Google-backed messaging inbox Snowball is Android-exclusive, but is it any good?

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When Google Ventures decides to plow money into something, you definitely want to sit up and take note. Google has developed (and acquired) some of the coolest mobile apps out there in recent years, so surely the company’s investors know talent when they see it. That’s why everyone’s heart is aflutter over Snowball, a unified inbox for messaging that is being backed by Google's venture capital arm.

As the developers are fond of pointing out, Snowball is Android-only because iOS simply can’t support the app’s basic functionality. That raises the question, is what Snowball offers worth getting excited over?

All your chat, in one bubble

Snowball plugs into a number of chat platforms including Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Twitter, Line, WeChat, Slack and good old-fashioned SMS. It borrows much of its interface from Facebook’s chat heads, the only part of Facebook Home that ever made it into other products.

If you get a message through one of the supported messaging channels, the Snowball “chat head” will pop out from its hiding spot at the edge of the screen and float on top of other apps with a counter to tell you how many messages you have across all services. There’s also a yeti on the icon that winks at you because… I actually have no idea why. It’s kind of fun, though.

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The Snowball messaging popup and settings for enabling multiple apps.

You may be thinking, "Doesn’t Android already provide notifications for all that stuff in the notification shade?" Well, yeah it does. It seems like Snowball is pushing the angle that it’s easier to keep track of your messages among all these services if they are separated from all the other things your phone is telling you about. It plugs into the Android notification listening service to pull the content from the notification shade, but ignores everything that isn’t from one the the previously mentioned messaging apps.

The Snowball bubble can be swiped back off the screen or dragged to another location on the edge if you don’t want to deal with it immediately. There’s an ‘X’ at the bottom of the screen where you can drop the icon to close it—just like a Facebook Chat Head. If you do choose to open Snowball to check your chat messages, they will be displayed as you would see them in the system notification. Like the collapsed icon, the window floats on top of other apps. Messages from apps are kept separate and can be cleared with a swipe.

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Snowball uses notification access to pull text from messaging apps.

Just another place for notifications

Here’s where things get sketchy for Snowball; you can’t reply to any messages from this popup. Tapping on a message opens the app that it came from, but it doesn’t even necessarily open the message thread! There’s no actual messaging functionality in Snowball, making it just a floating notification filter.

The thing is, that might not be a bad idea for some. Novice users (read: probably not you) sometimes don’t do the best job of clearing out old and persistent content from the notification shade. Maybe having messages someplace else would help? Still, the lack of functionality beyond displaying notifications make Snowball feel incomplete at best.

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The Snowball icon can be closed by dragging to the bottom of the screen.

I’m left feeling like Snowball isn’t very useful for most people. There could be ways to make it more appealing, like threading messages from multiple services based on the sender or creating some sort of quick-reply system. However, not all messaging services have an API for third-party access, which is why Snowball is just plugging into Android notifications. It’s an interesting idea, but there’s not enough going on to make me want that yeti winking at me all day.

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