Developer. Gamer. Yo-Yo Thrower.

My Week as a BlackBerry’er

I got my first Blackberry in 2005, it was a Blackberry Charm 7100 and it was my first real smartphone (I had upgraded from a Noika 5100 – amazing phone). I used it for only maybe a year before I upgraded to an HTC P3600 WinMo 6.5 phone. So unlike my iPhone experience I do have a little background with this type of device.

Initial Impressions
It’s funny, everyone is telling me how much I won’t like this phone, but so far I’m really enjoying it. The hardware is really nice – it feels lighter and ‘more plastic’ than the iPhone, but I’m looking forward to using a hardware keyboard again. The first thing I noticed that stands head and shoulders above both iOS and Android is a stone cold simple thing: an intro video. When first initializing the device it plays a soundless video that shows how to interact with the Blackberry OS – very interesting and very useful. After the video plays it drops you to the settings screen where you can easily setup everything. And I mean everything: Facebook and Twitter are right there under “Social Networks” – they integrate seemlessly into the Blackberry OS – better than Android or iOS does hands down. I also setup my “Blackberry ID” – although I’m not sure why or what exactly that does yet. The Blackberry device on-boarding process looks a little less cool than iOS and Android – but functionally does a better job. I can see why the device is popular among teens, getting your Twitter and Facebook setup requires nothing more than usernames and passwords for each – no apps to install or anything – and then blammo just like that your Facebook and Twitter is integrated into your Blackberry experience.
When adding my Gmail account it asked me if I wanted to import my contacts, calendar and to enable Google Talk – very impressive. Android just goes ahead and signs you into GTalk without asking you – the Blackberry way of doing it is a nice touch. Pairing my A2DP headphones was super easy – it even pops up a messages saying “Connected to Jaybird JF3” and “Connection to Jaybird JF3 Terminated” when I connect and disconnect them. Adding music is a breeze – plugging in a USB cable the Blackberry asks if you want to “Sync Media”, “USB Drive” or “Charge Only” (similar to Android). This means adding music is super simple: just copy music files over. The music player is good… not great… it gets the job done.
The web browser is nice – although having an actual mouse cursor is a little jarring and hard to control with the little center nub. I would imagine this gets much easier the more you use it. Other smart phones should have this “cursor” as an option – it makes life easier when there’s a bunch of links all together and your finger is too big to press only one of them. looks great, and Blackberry OS is the only mobile OS where you can play with the logo shadow (thanks to the cursor). Reddit works perfectly too. My only gripe with the browser thus far is I can’t figure out how to scroll without having to physically tap and scroll the screen — making reading large bodies of text a little annoying.
I wasn’t expecting much from “Blackberry App World” – the last time I checked (about 2 years ago on a friends phone), it was barren and overpriced. Now it’s still overpriced, but there are many many more apps to choose from. My go to test app is Dropbox – I wasn’t expecting it to be there – low and behold Dropbox for Blackberry exists, and is free! It even allows you to read AND save text files without an external app (translation: The Blackberry app is better and more functional than the iPhone app!).

Day 2 – The cracks begin to show
I have to say, I enjoy tinkering with this phone quite a bit. With the iPhone I wasn’t playing with things much – really just testing out different apps (cause what else can you do?). Poking around in “Blackberry App World” I accidentally discovered all my core apps (Music player, BBM, Twitter, Facebook, etc) were all out of date! I only discovered this by clicking their app names in the ‘installed apps’ list – had I have never done this I would have never known there were updates (and therefore never got them). Why no update notifications? Speaking about App World – why is it so slow? Even while on WiFi it takes a few minutes to download a single megabyte. Apps that are 3 or 4 megabytes literally take 5 minutes or more to download – what gives?
Games. Games are so laughably bad I don’t even know why Blackberry tries – I’m completely serious. The games you can get are literally on par with tech somewhere between Nintendo and Super Nintendo graphics and sound – it’s a cruel joke. Even casual games like Brickbreaker and Tetris aren’t even that great.
The phone seems to struggle with almost everything – it’s funny how simple visual queues can make something feel like it’s really working hard. Blackberry would do themselves a huge favour if they made a major effort to make their little rotating clock “busy” icon NOT EVER stop spinning. As it is now whenever the Blackberry is doing something intensive (loading, or installing an app for example) the icon animation will freeze for several seconds and sometimes flash away then flash back restarting itself – it makes it seem like the poor little Blackberry can’t handle installing or launching an app – as a user this is very disconcerting and contributes in a very real way to a negative opinion about the device and OS.

Day 4 – Starting to get frustrated
While many things work “good enough”, I keep bumping up to one major problem: the connectivity of this device sucks. Wifi drops for no apparent reason – it will say it’s connected but makes no requests over wifi (I watched using my router logs). Using the 3G is unbearably slow – the “Blackberry Network” must still be using the same hardware they started out with back in 1999. As mentioned earlier a 1MB or 2MB app takes upwards of a few minutes to download. I thought this was just the app store, it’s not, it’s the device itself or the Blackberry network (Bell at least worked fast on the iPhone). Browsing the Globe and Mail app it takes 30 – 40 seconds to load a news story and that’s just plain unacceptable. Wifi “hotspot” doesn’t work – it tries to turn itself on and then pops up with a message “Temporary network problems please try again”. Bullshit. Now I have to bring my Android device out with me today so I can have mobile internet for my laptop.
All of Blackberry’s main users never even think to use these things – who needs wifi when you’re on 3G? Especially since there’s no difference in speed (I’m pretty sure everything – even wifi – gets routed over the slow-ass Blackberry Network). Same with Wifi tether and more advanced apps: the audience that uses Blackberry just plain doesn’t use these features. It’s also probably why there’s such a wow factor when moving to an iPhone or an Android: not only is everything prettier, but way faster too!

Day 6 – Early Conclusion
You know what’s terrible? Waiting 3 full minutes for a weather update from your brand new $600 smart phone. This is the experience you’ll get with a BlackBerry Bold 9900 on the Bell network. All the praise I bestowed on this device during my first couple days is easily forgotten while I’m waiting, literally 2 minutes for a Twitter update or a Facebook timeline to update. I have to cop-out of this device a day early, as a super connected person I can’t be bothered with a device that regards connectivity so low.
RIM has a long up-hill battle ahead of them – they’re an “old business” (think Kodak) trying to be a “new business” (think Instagram). Even if their new device is a beautiful powerhouse, if it’s still using this same slow-ass Blackberry network it’s going to fail. They’ve got the software features they need – they just have to implement them better and scrap the stupid “Blackberry network” altogether (or speed it way up). I’m told I should try a PlayBook since it’s got the “new” Blackberry OS on it (the one that will be on their new phone coming out this winter). Perhaps I will when the actual device is released, until then I want to keep trying out things that an average Canadian smart phone user would try.

Thing I liked

  • On-boarding is painless and easy. I learned the OS basics within minutes rather than having to discover them via friends telling me “Did you know you can do this…” (which appears to be the primary was iPhone and Android users learn their OS functions)
  • Tight integration with Facebook and Twitter (I can see why this device is popular with teens)
  • Hardware keyboard!
  • Blackberry push notifications work way better than iPhone and in some cases Android too

Things I didn’t like

  • Device connectivity sucks. Wicked slow network. Wifi hotspot doesn’t work. Wifi drops in and out.
  • UI is clunky, dated and kinda ugly (but very functional!).
  • They include a belt holder with the phone. A belt holder. Yes you read that right and no it’s not 1997. (Just put it in your pocket)
  • The old “trackball” on my ex-g/f’s Blackberry Pearl feels nicer to use than the trackpad on this Bold 9900.
  • Apps are expensive. Average price appears to be about $5. (I am NOT paying $4 for a theme either!)
  • Games are laughably bad. Download any “Need for Speed” game and prepare to be astounded by graphics and sound you haven’t heard since you last played your original Nintendo system
  • App selection leaves much to be desired (No Reddit app?!)
  • Built in NFC software largely ignores NDEF standards – weird proprietary NFC uses

Development with Blackberry
Coming soon… (preview: Blackberry Web Works rocks.)

Updates to this post’s “Development” section will come soon. Check for my next post: My Week as Windows Phone 7’er

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