For various reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve been playing with a Blackberry lately. I bought one used and unlocked on eBay and have been messing with it for about a week.
I don’t get it and I really don’t see the reason for all the hype. There are things the BB fails to do that my crummy old iPAQ PDA would do back in 1999, and I’m really not kidding.
Now admittedly, I’m not running Blackberry Enterprise Server. Running BES may dramatically improve your user experience, but without it, this thing is lame.
First of all, it’s hard to use as a phone. The form factor is horrible — you have no choice but to dial with two hands while looking directly at the keypad. Not to mention that the "end call" key is EXACTLY where your fingers rest when holding the phone to your head.
The UI is pretty clunky too. You access everything through the scroll wheel, but no part of the UI allows looping, so if you’ve scrolled all the way to the last menu item to find something, you have to scroll all the way back up to access a different menu item. Slow slow slow. Not to mention that functions are oddly separated — no way to easily search your contacts when in the "recently dialed" page. No real ability to set up my own shortcuts. Call voicemail is buried in the phone menu…
And why on earth is the backlight in no way connected to user actions? You have to press the backlight button (which is tiny and hard to find in the dark) to activate it. That’s just dumb. There is an app you can download that solves this for you, but jeez…
Now the thing the device is famous for is email and desktop integration. When I plugged it in to Outlook, the sync worked flawlessly — my first and only visit to a Blackberry happy place. I got my POP3 email account set up on the device and sure enough email just started arriving. Feeling the potential for some excitement, I send myself an email with an attachment. Oh. Attachments aren’t handled by the device itself. The BBSS (big Blackberry Server in the Sky) parses the attachment, fiddles with it, and sends a text version to the Blackberry. But only after you try and open the attachment and wait for a few minutes.
Hmm. Must be a better way. So I download an app for the Blackberry that claims to let me preview and edit Office documents. Only to find that it works the same way. Doh!
Oh well. But still, kind of nice to get real-time push email, no? Well actually no. For one simple reason: there is no way to synchronize the inbox and sent folders with your desktop. Yup. You can sync your tasks, your contacts, your calendar, even your stupid notes. But you can’t sync your inbox and sent folders. Come on! Active-sync could do that in version 1.0 on an otherwise crummy Windows CE device.
So now I have to either not use the BB to reply to important emails, or jump through a bunch of silly hoops to make sure I have a copy of my response on my desktop. Not to mention that the mini-qwerty keypad just ain’t that fast.
Prior to getting my Berry on, I used a Sony Ericsson W810. Small candy-bar format, good menu system and with a bit of hacking you can restore SE’s basic POP3 email client. For those with a itch to be in contact, you can even set the email client to ping the mail server every 5 minutes — no re-routing through BBSS required. I also find the T9 predictive text to be faster for most short messages than the Berry’s qwerty keypad. I can use it one handed without looking directly at the phone and it has a pretty good built in camera.
I’m sure newer Berries have some improvements over the 7290 I’m trying to use, but trading my phone for a second-rate closed-system PDA with issues is clearly not for me…