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FireChat Review

A chat app that needs no internet connection

The unique selling point of this basic instant messaging app is that it works even without an internet connection or mobile signal. The original iPhone app, released a few weeks earlier, achieves this by using iOS 7’s built-in multi-peer connectivity framework that enables users to chat locally via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. However, for the Android version, the developer had to employ a different technique: ‘multihop mesh networking’, which can be used to link devices, peer to peer, into large webs. The only problem is that the two technologies aren’t compatible, so Android users can’t talk to iOS users. Another downside is that unlike the iOS app, the Android version can’t send photos.

To start a chat with someone locally, both devices need to be fairly close – ideally within about 30 feet. Select the Nearby tab in the app and you can see how many users are within range and join conversations. In our tests, we discovered that indeed no internet connection was required to chat locally, although it seemed that at least one device needed to have Wi-Fi turned on to initiate the hook-up – after which the conversation could continue using just Bluetooth.

The obvious downside is that there is absolutely no privacy for chats, so anyone using FireChat nearby could potentially eavesdrop – or butt in – on your conversation. Nor is there any way to block another user. Indeed, the app’s Everyone mode (requiring an internet connection) is an unregulated chat room of 80 random users where all human life is present. On the plus side, you have the convenience of not having to log in and you can employ any username you like. In addition, at least your local chats should be safe from internet snoopers.