The basic features of Nokia Chat are similar to any other IM service. There's a friend list and you can activate a chat window for anyone on this list. There's an option to send smileys and voice messages (the latter didn't work in our tests), but overall the functionality is relatively bare bones (e.g. no file sending, no group chats and so on).
Note the presence message (in brackets) shows the location for Ricky and Steve.
There is also the expected presence (status) indicator: Available (green), On the phone (blue - set automatically), Away (yellow), Do not disturb (red) and Offline (Grey). You also have the ability to set a customised presence message which could be used to describe what you are doing (e.g. down the pub).
However what makes Nokia Chat stand out are the location features it offers. One of these is the ability to use your phone's built-in GPS to send a 'location link'. This appears as a hyperlink in the chat window of your friend which will open up Nokia Maps and show them your current location. This is similar to the ability to send a location (lmx file) from within Nokia Maps, but is clearly more useful in the IM/contact list scenario.
Find out where your friend is and get your phone to give you directions. Switch off brain and let your phone do it all.
The second location feature is integrated with your presence message (appended, in brackets, to any status message). It will selectively show your location based on your proximity to chosen locations. These, configured in settings, are based on your stored Landmarks (as used in Nokia Maps and Google Maps). In practice, what this means is that your location will be shown in your presence message (e.g. Phil's Cafe) when your phone detects that you are at (or at least near) the location. You can choose which landmarks will be used in this way (e.g. home, work, pub, cinema etc.) It is a rather neat solution to some of the privacy issues that surround location information, since your location can only be seen at places you have chosen. The key advantage is that, once you have set it up, it is completely automatic.
Nokia Chat has some limited integration with Contacts. You can switch back and forth between the two using a drop down menu accessed by pressing the left direction pad (a similar feature is found in the Gizmo VoIP software). Hopefully future versions will see better integration between the two contact lists. There's also integration with the status icon bar of S60 - a small icon showing a chat bubble indicates a new IM has been received.
The application itself has some nice touches. The connection settings allow you to specify both WLAN access points and a GPRS/3G access point. The application will automatically and seamlessly switch between these. Other settings include the ability to auto-accept friend requests and login automatically at start up. There are also application functions to invite a friend to join Nokia Chat and to add profile information (e.g. an avatar/photo) from within the application.
If you are interested in this sort of application then it is well worth downloading, even in its beta state.
Nokia Chat is based on the XMPP/Jabber protocol and can federate with other such services. For example, you can add Google Talk contacts to Nokia Chat, talk to them and see their presence information. You will be able to see generic location information because it is part of your status (i.e. locations set through Landmarks) on federated services, but you cannot send precise location information (no Nokia Maps to integrate with).
Nokia Chat uses the new unified Nokia Account service (as does the recently announced Files on Ovi). You can get an account at account.nokia.com or sign up from within the chat application. Your user id will be email@example.com (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) - you can use this to add friends directly instead of using the search feature.
Nokia Chat is in Beta and there may be a few stability issues. Bear this in mind before deciding whether to install the application. Nokia are looking for feedback on the application and service. You can give your feedback these at the Nokia Beta Labs website.
I expect Nokia Chat could potentially become a very important platform for Nokia to deliver location and presence based services in the future. These are two of the hottest areas in mobile services. However, operators may not be entirely welcoming, given that IM has the potential to seriously impact SMS revenues and many have their own ideas about presence and location platforms (though we're getting a little too far ahead of ourselves here - this is just a beta application).
Clearly, at one level, IM is only as useful as the number of people you have in your contact list. Another isolated IM platform clearly would not get very far on its own. However by using the XMPP standard, Nokia is doing its best to get round this problem - XMPP (eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) is an open standard for near-instantaneous exchange of message and presence information. As we noted above, this mean it can be used with Google Talk or any other XMPP based service (e.g. Gizmo, Apple iChat). Theoretically, XMPP based services can also use 'transports/gateways' to other IM networks. These have to be implemented on the service side, but they can be used to connect with users on other IM networks. I would not be surprised to see some activity from Nokia in this area in future releases. Equally you should be able to use Nokia Chat with any XMPP/Jabber enabled IM client on another computer.
Here's a video from the Beta Labs team explaining Nokia Chat: