Discovering BlackBerry

It’s that time of year again, when my phone feels a little long in the tooth and I start having primal urges to refresh my tech. Actually, my old phone (Nokia N95-8Gb) is perfectly useful and ideal for continued use. I have a problem and I shall submit myself to my addiction. Do you have a problem with that?

I’ve been researching what to replace my phone with for a few months, now. I want strong integration with my various email accounts, social networking and good web access. I also require a good music player with podcasting capabilities. The phone must also connect to Wi-Fi networks seamlessly, using Wi-Fi over my Mobile Network if possible. The Nokia N95-8Gb does all this. It really is a very good phone, even if it is 2-3 years old.

My original intention was to get a Nokia N97, the natural upgrade path for the N-series. This is being pushed as being Social Media aware and has a touch screen. It runs on Symbian so will be rock solid and I know I can rely on the strengh of the N-series platform. But it was on the dear side at around £500. I’m also not a big fan of touch-screens for typing numbers/messages – tactile feedback is essential and no haptic/pseudo tactile feedback is going to replace that. I also looked at the HTC Touch series of phones, which look very smart, but are handicapped by their adoption of Windows Mobile which Microsoft desperately needs to rewrite, preferably using the core of the Zune/XBox 360 with a number of business applications on top. I even looked at the Apple iPhone, an over-priced, under-specified device which has the fanboys excited every year when Apple does a minor refresh. While a very usable phone, its value serves more as a superficial and egotistical add-on to a personality than a phone that can actually be used.

I eventually decided on the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220. It’s not that pretty, it’s a bit plasticy, it has no widgets, gizmos or slidey, touchy, happy screens. It’s a no-frills, no-BS business phone. And I really like it. While the learning curve is pretty steep both in terms of typing on the SureType keypad and figuring out how to configure it, I’m immediately seeing value in it. The only reason why I held off for so long is that it doesn’t have any podcasting or decent music player support which was a killer feature for me.

I might be a little late on this boat, but I’m not one to follow fads. Better to let other users adopt a new paradigm, get all excited, work out the kinks, then for me to buy into it.

Things I love:

  • The API allows applications to have deep access into the phone. No “sandboxing” means applications like UberTwitter and Facebook can integrate into other applications, appearing in the Contacts and Messaging menus. While sandboxing your applications improves reliability and safety of your phone, it does create a disconnected user experience.
  • It’s highly configurable. So configurable I have no idea what many of the settings even do or why they are even there. It took my a couple of days to figure out how to change my message tone, but once I found it, the flexibility offered is perfect.
  • Obviously the BlackBerry value-added service of email account integration and “push email”. Being able to off-load the collection of emails is very useful.
  • Integrated messaging between email and Facebook.

Not so hot:

  • The default web browser is pants. A shame for an “always on” Internet device. It’s slow and poorly rendered. Luckily, Opera can be installed on it, though it is not used by default so clicking on links in the BlackBerry will still open the original browser.
  • There’s no GPS, which is a shame. A mapping application is provided, though.
  • The processor is on the under-powered side, particularly when browsing the web using the default web browser or using the Maps application.

There is also a vibrant BlackBerry community and application ecosystem out there which I am dipping into. For Twitter users, I’d highly recommend UberTwitter, which ticks all my boxes and more. I’d buy a BlackBerry just for this application, to be honest.

This does leave my requirement for a music player/podcast downloader to be met, though. Not to worry, the BlackBerry was just £50 from Sure Cable and Wireless which means I can still afford a dedicated unit for playing music/listening to podcasts. I’m going for a Sony Walkman device, now they have finally dumped ATRAC. All in all, from a budgetted new phone of £500, I’m going to save at about £250.

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