How do you stay connected with people you know? A batch of your contacts might be listed in your email address book, while another set might be former colleagues only connected to you via LinkedIn, while still others might be Facebook friends. Good luck finding the phone numbers and email addresses of those people when you need them! That's why we have contact management services and apps like Brewster for iPhone.
Brewster, which is a free app, hooks into multiple sources where you might have contact information stored and brings them together, merging duplicates along the way. A similar app called Smartr Contacts does largely the same job, but also gives you rich information about your history of interactions with a person – although it's driven more by search and less by exploration.
Brewster, on the other hand, puts faces to names in an interface you can explore, rather than strictly search. That design choice may lead you to waste time (I got sucked in looking at pictures of people I didn't recognise), or it may aid your memory if you're someone who remembers people by their faces rather than company affiliation, location, or name.
To use the free app, you have to give it access to two places where contacts are stored: Your iPhone's Contacts app, and either Facebook or Twitter. If you don't use one of those social networks or simply do not want contacts from there mixed into this contact manager, then Brewster isn't an app you'll want to use. I can also see how some business professionals would not want to import their Facebook or Twitter contacts, as those sites could contain thousands of people who are ostensibly strangers. Brewster could have a much bigger following if it allowed users to bypass the social network integration requirement.
Beyond Facebook, Twitter, and the Contacts app, you can connect Brewster to Gmail, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. You can integrate with multiple Gmail accounts, but only one account on the other services.
It doesn't directly support Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, Microsoft Exchange accounts, or other email services, but it indirectly covers those because it connects to your iPhone's Contact list (where all those services are supported).
The app takes a few minutes to grab all the information it needs from those services and collate it, but once that’s done, it displays pictures of your friends in a grid.
You can get to this grid to explore all the people in your various address books by tapping the People menu icon in the lower left corner of the screen. This ability to explore markedly differs from Smartr Contacts, which doesn't show you anything about your contacts until you key terms into a search bar. Brewster prompts you to select your favourite contacts, who are then whisked into a designated favourites area that takes over the top of the People page.
An Updates section shows much larger pictures of people who are relevant for some time-sensitive reason. It might be their birthday, or they might be a recently added contact, or they could be trending on one of your social networks, for example.
Unlike Smartr Contacts, Brewster's search page shows much more than just a search bar, suggesting searches that might be relevant based on information tied to your contacts. My search page, for example, suggests I might be interested in “London,” "journalism," "online media," and a few other job-related words. You can of course type any terms you choose into the search bar, and Brewster will scour across all your contacts' information.
The tab for Lists shows some of Brewster's most interesting capabilities. You can make your own lists, such as family members or healthcare providers, but Brewster will automatically generate a number of lists for you, tagged with a number indicating how many people are on that list. The ones I found in my account sorted the people I know into groups based on their university affiliations, current and past employers, and even job functions. As it happens, I have more than 30 connections who are fellow writers or editors. Who knew?
When you tap a person's image, a new page opens showing all kinds of information: Email addresses, phone numbers, social networking accounts, interests listed on social networks, employment history, mutual connections, and more. You can email, call, or text the person with one touch from the Brewster app. If the contact appears in multiple places and has multiple profile pictures, they all appear in a swipe-able slideshow display at the top of the page.
Brewster merged almost every one of the duplicate entries among my contacts. I only found one person who was listed twice. If Brewster merges two or more accounts that you want to keep separate, you can unmerge them manually by tapping an edit button on that contact's information page. From that same panel, you can delete a contact, too, which I found useful for cleaning up solicitors.
The Brewster iPhone app puts contact information at your fingertips, even if it's spread out across a variety of Internet services, email accounts, and your phone's address book. Its visual display of faces breathes life into contact management, and its auto-generated lists make finding the people you need even easier.
Anyone staunchly opposed to joining Facebook or Twitter won't be able to use the app, I'm afraid, which seems like an unnecessary restriction. It also doesn't show your interaction history with contacts – use Smartr Contacts if you want that feature. Even so, Brewster is a great time-saving app for busy and well-connected people, and it’s free, which is always an added bonus.