It looks nice, but is it worth using?

Start Mobile

Because of the way Line works, you can’t create an account in the Mac app. Instead, you must begin using the mobile app first. You’re required to verify your mobile number to sign up, so the developers prefer you download the mobile app first.

No sign up, just a sign in.

No sign up, just a sign in.

It’s a shame this service doesn’t let you sign up with the usual credentials of email, password, and a verification code that is sent via email. It’d make things a lot easier for people who want to use the app on just one device. At any rate, once you’re signed up, it’s simple enough to get Line on your Mac as well, via traditional login or by scanning a QR code with your phone if that’s your thing.

Fast Chat with Mobile Sync

Chatting with the editor.

Chatting with the editor.

Line is one of the fastest messaging services I’ve ever used. Everything feels instantaneous — faster than SMS, even — and the app has an option to disable notifications on the mobile app while the Mac one is open. It also allows for a timeout period, which can be set for 3, 5, or 10 minutes. This is far better than iMessage, which still receives the messages on other devices and marks them as read a few seconds after. Line actually feels more seamless. Unfortunately, the option is not enabled by default.

One of the major lacking features in Line’s Mac app is read receipts. The iPhone app will tell you whether or not something has been read by the person you sent it to. It’d be nice to at least have an option for this, but there’s nothing in the settings.

Sending an image is effortless and blazing fast.

Sending an image is effortless and blazing fast.

I found that multimedia messaging worked very well. Images transferred much faster than competing services like Skype and iMessage. Additionally, you can transfer any type of file, making this a great alternative to Dropbox or Droplr. Why upload something when you can just drag it into the window and transfer it directly to your friend?

Interestingly, file transfers are separate messages. You can’t “attach” them to one, but rather send them before or after it. Also, I found a slight problem with canceling a transfer. Instead of only needing a single click, it requires multiple clicks to register.

No Themes or Custom Backgrounds

The coolest feature in Line’s mobile apps is theming. You can add “wallpapers” to your chats for a custom look. Sadly, the desktop app doesn’t support this. Themes aren’t supported either, so your personalized look will have to remain mobile.

Notifications are Broken

The core functionality of Line works fine, but when it comes to anything else, the app breaks down. Notifications are the worst problem. Instead of using Notification Center like most apps do, Line employs its own special notifications, which are far worse than OS X’s. For one, they don’t look nice. Unlike Notifications Center’s smooth popups, Line’s just show up with full opacity and stay there for however long you set them to. That’s not the true downfall, though.

The dock icon doesn't display the number of messages received.

The dock icon doesn’t display the number of messages received.

Just having notifications that worked would be helpful. These ones only pop up if someone starts a conversation with you. Any new messages from current conversations are excluded. Worse yet, when you go back to the app after receiving a message, it doesn’t highlight the text field so you can start typing. Instead, it brings the main Line window to the front and pushes the chat window behind it. This creates a mess if you enjoy a quick workflow.

Obviously, using its own notification system means that Line can’t display anything when it’s closed. Overall, Line’s notifications are at an unusable level. They’re not reliable, don’t help you continue a conversation, and the sound is so blaring that wearing headphones becomes annoying. Back to the mobile phone it is, then?

A Lost Opportunity

Other bugs include strange appearance for ellipses.

Other bugs include strange appearance for ellipses.

At version 3.1.12, this app is a major disappointment. Its notifications are broken, ellipses don’t display properly, it’s missing key features of the mobile app, and all of the development efforts appear to be focused on inconsequential areas of the app. (The slider to adjust each chat window’s transparency is supposed to help people who want to multitask, but making the window less opaque only compromises the user interface.)

Line could be something great. It offers free voice calling internationally, which can easily trump iMessage. However, among these benefits there are too many issues. Stickers and Emoji look nice and are very popular in Asia, but they’re not worth a wonky app. Line’s still a service you might want to consider trying out, but you’re going to find the Mac app to provide a far from stellar experience.


Summary

Line is an incredibly fast messaging service, but its Mac app doesn't go along with the rest of the ecosystem at all. There are too many bugs to find it usable.

5
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