Just because Twitter is working to curtail non-canonical clients doesn't mean that developers have stopped trying to deliver its 140-character utterances in increasingly improved ways. Plume for Twitter brings a highly customisable and free Twitter client to Android devices, with a powerful muting feature to help you manage the chaos of Twitter.
Starting up Plume for the first time, users are greeted by a colourful screen and Plume's cute, friendly duck/penguin mascot. Once inside the app, tweets are displayed in a series of scrolling columns, showing @ replies, the latest updates, direct messages, and so on. Users can scroll up and down to move chronologically through the feeds, and left and right between feeds. Swiping left to right from off the screen opens a hidden tray of other features, such as search and trending topics.
The sound of silence
By far and away Plume's strongest and most useful feature is "muting" certain users, words, and services from appearing in your feed. One of the drawbacks of Twitter, and it is surely like this by design, is that the only way to remove a user from your feed is to un-follow them – a public and noticeable act. Twitter's Lists feature helps, but it lacks fine-grain controls. If you mute a user in Plume, you'll still appear as their follower and you can unmute them at any time. For a sticky social situation, or a power user who has accounts he or she is obliged to follow, "muting" is a powerful tool.
Plume also has the ability to mute Tweets that contain certain words or phrases, as defined by the user. For everyday folks, this is a great way to avoid the weekly cavalcade of #FF tweets, Apple product announcements, or particularly tiresome memes. For people with post-traumatic stress disorder or emotional triggers, being able to hide certain terms from view could make participating in Twitter a far less stressful experience.
Users can manage all their mutes from the settings menu, including muted updates from other apps that publish on Twitter.
Plume's layout feels like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, both of which were designed with power users in mind. Like those services, Plume also allows users to add a Facebook account. However, Facebook is the only other service Plume supports. This limitation will turn some users off, but personally I dislike multiplatform social media managers.
Plume can also let you update multiple Twitter accounts from a single app. However, adding accounts to Plume, even the first time, can be an ordeal. Plume uses a Twitter web interface for authentication which was slow, unresponsive, and crashed frequently during my testing. The official Twitter client for Android, on the other hand, breezed through the process – no doubt benefitting from being blessed by Twitter itself. This isn't really a problem with Plume, but it can start users off on the wrong foot.
The spirit of Android
From the first second I fired up Plume, I immediately felt that it was an app that understood the mind of an Android user. The app offers a panoply of customisable options: You can add as many columns of feeds as many ways as you like; assign custom colours to your tweets and have the app colour everyone else's automatically; pick a format for your quoted re-tweets; use the volume toggle to scroll, choose your font, and choose how, where, and when your notifications appear.
You can also select what picture hosting service to use, and then require Plume to compress images based on what data network you're connected to. Additional features include adding or removing coloured patterns to @ replies, and even more capabilities.
While most of these fall into the category of minutia, together they give users the chance to make Plume look and act exactly as they wish. What's more, Plume allows users to export their settings to an SD card, so you can upgrade your phone and bring your personal Plume experience with you.
The downside of those options is that the app isn't nearly as slick as the official Twitter client's iOS inspired offering. Plume feels cramped and busy, while the big buttons and white space of the official Twitter app seem Cupertino-elegant. Plume's entire hidden left shelf navigation feels tacked on, and tapping these icons opens full-screen columns that feel misplaced navigationally. The above image shows Plume on an Android phone, and the below pic shows the app on a tablet in landscape mode (where it feels a little less crowded, but only a little).
Plume also frequently feels a touch more sluggish and jerky then Twitter's official client. This shouldn't be all that surprising, considering that Plume has several different feeds to update. Just looking at the cached processes on my Nexus 7, I saw that Plume used more than twice the memory of Twitter's official client.
It's quite difficult to nail down exactly where Plume fits in the social app ecosystem. Its default settings and interface are fairly strong, making it a good offering for the average user. Its mute feature, Facebook integration, support for multiple accounts, and huge range of settings make it feel like it's aimed at a power user. But it lacks critical tools which define such apps, for example tweet scheduling and integration with other social media services aside from Facebook.
Instead, Plume feels like it's targeted at users who are particular about how their apps look and operate, and are interested in getting the most out of their phone. Users who love to make their apps work the way they want, or just need to put the world on mute sometimes, would do well to give Plume a spin.