Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blackberry Bold

I now have a Blackberry Bold. This is an amazing device. I have been through a trail of smart phones and PDAs, most of which I'm very happy with for a few weeks. Since I've only had the Bold for a few days, maybe I'm still in the 'honeymoon period', so we'll see, but so far, it has far exceeded expectations.

I have had a long string of devices, starting with a Motorola Timeport, a Handspring Visor, a Kyocera 6035 (palm os sprint phone), a Treo 300, a Sony Ericsson 610, a Sony Ericsson p800, a Nokia 9290, a Nokia 9300, a Motorola RAZR, a HTC Wizard TMO MDA, a Treo 650, a Motorola RAZR v2, a Palm T|X, another Treo 650, a Nokia e71, an iPod Touch and now a Bold on AT&T and a Centro (AT&T version unlocked) on TMobile. I keep searching for my device that does everything.

I was actually looking at the iPhone but just couldn't dig it. I kept thinking that a WebOS device would come to AT&T (the wife has an iPhone so we have switched from TMobile, although I have my line still active on TMobile) and I would pick that later, so I bought an AT&T unlocked Centro off a friend. It is pretty cool, pretty much exactly what I expected, kind of slow network, interface snappy, limited capability but what it does, it *DOES*.

Here are my impressions of the device.


This thing is seriously pretty. I actually don't like the way the iPhone looks, although I like the way the iPod Touch looks and can't tell you why the one but not the other. I like the e71 from Nokia and the Palm Centro. The Palm Pre looks aren't that great, but it feels good. There's a few of the devices currently out that I have had in my hand. Of them all, I like the Bold the best.

I've always liked the wider format of the Blackberry, seen colleagues use them and thought maybe some day I'd like to have one, but some shiny thing was always distracting me. The Blackberry always seemed so boring and business-like. Well, the Bold changes that. It is still very business-like, with a metallic ring around the device and the faux leather on the back, but it can do so much more under the hood now, including youtube and quite a few games.

Some have said the faux leather looks tacky, but I think it lends a lot of class. The whole design hangs together in a sort of pin-stripe suit way. This device is not a jeans and t-shirt device, which means it looks a bit out of place on me. I am now wearing a belt all the time, tho, due to a cool feature discussed below.


This is sort of what Blackberries *DO*. I did not really understand it until I got one. I had phones that could do email, including my winmo HTC Wizard that did a pretty good job of it, but this is the first phone I've ever had where email is actually as easy to deal with on the device as on my Macbook. Seriously. Setting up the email is as simple as surfing over to and putting in the addresses and passwords. Blackberry's servers do the rest. The only device that is as easy to set up is the iPhone/iPod Touch, but they don't have a keyboard. The email servers constantly poll your email servers for your emails and push them to the device. They often will show up on the device before they show up on your laptop. If you delete them or read them on the Blackberry, they will be deleted or marked as read on your laptop, but if you delete them or read them on the laptop, they will not necessarily be deleted or marked read on the Blackberry. I have also found it takes a bit for the changes to run through, so, since I am using imap, which is tolerant of this sort of thing, sometimes I just delete them on both to get rid of them.


Speaking of keyboards, you have not lived until you have used the Bold's keyboard. It is two-thumb capable, has great tactile feedback and enough keys to do everything you need to do. The odd shape of the keys make them easy to press without hitting another key. Since it is around 50% wider than any other phone I've ever used, the keypad is that much more usable. I've had horizontal layouts, the 9290, 9300 and the Wizard, and they all annoyed me because you couldn't type with one hand. Well, the Bold is perfectly balanced between the two, two thumb capable or one thumb capable.

This is where the iPhone essentially lost me. There are full-size after market keyboards for both the Blackberry and the Centro, but none for the iPhone. I can't treat the iPhone as a small computer to do things like write on the novel I'm working on (seriously, isn't everyone?) or deal with email copiously. Also, the built-in iPhone/iPod Touch on screen keyboard is a constant exercise in frustration for me, with constant missed letters and its auto-correction 'fixing' words I typed correctly to something else entirely if I miss the little popup. For some, maybe, the thing works, but for me, it is extra-special annoying. This is why I hung on to my e71 for so long. The vertical communicator phone, sometimes called the Treo or Blackberry format, is easily the best for my usage profile.


As mentioned above, the Bold does multimedia, most audio and video. I have an iPod Touch so I don't really need a music player nor do I need a video player, but the Bold can do youtube, something the Centro can't (the e71 can as well, but it isn't as seamless as the Bold). It took a bit to configure it; you have to use AT&T's 3g network, confusingly called 'MEdia Net' and the Blackberry browsers are linked to specific connections, ie, TCP, which is the WAP connection, MEdia Net, which is 3g for all the streaming, and WiFi, which is the local wifi connection. There's something called BIS or BES depending on your setup (Blackberry Internet Service or Blackberry Enterprise Service, I believe) which runs over whichever connection is handy that meets minimum requirements and securely implements the push email stuff.

Blackberries are simply obsessed with security. I hope this translates into real security, and, given that they haven't been hacked, maybe it does. The Blackberry, on startup, checks all its security modules, presumably doing a checksum to verify there has been no tampering. You can also password lock it.

There is plenty of software for the Blackberry, most of it oriented towards adults and business, so lots of puzzle games and productivity software. The spreadsheet app on this device is easily the best on any device I've used, allowing you to actually create complex spreadsheets and manipulate them. Here, again, the massive screen and beautiful keyboard really help. The ssh app commonly used, MidpSSH, is similarly useful, with color options, font sizes, and the ability to display a readable font with over 30 lines, meaning atop works. Since I monitor systems quite a bit with ssh, this means I don't have to mess with the horrid ssh implementations on the iPod Touch. The e71 has a slightly better ssh implementation in terms of keyboard layout, but the screen is much smaller, making it less useful.

Oh, and there's 'Guitar Hero' for Blackberry Bold, although I have yet to download it. I have downloaded the MobiPocket Reader and used it to buy a book a la Kindle, which I am reading now. Kindle is still easier, and I use it on my iPod Touch, but Mobipocket also works on the Centro, so books bought on the Blackberry can be installed on the Centro and vice versa.


The screen on this thing is awesome. It is large, well and fairly evenly lit, and has plenty of real estate for demanding apps like spreadsheets and so on. One of the first things I do is reduce the font size of the various applications so they show more, as the default font is gargantuan on this screen.

The keyboard, as covered above, is awesome. It is missing an esc key and a ctrl key, but only the e71 has a ctrl key and none of them have an esc key.

There are buttons all over this thing, making it a little difficult to pick up, but easy to tell what to do. The lack of buttons on the iPod Touch and iPhone are part of its allure and part of its problems. For instance, Kindle on the iPod Touch requires that I tap the screen to change pages, obscuring the screen and requiring me to shift my hand. On the e71, the various Palm devices and the Blackberry running MobiPocket, you just hit the spacebar to change pages. Or, you could hit the left arrow, whatever that may be.

There's a button to mute the thing, which is really nice. The e71 requires no less than two keypresses to mute. Palm is better. This thing has a dedicated button, which is important on long conference calls when the kids come in to bother you.

There's a button that can be configured to do anything but is configured to do app switching by default. This is also really useful, as, unlike the iPhone/iPod Touch and Palm OS devices, but like the e71, this thing can do more than one thing at a time. It has plenty of ram to do it, too.

There's a dedicated camera button as well, although I have changed it to bring up the delightful clock screen, which can be configured in several classy ways. The Centro's world clock is geeky and the e71's clock is functional, but this is both pretty and functional.

There's volume up, volume down and a standard headphone jack and a mini-usb (yes, not micro usb like the e71, mini usb like everything else) which can charge from any usb power source, which is really useful.

It has a powerful light for the camera that you can make active by using the video camera and hitting the spacebar, which turns it into a pretty good flashlight.

The battery life is pretty good. My e71 had a three times bigger aftermarket battery that made it pretty much never run low, but this one lasts about half as long on a stock battery.

And, the coolest feature of all, best for last, that sort of thing, there's a magnetic sensor in the phone. When the phone is placed in the stock holster, the lcd is turned off and the keyboard locked. This means no accidental dialing and much lower power usage because it doesn't have to wait for the lcd timeout to kill the backlight. The holster, of course, has a belt clip, so I now wear a belt. I'm looking for a small belt clip bag to add to hold my other devices and money and so on.

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